This article in today's ASCE Source on the 2021 concrete canoe competition caught my attention as this was one of my more memorable activities as an undergraduate. Doing some quick research, the first national concrete canoe competition took place in 1988. My participation in this right of passage was while concrete canoe construction and racing was still at a regional level – and a far less sophisticated activity than it is today. We built our canoes to race (or more aptly just survive) the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race in Bangor, Maine at a side-event hosted by the University of Maine, Orono. In the two years that I supported or paddled, our canoes were no match for the rapids.
While I did learn a lot about teamwork, planning, construction, etc. my biggest learning was in the area of pulling a trailer and trailer safety. We managed to get a hold of a canoe trailer my senior year. Unfortunately, we under-appreciated the connection to the van we would use to tow the trailer and the trailer hitch came loose from the van in the middle of Boston during morning, rush hour, traffic. Fortunately, a student-friend's father had the foresight to alert us to the need for a safety chain. This redundant connection acted as a barrier (in safety parlance) and averted what could have been dangerous and disastrous situation. After limping off the expressway and a multi-hour delay– to get a proper hitch installed and the damage to the van's brake line repaired – we were on our way again with no further incidents. It was a life-lesson that I'll never forget.