Friday, September 02, 2011

You Can't Argue With A River...

"Water doesn't argue and you're never right. That much you can't argue with. Water does what water will do according to the laws of physics and hydrology. It doesn't bend the rules to accommodate we smart people who are dumb enough to try and ride atop her when she's raging." S. F. O.


So we four adventurous men went driving happily on a two lane, nicely paved highway up river to a friendly campground and quite cheerfully filled up four white-water kayaks full of air with our clever air pump that runs off the truck battery.

It was the first time I had met Charles' friend Stuart and I felt confident he knew what he was doing as he looked like a fit old bastard who had been doing for quite some time.

I should have known something was not quite right when he showed me where the straps were that you loop over your knees and thighs to "hold you into the boat". And before that there was the question "do you have a helmet?" which I wrote off as over-cautiousness at the time. I'd bring one, but like normal, I'd just tie it to something in case I needed to put it on.

Then there was the gate we had to climb over. The big tall one designed to keep people out of certain "unsafe" areas in public spaces. Then there was the near cliff we had to climb down, using a tree trunk in opposition to the bank- what we rock climbers would call a "chimney".

And then of course there was the water. Hooboy...

It was already in its fine broiling form where we were to put in. There was a small eddy and a rock. "Place your back half of your boat on this rock and get in. Then scooch off the rock and off ya go."

I wasn't sure but I think he said "get in". There was so much noise from the raging waters it was hard to tell.

So I got in.

River eddies are interesting places. There's an odd stillness in them. The current is usually slightly backwards and in a circle, as faster water rushes by one edge of the eddy and turns it. I got myself into my boat and into that eddy, then waited until Jesus on a Piece of Toast got into his boat, and Charles got close to getting into his.

"You go ahead," I told Jesus On A Piece Of Toast. I was worried about Charles and wanted to keep an eye on him. Jesus On A Piece Of Toast was from Idaho, after all, and had done quite a bit of white water rafting.
So off went Jesus On A Piece Of Toast and then Charles got into the small eddy next to me. I went next, focused on the huge rapids we were about to enter without as much as a stroke of kayaking practice...

Holy Moly! Woohoohoo! I was white water kayaking. The water noise was a roar around me. There was a wad of cotton in my mouth. Paddle paddle, brace, adjust... big giant rapid coming up...

I went over a big rock and thought "I hope this doesn't flip me over" and was all braced with my leg straps to stay attached to my boat no matter what...

As I came over the top and was coming down into the great maw of pounding water I noticed something I'd never seen before. Jesus On A Piece Of Toast was part of the great maw of water and on his face, which I could barely see because it was covered with water, was the look I can only describe as "I'm drowning".

He was sucked into the downward and backwards action of the water, grabbed by physics and hydrology and stuck there, his face breaking the surface of the water just barely and only on occasion. He told me afterwards that all he was thinking at the time was "Oh no, not today. I don't want to die today."

I told him that what I thought was "Oh shit, Jesus On A Piece Of Toast is about to die. He's drowning!" although I probably didn't think "on a piece of toast" because there wasn't a lot of time.

I did the only thing I could do as I was bouncing around over the top of the vortex that sucked him in, still in my boat...

I reached over as far as I could and managed to get a hold of the top part of his life jacket. Then I pulled him out.

I don't remember the next few seconds because the act of pulling him out pulled me out of my boat and I was rag-dolled down the river in a massive tumble that only stopped when the river calmed slightly and my life jacket righted me to see where the heck I was. My first instinct was to look back and I saw ol' Jesus On A Piece Of Toast coming by so I grabbed him and we stood up in the waist deep water and was just able to stand against the current while we blew water out of our noses, mouths and (in Jesus On A Piece Of Toast's case) lungs.
"I thought I was toast," said Jesus On A Piece Of Toast. (Well OK. Not really. But wouldn't it have been great if he did.)

We were both actually too in awe and shock to say anything and had the task of getting to an eddy ahead of us, so we both staggered against the current and got out of the river completely. The water was 51 degrees, after all, and a warm rock would help our situation immensely.
Jesus On A Piece Of Toast was prolly thinking "I nearly drowned", and I was thinking, man, Jesus On A Piece Of Toast nearly drowned.

Stuart was downstream watching helplessly and thinking "Uh oh. I brought them into this", and Charles didn't see much because he was, after all, in white water strapped to a kayak.

The thing about an event like that is that it tends to dampen the goofy joy one feels when one does something exhilarating like riding rapids in a toy... The rest of the 3 and a half mile trip was spent seriously riding the rapids, trying to stay in the boat and out of the holes. Jesus On A Piece Of Toast fell out of his boat a few more times and in so doing, knocked Charles out of his boat twice.

Once we found Charles clinging to the side wall at the bottom of a ten foot water fall we had just spilled out of, having come down the falls and landed on Jesus On A Piece Of Toast's boat which was bobbing around near another hole that caught Jesus On A Piece Of Toast's boat this time but not Jesus On A Piece Of Toast the man himself.

This time, it was Stuart who got out of his boat and ran up the side of the river to help Charles escape the great maw that was sucking him into it.

Charles had the look on his face afterwards of "oh shit, that was serious".

So all in all it was a fun day. I only came out of my boat the one time, and I got to be a hero while doing it. Nobody wanted to say the obvious very loudly, but everyone acknowledged that Jesus On A Piece Of Toast nearly died and it was very lucky I happened to be coming by and able to get a hold of him with my big carpenter arms...

I keep trying to get Jesus On A Piece Of Toast to come over and mow my lawn or something for saving his life, but all he'll offer up is to let me come over and watch the San Francisco Giants play baseball on his giant screen TV...


Jeannie said...

Tell him he owes you beer and snacks too.

Exciting! Glad it wasn't me. I've canoed & kayaked on a fairly tame lake and canoed down fairly tame parts of a river (with my husband doing the exact opposite of my instructions because - what do I know - I'm only a woman who's canoed her entire life versus him with his zero hours experience) He scared me more than the river did as he paddled against me so we'd go into rocks. I did a white water ride somewhere...but that was a pretty tame commercial thing designed to be safe. Can't remember where that was now. huh.

dogbait said...

Jesus, what a great post! And you won't believe what I was doing while reading this.

Eating a piece of toast!

Carmi said...

I've been on white water once in my life. I was still a lifeguard then, an overly confident, superbly fit young'un with a sense of invincibility and a lust for adventure.

All it took was one run through a vortex that would make Edgar Allen Poe's The Maelstrom look like a rubber ducky's bathtime to convince me that I was in way over my head.

I saw Elvis that day as I got sucked to the bottom of the raging river over and over again. In between breaths, I wondered if this is what it felt like to drown, if this was what that little kid who, years earlier, almost died on an adjacent guard's watch felt like before I saw him and hauled him out.

I finished the day on the river and never went back. Once was enough for me. Glad you made it back, too!

Shrinky said...

My hero!