“Dude, whaddaya think?” I asked, more than half-hoping Mark would tell me what a foolish idea this had been and we could pack up, head to my place, fire up the grill and have a beer.
Mark answered me with the same questions I had been asking myself. Can we do this? What lies ahead? Do we have enough time? But he gave no indication he was ready to quit (after all, he was still dry).
If we were going to go forward, we had to move. In two hours, the sun would dip behind the snow-capped Rupert Mountain and we’d be paddling in the twilight. If we were going to go forward, I needed to get my mind right. I needed to shake the cobwebs of doubt that had quickly taken over my thoughts.
I do not like quitting. I do not like losing. I do not like failing. I suppose no one does. In the moment, I thought of all the other times I came close to bailing on other trips when things got hairy. Recalling those time when pushing through led to triumphant outcomes, I changed the question I was asking myself.
I upgraded from “Can we make this?” to “Won’t it be cool to get off this river and forever look at it knowing we made it?” I started to picture Mark and I arriving at his truck, ten miles downstream. I could see it now. Somehow, we would make it.
“Let’s get going, man. Let’s just go and see what happens.” I said.
Mark was in.
After bailing the water out of my boat, we still had to get our kayaks beyond the downed tree. Waist deep in the water, we pressed down on our kayaks, submerging them enough to allow them to pass under the massive trunk. And we were on our way once more.
Mark let out another hoot, lifting my spirits. Getting pinned against the tree taught me that getting caught sideways on the river was to be avoided at any cost. Better to take pre-emptive measures and jump out of the boat rather than end up in a spot where you are taking the full brunt of the river and risk another capsize in the frigid water.
The tricky part was that the river was a never-ending series of S-curves. I quickly learned that you wanted to take the inside track on each turn. Getting caught on the outside riverbank was like being a race-car diver who hugs the wall – you’re asking for trouble. The fact that our boats were at least six feet too long for this type of river meant that there would be no time off to enjoy the scenery.
But we were doing it. We were making the turns. We were avoiding enough river rocks, branches, and debris and to keep moving downstream. We were doing it.
Coming around a blind bend, another huge tree lay across the river. I failed to press my internal EJECT button and my boat met the tree. Sideways.
As I pressed down to lift my body weight out of the boat, the water began to spill inside. In a flash, I was back in the drink, the force of the water sinking my boat. With a new surge of adrenaline, I muscled my boat to shore, banging the hell out of my shins and knees with every step.
On shore, I discovered that my water-tight container that I had carabined to my kayak’s deck was not made to withstand a rushing river. My beloved Canon Elph sat completely submerged in a little plastic coffin. I checked the GPS I kept in my chest pocket and it was soaked as well.
A stream of curses erupted from me. Not the camera! Just as I was about to begin Round II of beating myself up for my stupidity, it occurred to me that I did not have that luxury. We’d progressed about 1.5 miles downstream since my last capsize. The river had taken us deeper into the woods and the road was now a half mile away, a huge grazing grazing field between us and it. Even if we wanted to bail, accessing our boats from our current location was not an option.
Mark dried my camera with his sweatshirt (I had nothing dry anymore) and I placed it in my drybag, cursing myself for not doing this in the first place. We still had a dilemma in the form of the huge maple tree in front of us. Passage would not be easy.
After draining my boat again, we lifted our boats out of the steep river bank into the farmer’s field. We dragged our boats through the grass, looking for an entry point beyond the barrier when we discovered the next problem. A barbed wire fence now ran along the riverbank, trapping us in the field. I began jogging along the fence, looking for some place to access the river. I found none and walked back toward Mark.
“Not good, dude,” I said.
As the words left my mouth, Mark had found a wooden post that had rotten. Using a long branch as a lever, it looked as though we could limbo between the two strands of rusty wire and slide bank down the steep bank to the cold river.
After dragging our boats 100 yards through the field, we slithered through the opening without puncturing ourselves. The physical exertion helped keep my core temperature warm and I tightened my life vest to trap the heat.
Along with energy, we were burning daylight. Back in the water, I asked Mark to take the lead and we dug in with our paddles to make up some time. Following Mark, I noticed that my hands were numb and very pale. In the midst of the constant paddling and steering, I would shove a finger in my mouth for a second or two to warm my digits. It was better than nothing.
I neared a low hanging thicket of branches and vines and I did my best to steer clear from the mess. I failed. The branches scratched my face, blinding me. I felt my sunglasses pulling from my ears and grabbed them just as my hat was ripped from my head, falling silently in the water behind me.
Even though I’d just bought it, a hat’s a hat. I could get another when all of this was over. What troubled me was the massive amount of heat that was now escaping through my crown. Combined with my frigid hands, a few dark thoughts crossed my mind. I steeled myself, telling myself out loud how tough I was (Mark was ahead and could not hear my little pep talk), and I paddled harder to try and keep warm.
Mark came into sight as the river opened up.
“Wire! Wire! Wire!” he yelled in my direction.
Was that a wire strung across the river at the level of our chests?
Why would someone put a wire…
I realized the wire was an electric fence, likely used to keep the cattle from wandering off when the river dries up during the hot summer months.
There was no way to stop the ride, and the wire was drawing closer.
END PART II