I Kinda Wanna Do It

One stroke and two seconds later. Or was it two strokes and one second later?

It was a short-lived thrill, for sure, but I know it lasted for a solid two seconds. Long enough for me to have these three thoughts:

What? I’m on the tongue already?

Where’s the big one?

That’s it? It’s over?

It was the 15 minutes leading up to it—the foreplay, if you will—that got my adrenaline going. Not the surge you feel while bungee jumping, but the slight dread of having to do something unexpected for which you’re not prepared and with which you may be unsuccessful. The feeling you get when you learn you’re about to give an impromptu speech.

We could hear the uproar downriver long before we saw it. Edward Abbey’s tale of taking a little rubber boat down Glen Canyon before it was dammed, filled, and gave birth to Lake Powell, infused my mind. I couldn’t recall his full portrayal, of course, just that he described the sound of river rapids as “toneless vibrations, what acoustical specialists call ‘white noise,’ supposedly blissful for edgy nerves.”

Ha! Blissful?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Note Amy on the right, buried in a Class II.

My daughter was with us. At 15, the most experience she had with rapids was the two sections of Class II we just came through. They lasted for a good stretch and were somewhat challenging—we took on water and definitely got wet—but they didn’t sound like whatever it was we were coming upon then. I didn’t have much more experience with white water than Amy.

What we were hearing was something more than Class II; but, as thunderous as it was, it could only be Class III. There are no IVs or Vs on the Colorado between Dewey Bridge and Moab. I know; I researched it long before we put our boats in the water.

Jim arrived on the scene ahead of me and I saw him go way right and pull his kayak up into an eddy and park it. He climbed onto a big pile of boulders—what was probably the river bottom a few months earlier during spring runoff—to scope things out.

I realized, then, that there was a way around. We could portage our boats over these boulders, downriver to where the water smoothed out again.

Phew. Relief. And on its tail… disappointment?

I pulled my boat into the eddy. But I didn’t park it. And I didn’t get out of it.

I spoke to Jim, but my gaze was on the rapid. The thick water of the notoriously muddy Colorado—too thick to drink, too thin to plow—alternately surged forward and rolled back on itself. Every few seconds, large rocks, like the ones Jim was standing on, would emerge, as if the power of the water was sucking them up from the river’s bottom. But then, like a dead lift barbell, they’d drop back under and the river would shift, making me imagine that they were rolling around down there beneath the surface.

“So you’re thinking we can just carry our boats over these rocks and put them back in over there?” I jutted my head toward the calm water just past the rapid. Amy pulled up then and wedged her kayak between two rocks that formed a natural slip.Troops in the Kayak

“That’s what I’m going to do,” said Jim. “There’s no way I’m going through that. I about swamped in the Class IIs.”

None of our kayaks are meant for rough water. They all have open cockpits and we don’t travel with spray skirts. In fact, we travel with our dogs in our laps half the time. Jim’s boat sits low and it seems to take on water more easily than the others. Though my boat rides higher, it has an extra-large cockpit, big enough to hold my 60-pound golden doodle. The waves can find their way into that hole pretty easily. Amy’s boat is the best of the three in rapids—small cockpit, sits high, and only eight feet long so it’s easy to maneuver.

I gazed toward the river again. “I kinda wanna do it.”

“For sure! Go ahead! I think you should.” Jim is not one to discourage.

I engaged him in some conversation about the rapid, to make sure that wasn’t a knee jerk response, to get a better feel for what he really thought.

“It looks like I’d enter right there, where that shoot is?”

“Yep. That’s the tongue. And it’s a nice one.”

“There’s this rock that keeps showing its face. It’s right past the tongue, in the same path. There! Did you see it? It’s huge! Do you think I can steer around it?”

“Don’t know.”

“And if I get dumped out? It couldn’t kill me, could it? I mean, unless I hit my head really hard.”

“You’d be banged up. Cuts and bruises. Nothing you couldn’t handle.”

“I feel like I should do it. Like I should try it. For practice. So I’m ready for when we come upon these sometime and there is no way to walk around.”

