The Mother-Daughter Switch

Every expedition has a beginning. Mine started in my apartment, where, every night, the sound of the Saranac River lulled me to sleep. When I wasn’t sleeping, I stared at the Northern Forest Canoe Trail (NFCT) poster hanging above my desk. The NFCT was literally in my backyard and provided everything I wanted in a trip: 40-plus days away and a low budget.

The NFCT extends 740 miles across New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Quebec, and Maine. The trail spans 22 rivers and streams, with some upriver, 58 lakes and ponds, 63 portages, and 13 different maps. My partner, Jon, and I estimated it would take us 41 to 50 days to complete, which meant our pace would have to be a minimum of 14.8 miles per day.

Beginning the Journey

We began our journey in Old Forge, New York. Everything went as planned for about two weeks, until Jon contracted Lyme disease. Lyme made him feel arthritic and feverish, conditions not conducive to six-plus hours of paddling, lining, and portaging. At the time, we didn’t know he had Lyme, but thought he had strained his back. Thus, we camped in Enosburg Falls, Vermont, the Dairy Capital of the World, for a week to see if his condition would improve.

I remember calling my mom to notify her of the tribulations we had experienced so far. Up to that point, we had to deal with the situation of the two escaped Clinton Correctional Facility prisoners and a torrential downpour that made paddling downstream on the Saranac River impossible. After the tick situation, I told my mom that Jon was unable to continue, and I was going to exchange my gear for a one-man Kevlar canoe and finish by myself. She innocently said, “Maybe I could finish with you, but you’ll have to talk your dad into it.”

I asked, “Will you have a problem taking orders from me, your daughter?” It was an odd question, but an important one. My mom instantly asked, “Why would I? You know what you are doing with the paddling, and I don’t.” She was right: She had zero paddling experience, so I wasn’t sure how successful we would be, but I was thankful to not have to call it quits.

Credit: Sydney Aveson
Credit: Sydney Aveson

Leadership

I learned my first leadership lessons in life from my parents. They had the responsibility of keeping my sister and I safe, guiding us through the ups and downs, and influencing us to be the best we could be. Through my parents’ decisions, I learned what and what not to do. However, when my mother became a member of this expedition, we turned that relationship upside down. I became the unequivocal leader, because I had more experience and knowledge.

I have been asked by a number of people if that mental shift was difficult. My response was a resounding “No.” The transition was effortless and natural. I have to give much of the credit to my mother for this, because she was completely open-minded about everything. She fell into her role as a student seamlessly, most likely because she’s a teacher.

My mom’s first day on the water included a challenging upriver section on the Missisquoi River. We had to line up a breached dam with razor-sharp rebar and Class II rapids. I was hoping to ease her into the trip with a short and easy day, but instead, we worked hard for 8.5 hours and paddled upstream for 11.5 miles. The lack of campsites and takeouts left us with no other option. In hindsight, it was probably one of the trip’s hardest days, as paddling upstream is like going against a never-ending treadmill.

Credit: Sydney Aveson
Credit: Sydney Aveson

Once she got through that day with zero complaints, my worries fell away. Not even hurdling over dozens of beaver dams got the best of her. The hardest part for her, however, had nothing to do with the paddling or the portaging. It was my strict policy for carrying only one luxury item. Weight was an important consideration, because we would have to carry everything during 55-plus miles of portaging. My item was a collection of Q-tips and hers was deodorant, which she rarely used.

We were both allowed one book, as well, which she fought wholeheartedly against, because she reads a book a day at home. Here, though, she barely got through one during a month of camping, so, in this case, I guess daughter knows best.