As I pulled up to Wallace Marine Park, I spotted the metal canoes lying on the river bank. Instantly, my stomach had more knots than a cub scout jamboree. It had been a long time since summer camp when I braved the rapids in one these tipsy crafts. And this guided trip hosted by Willamette Riverkeeper marked the very first occasion I would have to paddle with intention. In youth, my small stature had left camp counselors, friends, and family skeptical of my rowing abilities, and as a result, I was also placed among the ballast in the middle of the boat—without a paddle.

In high school and college, I survived a few whitewater rafting trips and even a solo kayaking expedition in Glacier National Park, but the canoe and I still had unfinished business. And now it teased me with its steely indifference to my anxiety. I couldn’t help but be apprehensive. Sporting simple running shorts and flip flops, the other paddlers’ sophisticated Keens and Kevlar Grip Gloves assured me I was in way over my head. I hoped this would not be the case once we got in the water.

Lucky for me, I had my youthful vigor, a strong back rower, competitive edge, and fellow paddlers who were more interested in seeing the sights than finishing the 12-mile-journey in record time. (We are talking people who bring tiny dogs in life jackets on a river trip; no Olympic athletes.) Despite a preliminary crash into a cement bridge beam, my paddling partner and I managed to keep up without being a hindrance to the rest of the group. (Our crisis went unnoticed due to a father-daughter kayak flip that happened at the same time. Whew!)

Although, rapids, distance, and a muddy uphill portage all added degrees of difficulty to this voyage, there was plenty of camaraderie, rare bird sightings, and breathtaking scenery to keep even the most canoe-a-phobic participants (like me) coming back for more.

If my narrative has inspired the adventurer in you, sign up now to attend Paddle Oregon, a four-night, five-day trip covering more than 100 river miles. This massive excursion runs from today (Monday)-Friday Aug 20 and comes at the low price of free.

Other upcoming trips can be looked at on the site’s website at willametteriverkeeper.org.