Ed & Carol Deery Present:
Leadership is a popular topic. Everyone agrees it is a Good Thing, so much so that discussion of the equally worthy topic of participantship commonly gets overlooked. A trip without worthy participants is as doomed as one without a worthy leader.
We lead trips on a regular basis, not to mention participating in many more. Over the years we have experienced certain recurring situations that compromise the safety or enjoyment of trip participants or create an unnecessary burden for the leader. These situations are avoidable with a little thought and common sense. So, to stimulate thought and enhance the general welfare, we offer the following.
Putting a trip together involves a lot of phone and e-mail traffic for the organizer. Do the math: most trips have half a dozen participants — sometimes many more — and if each of them makes multiple calls to the leader the communication volume gets out of hand pretty quickly. Make it as easy as possible on the leader by keeping contacts to a minimum. When you call to inquire about a trip, be prepared to make a decision to go or not when you call. I regard “maybe” as “no, I’m not coming” until such time as it gets replaced with a definite “Yes!”
Be honest with your self, and especially with the trip leader, about your level of experience and skill. The leader will have a clear idea of what a trip requires but can’t give you sound advice unless you are forthright. Be prepared to answer some detailed questions about your paddlesports background. The great outdoors is a tough customer that will not be taken in by any misleading claims on your part.
Paddlers vary in their skill levels and equipment inventories, and in their enthusiasm for wind, waves, rocks, portages, and cold water. Trips vary in their skill and equipment requirements, and in their allotments of wind, waves, rocks, portages, and cold water. Be sure to discuss the trip’s rigors with the leader to make sure it fits your personal definition of fun.
The more skill in handling your boat that you acquire and the more awareness of the watery environment you develop, the more of a contribution you can make to the group’s strength and the less you have to rely on others to watch out for you. Read books, watch videos, observe other paddlers, ask questions, take advantage of the playspots the group stops at. Learning is a lifetime process.
Want to invite a friend? Great! But they still need to contact the leader directly to sign up for the trip. There may be trip-specific skill or equipment requirements that need to be discussed with the leader, or there may be limited trip capacity, or shuttles may need to be arranged in advance, or …
Of course you’ll wear a PFD with a whistle attached, regardless of your self-assessed swimming ability.
If you’ve spent any time at all on the water, you’ll know it’s the coolest, windiest, wettest place around. So, of course, you’ll come equipped with a dry bag full of more warm-when-wet type garments than you can possibly need. Many days you will need them, and if you don’t, you can loan them to someone who does. Polyester fleece and wool are good, cotton is bad, and winter trips require a wetsuit or drysuit. We want this to be fun, and things get grim in a hurry if you’re losing heat.
You know you’re going on a trip far enough in advance to have time to provision yourself before you arrive at the meeting place. Show up with a full gas tank and a full lunch box. Stopping along the way to the put-in holds up the whole show.
You can be an asset to the group instead of a lost sheep if you carry a detailed road map in your car (the DeLorme topo atlas is excellent) and study it before the trip so that you can find the meeting place, the put-in, the take-out, and the shuttle route in between.
Even if you are a full professor, don’t expect the rest of the group to wait for you at the meeting place. Show up early so you can catch up on the news with your old friends or make some new ones. Everyone else is so enthusiastic to get on the water that they probably won’t wait to see if you’re really showing up or not.
Most trips are organized on the water with designated lead and sweep boats. You follow the leader, and you lead the follower. Make sense? Try not to fall behind the sweep boat, because then they have to slow down to wait. The lead boat may occasionally stop to direct traffic through a tricky spot. When this happens, follow the leader’s maneuvering instructions, then pull over and wait for the group to regroup.
Follow the leader’s and sweeper’s advice at other times, too. These are people who know the river, know the sport, and truly do want you to have a safe and wonderful time.
It is the responsibility of the faster paddlers to stay back with the slower ones, not the other way around. If this chafes you as a faster paddler, look forward to the day when you find yourself with a group that’s even faster than you are and hope they adhere to this rule. Or try paddling backwards for awhile; it’s guaranteed to make the pace seem more appropriate and, like wonder bread, it builds strong bodies seven ways. This does not relieve anyone of making a good faith effort to keep up. If you find yourself lagging behind, it’s probably time to do more paddling and less sightseeing.
There’s no better way to spend a day than on the water. It’s not over ’til it’s over. Turn off your cell phone, leave your daytimer at home, take the trip at its own pace, and let your fellow travelers do likewise. Don’t expect them to hurry back to the city just so you can get to your next engagement.
It’s natural to want to bask in the afterglow at the takeout, but the first order of business is for all the people who left cars at the put-in to get together with the chase car drivers and get on the road to retrieve their vehicles. Up at the put-in, the chase car driver should make sure everyone’s cars start before they head back to the take-out. To avoid delaying the proceedings, chase car drivers can wait until they return to the take-out to load up their boat and gear.
Nobody needs to feel singled out in this discussion. As we said at the beginning, these are recurring situations. The more trips you go on, the more sense this will all make. Paying attention to these points is simply a way to be considerate of your fellow travelers and to help trips go as smoothly as possible.