Personal Essays

Why I Canoe

kopka 059

A guest post by Amy Funk of

To talk about why I canoe, I have to first address my passion for the natural world. Sometimes tragedy can push you to find comfort. The year I turned six, my brother was killed in a car accident in July. A few months later, one of my Mom’s best friends died of a brain tumor, and the following month, my cousin was killed in a fire started by a Christmas tree. I remember this time as very confusing and scary. I also remember this time as my first glimpse of the healing solitude of the outdoors.

Trying to deal with all the emotions and turmoil, I started to create secret forts around my neighborhood. I had many “hiding” spots in various bushes and trees in my neighborhood. I am not sure if it was the grief or my natural personality, but I spent a lot of time alone in my hiding places. I was happy and peaceful in solitude. I loved to hear the wind, or watch a spider spin a web. I would follow ants around or look for ‘pillbugs’. I routinely would get in trouble because no one knew where I was and I couldn’t hear my Mom calling. I wanted to be outside at all times in all sorts of weather. I had a special affinity for following water. After a rain, I would follow the flow of water down our streets and check out the levels in a creek that ran through town. I would make play boats with leaves and send them off to see what course they would take. Over the years, I kept those hideouts and my fondness for being alone in nature only grew. I never could understand why others could not feel the complete beauty and healing touch of just hanging out in wild places.

My First Experience with Canoeing

My first experience with canoeing was in middle school, through a neighbor named Les. He owned property along a local river, the Mackinaw. While he worked on his property, he would set four of us neighbor girls adrift in canoes down the river. At the end of the day, he would pick us up downstream. I instantly fell in love with canoeing and the flow of the river. The river sights, sounds and smells were all new to me and I felt like I had found another hidden world. In many ways, the river became another secret hiding spot for me. To this day, I am madly in love with rivers. The idea of traveling along waterways captures my passion in a way few things do.

my Yellowstone, the 'Mud Puppy', we did a very small creek, very twisty, lots of gradient, some portages. It was so fun. I love to portage, by the way. I guess I am crazy.
My Yellowstone, the 'Mud Puppy', we did a very small creek, very twisty, lots of gradient, some portages. It was so fun. I love to portage, by the way. I guess I am crazy.

During college, I worked as a camp counselor and naturalist for various Girl Scout camps in Illinois. In all serious, one of the main reasons I accepted an assistantship and went to graduate school was to have some more summers as a naturalist. I know a lot of people can relate to the horrors of giving up on living in the woods! I owe most of what I learned about canoeing to a lady named Linda at a camp along the Mississippi in Northwestern Illinois. She shared her passion and expertise on canoeing with me. I learned to teach girls to canoe and learned some boat control and technique. She was a huge influence on me and one of the reasons that I want to keep reaching out to girls to encourage them to explore. She was the first one who showed me that girls can do this type of thing. Although I always had a dream to take off and explore by canoe, gradually, in my 20s I stopped canoeing. I had only used aluminum tandems and no longer had any partners to go out with. I focused on my other passion, hiking, and exploring the woods by foot.

Rediscovering Paddling

Fast forward to about 2005. I had a health scare that I thought was serious. When the doctor originally talked to me, I thought I was ‘not long for this earth’. As I sat in her office after she told me, my first thought was of my family, especially my kids. But, my second thought surprised me! I actually almost said out loud, “I haven’t canoed enough rivers.” Driving home, I had an almost uncontrollable desire to be back on a river. I had to go through surgery and a biopsy to get the results, which were thankfully benign. While I waited, I joined a few message boards on the internet. I read about lightweight solo canoes, and was ecstatic! I didn’t know anything about all the new materials and options. I also realized there were people out there who loved the outdoors as much as I did. I could hardly read trip reports about Canadian Rivers because I wanted to be there so bad.

Receive PaddlingLight updates straight to your inbox every time I publish a new article. Your email address will never be shared
A picture of my Mad River Independence, 'Gypsy 42' in the Boundary Waters during a Mom-daughter trip. That is my daughter, Dani, living the life.
A picture of my Mad River Independence, 'Gypsy 42' in the Boundary Waters during a Mom-daughter trip. That is my daughter, Dani, living the life.

I bought a kevlar Mad River Independence. (She is gorgeous). I joined a local canoe club and started canoeing down my beloved Mackinaw again. Over the next couple of years, I bought more canoes and became fully entrenched in my new addiction. I took a couple of white water classes. And, last year, I attained one of my dreams to go on a Canadian River trip. I was able to get in with a group that did the Kopka River. It was so beautiful and serene and remote. My favorite memory is on a duff day or rest day. I took the canoe out by myself near a spectacular waterfall. I sat there for a long time, holding my place in the frothy water, listening to that powerful water and watching the churning of the waters. That really is what life is about for me. I find such serenity and clarity in those moments.

What Paddling Means to Me

Just a few months ago, I started a website to encourage girls to explore nature. Especially today, there can be a lot of pressure on girls to attain all sorts of superficial and meaningless stereotypes. It would be great if every girl had the natural world to fall back on. A ‘secret’ place to be herself and find her truth. Now that I am getting older, I lean towards nature even more. It helps me accept aging and still know my place in the world. I still love to go exploring as much as I did when I was six. To travel by canoe is to follow the path of my heart and soul.

About was created to encourage girls of all ages, from 1-99, to explore nature! It is dedicated to all girls, young and old, who have a passion for the outdoors. Is your passion hiking, bird watching, skiing, canoeing, kayaking, camping, and/or star gazing? Do you like to explore & play in the dirt? Then, you are you a camp girl. Don’t worry if you live in a city- your own backyard or local park can be a wild place to explore.


  • I liked Amy’s article very much.

  • Me too. I’m glad that she shared it here. I think it’s so cool that paddling can make life better and affect peoples lives like it does.

  • This was a great article by Amy….thanks so much for sharing….and keep up great work with campergirlz

Comments are closed.