Canoeing Sleepy Creek Lake

Sleepy Creek Lake Canoeing

***Before beginning this post, I would be remiss to omit a sincere thank you to my wife and children.  I truly appreciate your efforts to make this Father’s Day a special day for me.  I love the char–coal grill.  I love the hugs, kisses, and cards.  I love my cake.  And I love you.  When I look at you, I know I am truly a blessed man.  Thank you for making every day feel like Father’s Day.***

Mother Goose and Her Goslings – Paddling Sleepy Creek Lake

Mother Goose and Her Goslings – Floating atop Sleepy Creek Lake

To celebrate Father’s Day, my family and I headed east towards Sleepy Creek Lake in Berkeley County, West Virginia, for a day of paddling our canoe and kayaks.  To ensure that we had enough energy for such an adventure, my wife prepared my favorite breakfast – buckwheat pancakes, real maple syrup, and oven–baked cinnamon and sugar bacon.  After gorging ourselves sufficiently, we left the comforts of home towards the mountains.  As we drove the winding gravel road, bouncing over potholes large enough to swallow small Volkswagens, I once again instructed the little ones on proper paddling and safety.  “Yes, there may be snakes.  Yes, you may flip over and fall in the water, but the most dangerous thing on the lake today will be your paddle.  Most paddling accidents happen because people were playing with their paddles and accidentally knocked someone’s teeth out.  That’s not going to happen though, right???”

Within an hour, we were at a boat ramp on Sleepy Creek Lake.  We carried our canoe, kayaks, and gear to the edge of the lake and prepared to ease our way into the water – the three older children in kayaks, Misti, Turtle, and I in the canoe.  The three of us in the canoe slid from the ramp and paddled a few feet into the water.  Misti and I are old pros, and Turtle has no fear, but the other siblings, that was another story.  After sliding their kayaks off the ramp and into the lake, it took a while for them to feel comfortable on the water.

My oldest daughter (in the green kayak) took to paddling like an old pro.  I'm excited to have an upcoming whitewater buddy!

My oldest daughter (in the green kayak) took to paddling like an old pro. I’m excited to have an upcoming whitewater buddy!

We paddled slowly at first, allowing the three kayakers time to acclimate to this new type of adventure.  Within moments, my oldest daughter was paddling further and further away from us, looking back only to check for approval.  Misti and I both yelled to her, “You can paddle a bit further away.  We just have to be able to see you.”  She seemed like an old pro at paddling, and I fully suspect that she’ll become my “whitewater buddy.”  This wasn’t the case with the other two children.  Both paddled closer and closer to our canoe until I’d finally use my paddle to push them back to a safe distance.  I didn’t want to unintentionally smack one of them with a J-stroke, and I didn’t want to baby them too much either.  Children (and even adults) need to be pushed from their comfort zone.  With no challenges and no adventure, we have no room to grow.  To their credit, both fearful paddlers finished the trip with a stronger sense of accomplishment and confidence in their abilities.  Even so, it didn’t help that the water in our cove of the lake seemed surreal.  Within a few feet of the surface, the water turns a deep greenish–black.  As you paddle around dead tree trunks towering overhead, you realize that many more are standing beneath the water and reach almost to the surface.  Brown tree trunks covered with a touch of green algae standing tall in the black water seemed more akin to a Tolkien novel than anything in my known universe.

As we paddled, I imagined countless bass–fishing trips to our newfound paddling location.  Sleepy Creek Lake is known for it’s large bass, and many “experts” expect that the next state trophy will come from these waters.  Apparently, all of those standing trees are the remnants of a forest no one bothered cutting before damming Sleepy Creek and filling the valley with water.  The remaining trees and underbrush provide great habitat for those smallmouth bass we anglers get so excited about.

Turtle loved the water!  I just couldn't keep him still in the canoe.

Turtle loved the water! I just couldn’t keep him still in the canoe.

