Last weekend was the ACA’s Adaptive Paddling Workshop in Big Bay, MI. You don’t have to be a paddling instructor to take this course, but since I am, it counts as an Endorsement to my teaching certificate as well as renewal training to help keep my certification active for another 4 years. Now Robb and I are both certified to teach students of all abilities, as long as they meet the Essential Eligibility Criteria as set forth by the American Canoe Association.

The workshop was four days at Bay Cliff Health Camp — it was so beautiful, and welcoming, and relaxing, and perfect. So perfect, in fact, we are seriously considering buying land in the U.P. Maybe not immediately, but definitely while Joey is still young enough to be brainwashed into believing that everyone camps and internet is not a lifeline.

Anyway, back to the workshop… The first two days were classroom & lab work: learning about the technical side of things. HIPAA basics, protocol for student interviews, scenarios that we may encounter, adaptive equipment options, building & customizing kayaks, etc. It was a lot to take in in two days, plus homework. Robb and Joey were with me, well, staying in the same little house as me. I would see them randomly throughout the day, but it was super weird not to be with Joey all day long. Robb did a great job being the “stay-at-home” dad (….if the shoe fits…).

We drove all day Wednesday. What Google Maps says is 10 hours, easily turns into 12+ with a 4 month old, but regardless, Joey is great at road trips. She really is my daughter. Oh, the places we’ll go, my child. Arriving in the dark, after a monsoon during the last 30 miles, I was ready to snooze. Joey, on the other hand, was ready to start rolling over in her sleep and thus scaring herself without ever actually waking up — which scared us, but we managed. Thursday was long, and after interrupted sleep, even longer. Then Thursday night was even worse — she wouldn’t stop rolling over. I got no sleep. At 4AM I was ready to pack up and leave. I couldn’t focus on work & learning with her freaking out all night. Robb said leaving was out of the question. So during the first break of the day, I told one of our instructor trainers what was up (additionally, the stress of it all had made me a little sick) and he was so understanding and accommodating. Willing to help me figure out whatever I needed to do to stay and finish the weekend. They were amazing.

Thursday and Friday afternoon was on-water time to show what we were capable of, more or less. Two of us were kayak instructors, and two were guides (one with no formal training, one with lots just no certification). Five others were of various careers — pediatrician, physical therapists, disability benefit coordinator. Some were doing this for work, some were doing it for personal reasons. Everyone was doing it for love.

We played games to build on our teaching and teamwork skills. In teams of two, one paddled with our eyes closed, while our partner directed us to a specific location. We did a mock group paddle around the harbor, and we had to perform a towing-rescue without using a tow rope. On Friday, we had to complete an assisted rescue, from both sides of the capsize. Lake Superior is as cold as they say. And apparently this was a warmish-cold day, being at the end of the season and uncommonly hot for September. It took my breath away. I was wearing a two-piece dry suit. But, wow, cold. That water is seriously cold. How cold? You ask… So cold that kayak companies don’t offer straight rentals — they only do Guided Trips, because you know, cold water.

Saturday, we met our student, Jim. He is so funny and super laid-back. I kind of wanted to bring him home and keep him for my grandpa, even though he isn’t quite that old. We chose a kayak, adapted it for him, and then headed to the pool for a swim test. Jim had started a class like this recently, so he’s already done a wet exit. That made things easy. The kayak adaptations stayed intact and nothing needed changed. A few reinforcements and we were ready for the open water. We took one of The LoCo ‘Yaks Shak’s Conduit 13s and another team was using it. Robb & I were excited to see the work they were doing. Some of the other teams had a lot more work than we did. It was a super long day for them. And exhausting. But totally worth it.

Sunday we met at a little city park near an ore dock in Marquette. There was an ADA roller paddlecraft launch located across the street from a public Lake Superior beach. Bay Cliff brought lunch for everyone — a U.P. specialty — pasties (pronounced past-ees). Oh my! So delicious, and so filling I had to save half for afterward. We brought home frozen ones for the fam.

A smooth launch and a slow, quiet paddle up the mouth of the Dead River made for a successful day. We didn’t get far. Some of us were slower than others. Jim called us “Team Geriatrics” for having the oldest guy in the group. I, surprisingly, was not the oldest instructor in our class. Before we split for the day, we each received our certificate of completion or endorsement, and those of us who wanted to, stayed for a personal evaluation. I stayed to hear what they had to say, and I’m glad I did. They confirmed that I’m in the right place doing what I love. People who didn’t know me four days ago, seeing my passion, commenting on my professionalism, commending my perseverance, and thanking me for being an ACA Instructor. Their constructive criticism? Preempted with “We understand you just had a baby,” they said I need more practice time on the water. I could’ve told me that. Oh, wait! I have. But Joey is kind of bossy sometimes. Priorities.

Once off the water and loaded up, I picked up Robb & Joey to go out to dinner with the APW Instructor Trainers, some classmates, and one of our students & his fiancee. It was nice to relax with everyone. The margarita gave me an instant headache, and the ladies passed Joey around for some baby-loving. After dinner we headed back to camp to get ready for an early morning departure. Plus Sami, one of my classmates (& Bay Cliff employee) had to come get some Joey love before we left. (She has a mild case of baby-fever.)

Thanks to a story from Jim, we added a little adventure to the drive home — Our 4 month old daughter has had her toes in the waters of four of the five Great Lakes. Something we had not accomplished in our 40+ years, until now, with her, because of her. She is a world changer, that’s for sure… Lake Ontario, ready or not, here we come!!