“I think it’s a good idea.”

“Will you get your boat over there then, ready to chase my kayak if it gets away from me?” That’s what I said. But I was thinking he should get ready to rescue me, if I came floating out of it unconscious.

“Yep.”

“And, Amy, will you take pictures?”

“Yah, Mom. Your camera can do a bunch of shots in a row, right?”

“Yah. It has rapid-fire.”

But my real question was, “Jim, do you think I’m stupid to try this?”

“No. Not at all. I wish I could.”

It occurred to me that I should have a helmet. But I didn’t say anything. Because if I voiced that I should have a helmet and then went ahead with it anyway, I would, no question about it, be stupid indeed.

“Amy, what about you? Do you think it’s a stupid idea?” It mattered to me what these two thought. I didn’t want them to believe I had died doing some senseless act.

“No way, you should totally do it. I think your boat will be fine.”

I had to go then. No more talking. No more thinking about it. Jim didn’t have his boat in rescue position yet, but it had to be now. I backpaddled and headed out of the eddy, toward the tongue.

The roar of the water intensified exponentially. Still, I could hear Amy yell at me. “Mom! How do you make the rapid-fire go?”

I looked over at her. My camera was in her hands. I tried to picture its buttons. “Umm…”

On the tongue of the rapid.

On the tongue of the rapid.

The river swept me forward rapidly during the course of that “umm.” And I wasn’t watching. My attention was on Amy and her question about the camera.

When I looked up, I was on the tongue—what? I’m on the tongue already?—long past the point of no return. I had sailed right through that second or two of what should have been thrilling utter terror.

And then I was leaving the tongue. The tip of it, and my kayak with it, dipped into a hole. I caught a glimpse of a huge wave on my left, then felt the spray all over my face.

Dig with the left paddle. Stroke hard.

The wave bore into my boat, rendering the force of my stroke useless. My kayak was sideways then. Not perpendicular to the river bottom, not dumping me out, but sideways to the rush of the river. That’s what it felt like. Looking at the picture, I see that the wave had knocked my boat into a 45-degree angle. I could have spilled out.

Getting sideways.

Getting sideways.

I don’t remember, but I’ll bet that I instinctively leaned hard on my left foot brace, using it for leverage to right myself.

Wow, okay, I survived that wave. But, where’s the big one—that rock? I braced myself for the impact.

Held my breath.

But it didn’t happen.

My boat slowed. Things started quieting. I was through the rapid.

That’s it? It’s over? Disappointment. Perhaps a little relief, but mostly disappointment.

I paddled through the calm water to the river’s edge and waited, for nearly ten minutes, while Jim and Amy carried their boats over the boulders.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. kellyingrandjunction
    Sep 04, 2013 @ 22:03:56

    Randee, you are awesome! But, I do need to speak with Jim about this comment of yours….

    But my real question was, “Jim, do you think I’m stupid to try this?”

    “No. Not at all. I wish I could.” (as he stands and waits to rescue you!)

    Again, love your adventures and your stories about them!

    Reply

    • Randee
      Sep 05, 2013 @ 02:40:26

      Thanks, Kelly! Right back atcha. I can’t wait to read the rest of the triathlon series. And you’re a nice bit of sunshine in the wordpress community.

      Reply

  2. theclocktowersunset
    Sep 04, 2013 @ 22:10:12

    Way to go! I’ve been in some hairy rapids before and it’s a blast. I’m proud to say I’ve only tipped once, and that was because of our dog. I had forgotten that I had swore her out of the boat a year before. We were coming up on some rapids and so I pulled her in, she wouldn’t stay still and of course we flipped right in the shoot. It wasn’t very deep at all so we stood up and tried to gather our detritus. When I looked up and didn’t see Diva anywhere at all. What a scare, we looked frantically and nothing. The canoe was upside down so I flipped it over and there she was, just standing there in the dark trapped under the boat. She had such a look of bewilderment in her eyes. It was hysterical now to look back on it. Glad you made it through just fine, loved the story. 🙂

    Reply

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