The plan was not well thought out.
I have no qualms admitting that.
When there’s a whiff of adventure in the air, sometimes it’s best to just move forward. After all, things going according to plan are more the exception than the rule.
Mark called me around one in the afternoon on Thursday. He had half the day off from his job and the spring day was full of bright sunshine. Was it time to drop the kayaks in the water, he asked? Even though I awoke to a fresh inch of wet snow just the morning before, we both knew Mark’s question was rhetorical.
It was time.
(Very Cool Life note: One of my litmus tests for a very cool life is that if someone calls you with an idea that sounds fun, you have enough freedom in your life to say yes at least 75% of the time.)
So we would be dusting our boats from their winter storage and hitting the water. Where we live, the options are plentiful. While the sunshine served as the prime mover for our adventure, the strong winds made me think large bodies of water would not be in our best interests.
Eliminating lakes turned my attention to rivers. In fact, I’d been eyeing my local river for the past couple weeks. The road I drive into Vermont follows the Mettowee River, a narrow stream that snakes its way northward before meeting Lake Champlain. I’d been stealing glances as I drove, gauging the feasibility of a paddle and considering potential put-ins and take-outs. From what I could see, it looked doable. While no more than chest deep, with the spring melt, the was fully engorged and running fast.
I like to explore the things close to me. Where I live, there are more hikes, trails, lakes, and ponds than I will ever get to in a lifetime. But I like to experience what’s around me up close. I like having a personal memory with my geography; a story to tell myself (and repeat ad nauseam to those around me. Did I ever tell you about the time we climbed…? Yes, you did…)
And yes, I like some adventure mixed in with my memories as well. Just a few drops of Tabasco to liven things up.
“How about the Mettowee?” I asked Mark.
“I’ll be over in an hour,” he replied.
And now we had our plan. By the time Mark arrived two hours later (we were on dude-time), I had Googled “kayaking+mettowee+river+vermont.” to properly prepare. The only information I found was an obituary of a young woman whose kayak got pinned between some rocks during the spring melt. She perished on the river. For some reason, this news combined with the fact that vast majority our combined paddling experience was on flat water (lakes and ponds) did nothing to deter us.
It was close to 4PM when, with a hoot of excitement, we wiggled into our boats and let the river sweep us downstream.
Leading, I immediately came to a sharp bend. The large fallen tree easily spanned the 20-foot width of the Mettowee. My boat slammed against the barrier, the broadside of the kayak now taking the full force of the rushing current. While my brain took a second to consider my best course of action, the Mettowee did not wait.
The force of the water rocked my open cockpit upstream. Once the first wave entered my boat, my fate was sealed. In a flash, the boat filled with water and flipped. As my head neared the water, I scrambled to eject my legs and body from the kayak. The cold water stung me like an unexpected punch to the eye and sucked the breath from me. My adrenals firing, I found my footing and dragged my heavy, waterlogged boat to the shore.
Seeing me, Mark lay back, clinging to some brush to avoid my fate, yelling to see if I was okay.
Before I could answer, amid the shock of hitting the forty-something degree water (less than two minutes after departure!), I realized I had let go of my paddle. Now I was running down the side of the country road, in a full sprint trying to beat my runaway paddle to a spot where I could access the river downstream. After a quarter mile, I made it back to Mark, paddle in hand, huffing, puffing, and dripping.
Clearly, this was not a good idea, I thought to myself. Fucking stupid of me. We had at least 10 miles of paddling in front of us. So far, we’d gone less than 300 feet and I was already wet, winded, cold, and shaken.
I considered the facts:
We had no way of knowing how long the trip would take us. We would be racing the daylight.
Much of the river appeared narrow enough where any fallen trees would present the same danger and at the least, require a portage. How many were there between here and Mark’s truck downstream? Three? Thirty-three?
I was wet up to my armpits. And cold.
What if we proceeded, only to find the water impassable a few miles downriver, what then? Our vehicles would be miles away. Who knows how far the river would take us from the road? How would we get the boats out?
“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.
END PART 1