Canoeing the Hooch: An Elaborate Ruse

The time/money trade off is at the heart of the challenge in making it through a span of unemployment. There are things you would like to do, and there is time to do them because you can’t spend all of every day seeking that elusive next position, but making the emergency fund last as long as it needs to is the background stress making you wonder if it is really ok to take some time for fun. We thought a canoe trip would strike the balance. We already had the canoe, it was not motorized so no registration was required. It would cost parking fees and gas. We were going to canoe the Hooch, from Powers Island to the boat ramp Northridge Parkway Parking lot in West Palisades Recreation Area so gas would be minimal and parking would be $3 at each of two parking lots. This was the same route I had taken on an outing with the Georgia Conservancy in a raft with a friend from Missouri a few years back and I knew that it was a nice stretch. Russ had Monday off, so we had a plan.

It rained all evening Sunday and the forecast called for more on Monday. We talked about the effect on the river and and changed the alarm. Monday’s weather was looking better and about mid morning I said that I was tempted to go look at the river to see what it really looked like and Russ said that he thought we might as well take the canoe while we were at it. In for a penny… The river looked just as I expected it to, fast, muddy and high. I said I was 50/50 and he could push me either way. Russ wanted to go. We had taken separate rental kayaks on flat unchallenging water together, but had never floated together in a canoe. I had been out with my father as a child, but he always made all the decisions and did all of the paddling. There is only so much you can pick up through osmosis. So I said a little more, that I didn’t have the skill and couldn’t swim against the current, only at an angle with it, but I was happy to go if he felt that he had the skill to go alone and I would help as I could. He was confident. We dropped the car and headed up to Powers Island to put in. There was a put in on the narrower east side of the island with a course marked. We decided that was the least troublesome landing to use in high water and we were off.

Once you float underneath 285 there are a couple of apartment complexes and then things begin to look remote. There are hiking trails, but not much human activity until you near the take out ramp. Traffic sounds are quieted by the tree covered bluffs. Heron, ducks and other wildlife can be seen on the river and there is very little sense over this part of the river that you are in the middle of a large metropolitan area. We were having fun and getting used to paddling together. Russ was steering and giving me instruction the way we learned in previous raft trips. I was very comfortable. The things he was telling me to do were the things I would have chosen myself and we were working well together. We sailed through Devil’s Race Course and Russ decided we should pull out and look at the river ahead. We pulled out on the west side and there was a map posted on the trail along with a good view of the river ahead. We got back in and headed downstream again.

Things were going great until they weren’t. I’m not sure what turned us over or exactly where we were. I didn’t feel it when it passed underneath me so it must have been just a tiny unexpected bump as opposed to all the more seemingly risky things that we had passed through without incident. That little surprise and boom. As soon as we came up and both grabbed the boat and Russ said “This was all an elaborate ruse. I knew if I asked you to go swimming, you’d say no”. You’ve gotta love a sense of humor that is stronger than the current.

What we learned is that we work well together while wet and that we are actually able to right a pretty much sunken canoe and get back in it under less than ideal conditions. It took two attempts. During the first attempt I didn’t raise my end high enough and it didn’t quite empty. Russ’ Chapstick came out of his pocket. We both watched it float across the space between us and then away. Neither of us said a word. Neither of us was willing to let go of flotation, paddle or canoe to reach for it. It was a strangely quiet little pause as we both watched it pass.

I got to a higher rock. We righted and emptied the canoe. He held it steady while I stepped up still higher on the highest rock my feet could find, into the center of the canoe and then moved up to my seat. I knew that the canoe would begin to move downstream as soon as Russ tried to enter the boat. I looked straight forward and tried to be the best counter balance I could, but there was no need. I couldn’t believe it worked. I had prepared myself to take another dive. Not only was I surprised by the fact that we were under way and dryish, I was also surprised by the next thing I heard. Russ said “Ok, now this will really be a team building exercise because my glasses are at the bottom of the river. You need to be my eyes.” I hadn’t even noticed. We were also down to one paddle now.

I began to look for calm water and to direct him toward it. We used the standard clock type communication…”It’s at 10:00″ and so on. To make sure there were no hearing problems I began to confirm information with my arms like a cheerleader with big arm movements, left or right when he needed to go that way, then clapped together above my head for straight ahead. We looked for the paddle as we floated the remainder of the trip and never found it. Russ paddled alone for the duration. In a small tributary on the west there was a man with his dog. The man would throw float toys into the water and the dog was playing the happiest game of fetch that I think I’ve ever seen.

We got out at the boat ramp and both felt a little rush of gratitude for landing without further excitement. The trip was a good bit more expensive than planned with the loss of the glasses and the paddle, but all things considered we really weren’t too much the worse for the wear and we’re already talking about our next trip.

Corporate Team Building In Today’s Economy

I have been a bit dubious about select corporate team building activities from time to time. Some are clearly exactly that, put people in an unusual setting and force them to rely on each other, or to rely on their senses in an unusual way, and the harmless vulnerability creates a bond. Things like a rope course or the Dialog in the Dark exhibit showing at Atlantic Station are clearly Team Building, but sometimes the activities chosen for the team building designation just seem to push the definition a little, as though team building were just a title used to justify an activity that someone wants to do on company time and budget. I work in downtown Atlanta. Like most companies, mine is cutting back on expenses and tightening the proverbial belt. Team building activities seem to be the first to get the ax in times like these. The result is that legitimate team building suffers at a time when moral is low.

Recently I received an email inviting me to participate in a Valentines secret pal gift exchange. The rules: We draw names. On each of the first four days of the week preceding Valentines Day we deliver, by clandestine means, gifts that cost no more than two dollars each. On the last day of the week we get together for lunch and exchange a final gift that costs no more than five dollars. As we exchange this last gift we reveal ourselves while saying a little bit about the week.

I thought it could be fun, but it was an unbudgeted personal expense. I was fairly new to the floor where I work I and felt that getting to know a few more people was worth it. All I needed to do was to skip the usual weekend entertainment, a movie and a trip to Zaxby’s for Zalad. I was in. The shopping was fun and a challenge.

Getting something for less than two dollars for someone you don’t know….well, all you can hope for is to make them smile. At the dollar store I found a stuffed pink monkey with velcro hands on long skinny arms, a dart gun that shot three foam darts and candy bracelets among other things. That was a start. I was really hoping my secret pal had a sense of humor. The five dollar gift was actually harder to pick out. The options are so limited in the lower range that choices are simpler. For five dollars one would expect to get something a little nicer and while looking for something in that range I kept picking up things that were well above the limit, sometimes double. I opted for a gift card and it was well received.

Lunch plans changed a few times as emails circulated, but it finally ended up being a partially sponsored pot luck. We met in a large conference room, ate, took turns revealing our secret pal and telling about the week. It sounds a little hoaky, but most of us enlisted others in the secret deliveries and the excuse for sneaking around, or the failure to sneak well enough was fun. We all had funny stories to tell about something that happened.

After eating we played a round of Win, Lose or Draw and a round of Taboo. There was good natured competition, encouragement and camaraderie. Before Taboo was done, we dissolved teams and were all trying to guess the answers together. This wasn’t billed as a team building, but I think it was the most effective team building we ever did during my time at that company. It was also a little bit of fun on a budget.