There was the first time of course, but I'm not talking about the first time. That time the pair hit a sandbank and began to get out for the inevitable tow. Nathan choosing the side that hadn't hit the sand and floundering on his back in the unexpectedly deep water, an immediate grin on his face. James, seeing his mighty companion in trouble, leapt from the canoe to hold her from drifting out further. He too hit the unexpected depths, realising too late that they had both now drifted. With little fuss and much laughter, together the devilsome duo swam back to the sand and aboard their ship.
But I'm not talking about that time, the comic error and the refreshing swim, no, I'm talking about that other time. That time a combination of tiredness and confidence took our two strong lads to the tree. The arching branches that swept out into the flowing river. The rippling water that ran over the lower branch as the leaves of the higher branch dangled overhead. There must be room between those bows. To the breach the boys headed, steady as they surged over the fast water.
They had overcome the fallen tree, the end was in sight, but the water had not had its way. Quickly turning in the current, our boys found themselves side on amongst the leaves. They dithered, they dathered, then, as water nipped at the side of the canoe, they climbed the mighty oak as the canoe was sucked beneath.
What next for the pair, our boys in buoyancy aids?! Well, time for a break they think. A moment to enjoy the shade of the leaves, the beauty of the bark and the stunning view of the mighty Loire; its blue waters, its glistening waves, the floating flip-flops. Ah. The floating flip-flops. Oh, and some paddles breaking up the natural landscape. James, the canoe on a rope held tightly in his grasp, considers the merky waters and a potentially cold willy and wonders how badly paddles are really needed this upstream work. Nathan, on the other hand, sees another opportunity to maximize fitness and all round body strength. He dives high into the air from his branch in the river and hits the water like Tom Daley in his 12yr old hay day.
As Nathan swims for Thierry, the paddle he so cherishes, James stands and watches his companion disappearing with the current. He looks too at the canoe, bobbing a the end of the rope just beyond his perch in the river. The canoe, two bags, three barrels and a ruck sack are strung out in a neat line and James stands firm with the rope wondering how long he can hang on. The rope tugs in his sweaty palms as it dawns on him that he must meet the same fate as Nathan. Releasing the rope, he hurls himself from the branch, knees tucked beneath him, arms wrapped around, a cannon ball any kid would be proud of. Shortly at the canoe, he swims it to shore and lashes it to the nearest tree with the knot of a naval officer.
Now our pair are separated, a two man team divided by disaster. They call out to one another and Nathan rounds the corner, two paddles and a water bottle held aloft with pride. But a third spare paddle is missing, it lacks the fine wooden feel of our duo's trusted tools, but its red plastic calls enticingly from the middle of the river.
James embarks on the long swim while Nathan turns and bails out the 17ft canoe. James swims and Nathan bails. And it continues as time passes. By noon the tasks have neared completion. Nathan has an empty canoe and James has in hand a third paddle, along with some flip-flops and a bottle found on his voyage. Now far downstream, James gets to shore and clambers up the bank.
Our boys, divided by distance but not by courage, make their way towards one another, bounty in hand. Together they stand, warriors against the river, crusaders against the current. With all the imagery of a biblical scene, the pair, battered and bleeding, divide bread on the banks of the river. They raise a soggy baguette and peel away the sodden paper bag. Together our boys sit looking out at the fallen tree, it's lower branch in water, the upper in the sun, and they chomp on buttery baguette, served damp, just the way it should be. The tree looks back at them and laughs. It laughs at their stupidity and smiles at their recovery, the bleeding warriors on the banks of the Loire.
That was the time I am talking about. That time with the tree and the floating paddles. That time, not this other times still to come.