The Boat Shoes Should Have Tipped Me Off

In town for business, my wife’s cousin was visiting us.  Although he had concluded his business on a Friday he was staying over until Sunday, so we decided to treat him to a unique Florida experience: canoeing down the Juniper run.

To cool the family off on hot Saturday afternoons my father would take us to Juniper Springs.  Flowing from a massive spring, year-round the temperature of the water in the swimming basin stayed at 72 degrees.

On a scorching Florida afternoon, knowing the shock that would result from diving into the cold water, building my courage, I would stand on the stairs leading into the swimming hole; then, I would dive head first into the spring fed pool.  From 95 to 72 degrees in the blink of an eye: at first it would be unbearably cold and then, after a few minutes, refreshing.

After an hour of swimming, my mother would wrap me in a beach towel and with the windows of the car rolled down we would drive back home.  Exhausted, I would doze in the car and when home, still chilled from the cold water, sleep soundly.  Those were the fond memories that lent to my desire to share a special place with my wife’s cousin.

When I told the cousin we were going to go canoeing, his response was that he needed to purchase “boating” shoes: “You know, the shoes that have soles with little lines in them.”  Although I had no idea what he was talking about, we went shopping for boating shoes.

In store after store, when we explained what we were searching for, people would shake their heads in bewilderment.  Finally, a clerk exclaimed, “What you are looking for are Sperry Top-Siders and we have them in stock.”  Thirty bucks later, the cousin was properly equipped for the following day’s canoe trip.

Juniper Run is a narrow, clear, stream running seven miles from Juniper Springs to a wayside park.  You  rent a canoe at the springs and for a fee, the concessionaire will have someone transport you and the canoe back from the park.  A great way to spend a hot afternoon: that is if you are a canoe and out-door person.  Which, when he insisted upon purchasing boat shoes, I should have known our relative wasn’t.

With me steering in the rear, my wife paddling in the front and the cousin sitting in the middle of the canoe, we began our journey down the Juniper Run. It was an Idyllic trip until the cousin panicked when he saw an alligator.  I explained that with the current we were making good time and before any gator noticed us we would be on down the stream; besides, alligators didn’t want anything to do with us; it was snakes on the banks of the stream I feared—a comment I would later regret.

About halfway down the run, my wife ducked under an overhanging limb but the cousin, vigilantly on the watch for gators and snakes didn’t and when the limb caught him in the head, he jumped aside, tipping all of us out of the canoe.  His first thought was to get to land, so he headed towards the bank of the stream. As he was grabbing the underbrush to pull himself out of the water, he remembered my comment about snakes.  With a scream, he let go and drifted to the center of the run, where the water was too deep for him to stand and we discovered he didn’t know how to swim.

The canoe was traveling away from us with the current; holding the cousin’s head above the water, I couldn’t catch it, so my wife was left to try and slow it down.  When I would attempt to maneuver the cousin to shallower water, he would scream about snakes and deciding that drowning was preferable to being bitten, head back into deeper water.

Eventually, the front of the canoe got caught on a limb slowing its progress and—without the new boating shoes—now somewhere on the bottom of the stream—we managed to shove the cousin in and continue our voyage. With our passenger huddled down low to avoid any overhanging limbs, we made good progress, until a thunderstorm broke bringing lightning, thunder and torrential rain.

When the man sent to pick us up finally appeared—he had been delayed for an hour by the storm, leaving us to freeze in the rain—he found us trying to appease a tired, wet, cold, angry and barefoot relative.

That trip down the Juniper Run taught me a valuable lesson: because you like something, doesn’t mean someone else will.  I didn’t ask my wife’s cousin if he wanted to go on a canoe trip; I took if for granted he would.  I ignored the signs—purchasing “Boat” shoes—that he wasn’t accustomed to nature adventures.  Fortunately, he got over it and our relationship was not damaged—in fact, it became a great family story that got more dramatic with every telling.


You must stick to your conviction, but be ready to abandon your assumptions.” -Denis Waitley


5 responses to “The Boat Shoes Should Have Tipped Me Off

  1. Wow, that sounds like an “adventure”, Bill 🙂

  2. Really good story Bill, and obviously a good lesson. Thanks for sharing your family story.

  3. Funny story, though I’m sure it wasn’t so funny at the time! Great telling of it, Bill.

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