The first time was the worst time.
There I was, a young guy with a new driver's license, all excited about the weekend. I'd just registered for the Mid-American Canoe Race and found a local place that would rent me and my friend a boat.
And that's when the headaches began.
First, they made me pick up the boat the night before. So, Saturday night, I'm driving home with a 17-foot canoe teetering on the roof of my subcompact.
Then, after the race on Sunday, the condition was I return it to the store -- that day -- or pay additional rental fees.
What a hassle.
Fortunately, this is a new age. In fact, renting a boat for the Mid-American Canoe & Kayak Race on Sunday, June 2, couldn't be more convenient. It's actually easier than 1-2-3.
All you have to do is show up.
Register online for the Mid-Am at www.foxvalleypark district.org, and with a click of your mouse, you're good to go. Your boats, paddles and life jackets will be waiting at the start area for you and your group.
After you enjoy your time on the river -- paddling either the 10-mile route from St. Charles or the 6-miler from Batavia -- beach your boat at McCullough Park in Aurora and walk 50 yards inland, where you'll be in the middle of the post-race festivities that include lunch, beer, music, prize drawings and race awards.
It's the canoe and kayak version of valet parking.
If you really enjoy convenience, start race day by parking your car at the finish area and riding a free shuttle bus to the start. No need to retrieve your car after the race; it will be waiting patiently for you at the post-race party.
The park district has partnered with area boat rental companies to offer a fleet of 225 canoes and 100 kayaks. Together, we're able to offer a discount package that offers opportunity and affordability.
That's been the whole idea since the rental program began in 2009 -- making the Mid-Am a gateway for those who have always wanted to paddle the Fox River. This waterway of recreation -- bordered by world-class trails for much of its length -- is a shared asset to be celebrated.
Adding the shorter Batavia route has introduced more people to the river. Families, young paddlers and newcomers have since discovered that paddling a boat amid the steady current, scenic channels and many islands of the Fox is a uniquely enjoyable experience.
"Fun" defines the Mid-Am, and that's why we've expanded that aspect of the race in recent years. All of this without losing sight of the competitive aspect, which is why early heats are reserved for the top racers, so they have a clear run of the river to post the fastest times.
This is a festive event. Paddlers receive lunch (Jimmy John's sub, chips and drink), T-shirt, goody bag and entry for prize drawings. Radio station K-HITS 104.3 will provide music at the finish area. Local restaurants will be on hand selling hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, popcorn, ice cream and, yes, cold beer. Friends, family and spectators are welcome.
You'll even be treated like a celebrity at the North Aurora dam, where the Lions Club will have the public address system at full volume to serenade paddlers as they approach -- always a fan favorite.
Your boat is waiting. Click that mouse, and soon, you'll have a paddle in your hand. But don't delay -- preregistration ends at noon Wednesday, May 29.
Jeff Long is the public relations manager for the Fox Valley Park District. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org