Kayak…check. Paddle…check. Life preserver. ..check. Dog life preserver…check. The Jeep was loaded, kayaks were secured on the top and the Englishman, Charlie and I were off to the Augusta Canal for our first kayaking trip. It was Memorial Day. It was hot. The canal was crowded with kayakers of all skill levels. The Englishman dropped the kayaks, our gear, Charlie and me at a grassy area that sloped to the shore of the canal. He left to find a shady parking spot and returned by foot fifteen minutes later. I fitted Charlie into his life preserver and the Englishman launched us off in my kayak. I paddled in a few circles until he joined me.
Initially, the plan was to kayak for an hour in one direction and then turn around and head back to our launch spot. This plan quickly changed due to the strong current in the canal. Instead, we decided that the Englishman would take the shuttle back once we reached the end of the line in three hours and return with the Jeep. Charlie sat on my lap and occasionally dangled his head over the edge of my green kayak to look into the swirling water. The sun pounded on us relentlessly and we would paddle toward the banks of the canal to take a break in the shade. We passed fellow kayakers along the way and others passed us. An hour into the trip, the Englishman paddled toward a floating dock and we pulled the kayaks onto the weathered wooden planks for a sandwich and a break. Charlie wandered on the path leading away from the canal and explored the shady underbrush and trees. With some difficulty, we launched ourselves directly from the dock into the surprisingly chilly canal water.
The Englishman took Charlie as his passenger. Much braver, Charlie perched precariously close to the edge of the kayak, front paws resting on the orange plastic and back legs on the Englishman’s lap. I nervously watched from my position behind them and then it happened. Charlie leaped. The Englishman lunged for the handle on the life preserver and missed, the swift current moving the kayak further from the dachshund. I watched as Charlie rolled like a log several times going under then emerging with a quick pop. I quickly paddled my kayak toward my dog who finally realized he was floating with the help of the preserver. I aimed the boat, tucked the paddle inside and stretched my arm as far as I could….finally grabbing the handle on the top of the life preserver and pulling the shivering, wet mess right into my lap. The Englishman pulled up next to me and handed me a beach towel. I covered Charlie with it and we continued to float down the canal. It was a long time before Charlie ventured from beneath the towel, his little brown head sniffing the air to see if we were still in the boat. Gathering up courage, Charlie curled up and dutifully remained inside the kayak, content to watch from the safety of my lap. I smelled like the canal, a musty, earthy and quite unpleasant smell. I watched the Englishman with envy, fully aware of the two hour drive home and the fact that I did not bring extra clothes.
When we reached the docks to exit the canal, we dragged the kayaks under a tree that did not provide nearly enough shade. The Englishman sweet-talked his way into a ride back on the shuttle (apparently you have to sign a waiver with them at the starting point) to retrieve the Jeep. When he returned, we loaded the kayaks, the gear and the dog and began our trip home. Charlie slept at my feet, paws twitching and I wondered if he was dreaming of the one time he went for a swim.