My state trophy bass–fishing daydreams were frequently interrupted by Turtle’s constant movement from left to right.  Even though he is relatively small, the shift in weight would cause the canoe to shift just enough to startle me.  I’d lean to the opposite direction, balance the canoe again, and then quickly react as he shifted once more to the side of the canoe where the grass seemed greener.  As I watched him splash his feet in the water, my wife dutifully taking photos and worrying about her goslings, and the other children experiencing their first paddling experience, I gave up any inclination to dream the day away.  Why waste a perfect day on such follies as daydreaming?

To lighten the spirits of the more worrisome children and to provide a brief reprieve from the heat, I started using my paddle to splash everyone.  Misti would yell back to me, “I’ve got my phone!  Don’t get me wet!”

I’d reply, “OK, baby” as I accidentally splashed a bit more water onto her already sunburned shoulders.

We paddled for about two hours.  We didn’t cover much of the lake.  We just took our time, enjoying each other’s company as we paddled along.  This allowed me and Misti an opportunity to survey the lake and to keep a watchful eye on our brood while also allowing each child to learn at their own pace.  Even with such a small area of observation, I still found the lake to be beautiful.  I enjoyed seeing those tree trunks reaching to just below the surface.  I enjoyed the water lilies and their beautiful yellow blooms.  And I enjoyed getting a chance to be a father on Father’s Day.

Canoeing Sleepy Creek Lake 3

A Beautiful Mother, a Mischievous Son, and a Happy Father on Father’s Day

We returned home exhausted.  The heat and the paddling diminished all of our energy, but I somehow managed to find the motivation to use my char–coal grill for the first time.  We enjoyed my (almost) famous hot dogs topped with Misti’s mom’s special chili and my dad’s timeless cole slaw.  I thought of all the time I’ve spent with him, and I thought of his passing down the tradition of making the best cole slaw.  As I finished dinner and had a celebratory cigar, I thought back to my dad again and again.  I can only hope that as my children grow older they will respect me as much as I do my own dad, that they enjoyed the chance to spend time outdoors with me… and remember that I made the best cole slaw ever.

If you have any Father’s Day traditions or family canoeing stories, I’d love to hear about them!  Send me a link to your post or share them here in the comments.

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5 thoughts on “Canoeing Sleepy Creek Lake

  1. That’s a hard to beat day for a Dad! Loved the pep talk in the car – it’s best to return with the same number of children you set off with, and that they all have their teeth…
    Sent my Dad a crate of world beers, and if he doesn’t drink them/hide them, one of my brothers will visit to “help” him out there.
    Enjoyed your post, has me willing this term to end so we can get out and paddle (July 1st!)

    • Thanks for commenting! It was a pretty fantastic day.

      The river guides used to call them “summer teeth” – sum–mer in your mouth and sum–mer not.

      A crate of world beers sounds like a pretty good way to spend a Father’s Day as well!

  2. I don’t have any Father’s Day paddling stories but I am wondering as we start thinking about kids and don’t want to stop paddling, how old do you bring them into a canoe? What about a kayak? Just thinking about the balance of not scaring them vs raising them on the water. You know, the important things to consider when thinking about kids… 🙂

    • I don’t think there is a set age for when you can get them out on a canoe or kayak. Certainly there will be some downtime when they are infants, but as soon as you feel that they are ready, I say get them out on the water.

      Canoes are easier, especially if you have a relatively stable canoe. As long as you can find a properly fitting PFD for the tike and you feel like they won’t be diving overboard, go ahead and get them acquainted with paddling on a lake. Turtle is three – almost four – and he is fine with paddling. We could have started him quite a bit earlier though.

      For kayaks, I think if you start them paddling with you in a canoe early, you can move them to a kayak early. The youngest of our older three is 8 and he did fine on the water, but had he been paddling with us in the canoe as a toddler, he probably could have been paddling at four or five.

      It really comes down to the child’s personality and your judgement. As long as you feel like you can keep them safe, you should be fine. I do, however, recommend a BLS/CPR course and a few practice spills before you actually need to react to an emergency.

      Hope this helps! Good luck on the paddling and with the future little ones!

      • Thanks so much! That’s good to know and makes sense. I haven’t done much canoeing at all but I’m definitely open to it for all those reasons. And I look forward to reading future posts!

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