An elegant, classy dinner party with gold paper doilies under the plates? Not our style! Here’s another idea for celebrating a Golden Anniversary: a one-week canoe-camping trip! Our children and their families joined us to float a 107-mile stretch of the Upper Missouri River in an area virtually untouched since Lewis and Clark’s expedition two hundred years ago. We slept in tents, used bucket toilets, and dealt with insects, injuries, thunderstorms, and extreme heat. Like Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery, we met these challenges through teamwork and determination. Just the kind of party to remind us of the roads we have traveled in our half-century together! A golden anniversary – one that celebrates fifty years of marriage – calls for a real celebration. If you are planning one, you may need some ideas to get you started.
Here are our tips for planning a memorable party:
1. Choose an activity that is meaningful to the anniversary couple
There are a million things we love about canoeing, so a canoe trip was the obvious choice for us. As Henry David Thoreau said:
Everyone must believe in something.
I believe I’ll go canoeing.
2. Choose a scenic venue
A lot of photos will be taken (797 from the cameras in our group), so choose a location with a scenic backdrop. We chose the White Cliffs and the Badlands, two sections of the National Wild and Scenic Upper Missouri River in Montana (Map). Captain Meriwether Lewis was awestruck by the white sandstone bluffs of the White Cliffs, and author Stephen Ambrose, in his Lewis and Clark book Undaunted Courage, describes the White Cliffs as “one of the most beautiful places on Earth.” The Badlands section is more rugged and wild, with many old homestead buildings and opportunities to view bighorn sheep.
3. Choose the proper guests
Invite guests who have an equal amount of compatible and conflicting interests to support lively conversation, says Martha Stewart. Our two children, their spouses, and our five grandchildren brought our total to eleven. This was not a huge group, but we certainly satisfy Martha Stewart’s criteria for having a range of interests.
4. Plan Ahead
Seventeen years ago – that’s when we started to plan this trip. “This would be a great family float trip,” we said, as we paddled the Upper Missouri River on our own in 1999. Nick, our first grandchild, was just four months old at the time, so we knew the trip would have to wait awhile. 2016 seemed the ideal year, as we would be celebrating two significant anniversaries: fifty years of marriage and twenty years of canoe-tripping. Serious planning began one year ago. To set a date that works with your family’s work and school schedules, one year ahead is not too early to begin.
5. Get expert help
Sure, we can organize a multi-day canoe-camping trip – we’ve done dozens – but why not splurge on some advice and assistance? Rachel organized our airline flights. River guides Chad and Will kept us safe on the river, led us on hikes to viewpoints and abandoned homesteads, told us about the river’s history and geology, prepared tasty meals – and even washed the dishes. For a low-fuss experience, consider an all-inclusive guided trip.
6. Plan activities for all ages and abilities
For the athletes in our group, hiking, swimming, and weight-lifting (carrying gear to and from campsites) were incorporated into the itinerary. We strolled to tipi rings and pictographs, tackled a vigorous climb to Hole-in-the-Wall, and hiked five miles back from the river to the spot where Captain Clark first viewed the Rockies. Singing, card and dice games, and relaxing in camp chairs were available for those who felt more sedentary.
7. Use a Golden theme
The 50th anniversary is known as the golden anniversary, so it is a good idea to use decorations that are golden in colour, as well as party supplies favoured by the guests of honour. We are fond of kevlar canoes (yellow-gold in colour) and carbon-fibre paddles, so when we discovered an outfitter who offered those, we signed up with them.
8. Be a bit selfish
As the anniversary couple, we wanted to paddle together, and so we did. Others with less paddling experience had to learn quickly, but they stepped up to the task. Nick and Willy were at home in the stern, but Alec hadn’t been in a canoe for almost forty years. Thirteen-year-old Nathan was sterning for the first time, and Angie was a novice in the bow. By the second or third day, their canoes were actually passing us old-timers!
9. Provide comic relief
Walter was the life of the party. With his playful sense of humour and rugged good looks, Chad’s Airedale terrier kept us entertained 24/7. Walter was always smiling, whether he was chasing sticks, snatching food, or jumping out of the canoe at times of his own choosing.
10. Relax and enjoy the party
Remember, no matter how carefully you plan an event, not everything will go exactly as expected, and that’s fine. That’s how marriage is, too. We encountered insects, heavy rain, and thunderstorms; one storm kept us camp-bound for a full day. Some our boats ran aground, and one capsized. Falling branches, sharp rocks, and campfire sparks caused a few wounds and injuries. We laughed through the challenges and enjoyed the opportunity to be together with the people we love.
Are you expecting marriage tips because we have been together fifty years? We will oblige.
Doug: Share your strengths. She does the math; I tighten the bolts.
Cathy: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. Ladies, this is easier said than done!