Fran Capo and her son Spencer kayakingWhen Zoar Outdoor invited me to try out a new zip line canopy tour, the first in Massachusetts and southern New England, I was thrilled. Since I was going zipling I figured why not extend the adventure and add a family travel kayak element. I soon found out that this little decision would leave me gasping for air.  

My son, Spencer, and I arrived at the Berkshires resort at noon for a half-day kayaking instruction and adventure. We were introduced to Jim, our instructor, signed releases and then were given our gear; kayak, wetsuit, booties, paddles, spray skirt and paddling jacket.  We supplied the bathing suits and fleece jacket.

Learning to Kayak

Jim was very laid back. He fitted us with our kayaks…a smaller kayak than I have ever been in before and that’s not because I have grown shorter, it’s because this smaller kayak was better for turning, steering and stunts (not that I planned on really doing any, at least not for the first hour).

Now here’s the thing. I had gone kayaking four times before; in Tarrytown paddling down under the Tappen Zee bridge, on my lake in the backyard, once when a swan attacked me and in Antarctica when I was chased by a leopard seal (that’s a whole other story). But in all the times I went, no one ever bothered to show me how to get out of the kayak if it rolled over.  Might be a useful thing since handing upside down in the water is not a good thing, especially if you like to breathe. 

To practice our skills we headed down to the river in a calm area. To get there, we had to carry our own kayak on our shoulders down a hill.  Makes for a nice workout. That’s the thing with outdoor adventures… you can’t be a whiner, you gotta learn to be independent, unless of course you have so much money that you hire some porter to carry your gear for you. (Wait, not a bad idea, let me check my wallet and see.)
Rolling the Kayak

Anyway, the first thing Jim taught us was to roll the kayak, purposely into the water so we’d know how to escape…I mean get out in case of emergency. A necessary skill to learn. But let me explain something here…it is June, and while the temperature may be getting warmer, the water is still very cold. Jim made sure we dressed in layers under our wetsuit to stay warm, but nonetheless…it’s cold. (Okay, not as cold as kayaking in Antarctica…but then we weren’t practicing rolls there.)

Being the mom that I am…I graciously let Spencer go first. He rolled his eyes. “Thanks mom.” Jim got in the water with Spencer.  Jim had a smile on his face, which made me think he was getting some kind of pleasure out knowing what was about to happen. “OK, Spence, now gently rock the kayak so you know where the tipping point is. All you need to do is lean forward to have more control.  Hold onto the front of the skirt, and then roll the kayak. When you tip over, pull the skirt off and you will be free to come up. Later you can learn the advanced rolls where you will roll entirely.”

Instructors always make everything sound so easy. But no matter how good they are, there is always anticipation the first time you do something.

Spencer looked at me, gave me that point of no return look, rolled and within seconds he was bobbing his head up.

Mom Rolls Over

Now the pressure was on. I had to follow him and being slightly competitive I wanted to make sure I beat his time getting out. I was a little nervous doing it because I really didn’t want to get wet…. wrong sport to be thinking of that.  I tried to talk as long as I could to prolong the inevitable. Jim smiled knowing I had to go in sooner or later. Finally I rolled. It felt like one big ice cream headache… it was definitely and inspiration to get out quickly.  I was cold, but happy that I did it.

We repeated the exercise a few times, with variations on a theme. Rolling right, rolling left, holding the paddles, not holding the paddles, having our hands on the skirt, not having our hands on the skirt. Then we moved onto other skills; like paddling in circles, in figure eights, straight ahead (which isn’t as easy as it looks in this particular kayak). I felt like I was in a clown car, and I was the clown.

Taking on the Rapids

After Jim felt we were sufficiently wet, he graduated us from the lazy river to one with some rapids. Rapids are rated by class, a one being mild, and class five being wild.

We headed over to class three rapids…just so we could see what we’d one day be able to handle…Then over to the more reasonable, class one rapids. I was laughing…come on how hard can this be? I’ve rafted on class 5 on the Colorado River…of course I was with six others steering the rapids and a trained instructor, but that’s a minor detail. 

Jim showed us how to get into the current from an Eddy (calm space behind a rock).  Spencer and I did the first few times without a problem.

Mom Rolls Again

Then of course…. my fourth time I went in sideways which allowed the flowing water to tip my kayak. I was upside down in the water before I knew what hit me.  Ya think I would have remembered to pull the skirt right away. Nooooo. There I was hanging upside down in the water thinking to myself, ”Now why am I not getting out?” Then I remembered…”Capo, pull the skirt!!”  

I felt like I was in there for minutes. Jim, who was right near my kayak when I popped up, assured me it was less than 15 seconds.

I learned a valuable lesson, there is a huge difference doing something when you intend to, and doing something when you are caught off guard. I was willing to practice that rolling thing till I got it perfect. Spencer laughed when I went in as if to say, “Mom. you weren’t paying attention!”   Life has a funny way of paying you back though, because his next time up, at the very same spot, over he went. Where is the Flip camera when you need it!

We ended day one with a deeper respect for the river. That night we ate at a local restaurant, took in a movie and played some air hockey. It was very relaxing, the perfect thing we needed to be ready for our Zip Lining adventure to come.

Fran Capo is TravelingAdventureMom for as well as a comedienne, keynote motivational speaker, eleven-time author, adventurer, spokesperson, and five-time world record holder, best known as the Guinness Book of World Records fastest talking female. She is also the co-host of the TV show, Live it Up! with Donna Drake and Fran Capo that airs on Friday mornings 6-7 am on Channel TV10/55 reaching 5.8 million homes. Fran has appeared on over 350 television shows and 3500 radio shows including, Entertainment Tonight, Larry King Live, Last Call with Carson Daly, Good Morning America, Nick at Nite, Discovery Channel, the Martha Stewart Show , CNN where my segment was voted top five watched for the week bringing in and most recently on Fox and Friends. To learn more about Fran Capo go to