The power of carrying a canoe solo

Photo: Paula Hilborn

Grit. Determination. Self-reliance. Those are just some of the skills girls unleash when they hoist a canoe and do their first solo carry. Along the way, they demonstrate to themselves and each other the limitless possibilities of what girls can achieve in Guiding – all with the support of their Guiders. As the winner of our girl-driven storytelling contest focused on positive identity, Ranger and Trex Guider Shannon C. shares how outdoor experiences are the perfect place for girls to forge their own pathway and empower each other along the way.

“At my summer camp, the guy always carries the canoe.” We were on the Poker Lakes in Haliburton in October 2017. It was my first canoe trip as a newly minted Ranger Guider. I was talking with one of our newly minted Rangers, and I was floored.

The Poker Lakes are ideal for learning portaging as they are a series of small lakes joined by short portages, offering multiple opportunities to carry a canoe. At the first portage, Margaret Harper and Liz Allard, our amazing trip lead and trip assist, demonstrated how to safely lift a canoe, alone and with a partner. The approach emphasized technique over strength, using a rolling motion rather than straight lift. We then gave the girls a choice on whether they wanted to carry canoes or gear. Some girls will take a canoe solo immediately and head off over the portage. Others work up to it, starting with two or more girls under each canoe in the multi-legged canoe bug approach. The remaining girls grab gear or compare the weight of the canoes against the packs and barrels before deciding which to take. On this particular trip, the leaders carried the canoes on the first portage and then the girls took over, together on the next portage and then solo.  

After the trip, as we reflected on the weekend, our new Ranger mentioned that the best part of the trip for her was the solo carry. Having learned the proper technique, she was no longer intimidated by it, even if she was carrying a leader’s personal canoe. She was eager to get back to her summer camp and put her new skill to use.

My co-Guiders and I now make sure every girl has the opportunity to solo carry on canoe trips with our unit. By the end of each trip, generally every girl decides to try a solo canoe portage. We don’t need to push. The girls are encouraged by their friends and by seeing their friends succeed. A smiling Pathfinder or Ranger on the trail with a canoe on her shoulders is one of the most empowering images of adventure camping in Guiding. It evokes thoughts of self-reliance, determination and an adventurous spirit. I look forward to seeing the girls’ faces on each trip as they lift their canoes and realize they can do it. And then watching as they set off down the trail.

Thank you to Shannon for sharing this story. She receives this prize pack for her winning story. Look for this month’s girl-driven storytelling contest – focused on shared leadership – to launch later this week.

contest prizes
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3 Responses to The power of carrying a canoe solo

  1. Joyce Muffly says:

    We talk about Girl Power, but this is a reminder that technique is a Super Power!

  2. Paula Hilborn says:

    Great article Shannon! I agree, the best part about camping with girls is seeing them challenge themselves and push themselves to try new things! Even to have the confidence to solo carry a leader’s NEW canoe, I should add!!!! Adventure awaits!

  3. Anonymous says:

    What a wonderful example of Guiding in action. This is a life long skill these girls will have and for ever more, every time they portage they will remember these caring Guiders and hopefully they will pass the skills and joy of canoeing on to others.

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