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HomeNL-2017-04 Observations of a Trip Leader

Observations of a Trip Leader
May 1986
by Leonard Hulsebosch


The newsletter section of this web site contains 40 years of Houston Canoe Club newsletters. Amidst those many publications are buried a lot of gems of wisdom, that are still just as valid today as when they first appeared. The following gem of an article is one of those, written by former HCC Governor Leonard Hulsebosch (1985-1987), and is reprinted here for your reading enjoyment and contemplation. 

River running is a gregarious, social sport. There are of course, many good reasons for paddling in groups. It is a fundamentally sound strategy, and under most circumstances, one is safer for doing so. But the concept of safety in numbers has its limits, and in some circumstances, can be a false and tragic illusion.

A kayaker or canoer who goes swimming or gets snagged by a dead-fall, or encounters some other difficulty, frequently discovers that no one else can reach him in safety - or in time!

Thus, it is important for river runners to remember that no matter how many boats are in the party, you are in essence, still traveling alone. (The more challenging the water, the more true this becomes.)

Our habit of paddling in groups poses other risks. For one thing, there is often the unspoken refrain of "I dare you!" or "If you will, I will" in river running. For this reason, or for reasons of pride, or because they don't want to buck the flow, weak paddlers may disregard their best judgement and follow stronger paddlers into water they would not attempt alone. The paddlers might be termed "abdicators" because they are abdicating their skill level.

If weak paddlers are prone to be "abdicators", intermediate and expert paddlers are prone to be, for lack of a better descriptive adjective, "immortals"! Immortals have a sense of personal invulnerability that makes them reluctant to acknowledge their limitations and and blind to those of others. In groups, their motto tends to be "mind your own bacon" or "every man for himself".

Although their power, when directly experienced is numbing, rivers also have the capacity to lull into overconfidence. Unique among hazardous environments, rivers may appear to be tranquil, alluring, even placid, when in reality they are riddled with danger!

All in ail, rivers and river environments seem perfectly designed to lure us into an overconfident, laid back, float and bloat mentality. Ironically, that's one of boating's primary pleasures - and its major hazard!

Next month we'll talk about the error of underestimating the rivers, and we'll meet "Fast-water Fred". See y'all then.

The author,
Leonard Hulsebosch (right)