Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Kayaking Life

I was born a hillbilly in the Ozarks of southern Missouri. I have many fond childhood memories of "floating" down the Jack's Fork and Current rivers in that area. One particular memory is from the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of high school, which was the summer of 1976. My loosely-organized youth group had mowed lawns, painted houses, picked up walnuts, and picked up trash to raise money for a float trip down the Jack's Fork river. We took a school bus from Louisburg, KS (our town) to the Ozarks, outside of Mountain View, MO (where I was born). We had rented canoes, with two of us per canoe. I was with Bob Fleming, one of my school buddies, who was also a twin, and fellow academic - although he was also quite the jock, which I was not! My twin brother Kevin was with David Coltrain, another really nice jock. The three memories I have most vividly of this trip are these: on the long bus ride there, at some roadside stop for gas, the gas station store had Mountain Dew, which was pretty new to the midwest back then. Of course we all had to try it! I also remember that my great-grandmother met us where we were launching to see us off. As a typical teen, I remember being somewhat embarrassed and didn't speak with her long, and even then off to the side away from all my friends. I don't have many memories of my great-grandmother (my mom's mother's mother), but I can still see her clearly in my mind from that day. Even the awkward, misplaced embarrassment of youth has not obscured this fond memory.

The other great memory I have from this trip is when Kevin (my twin brother) and David, in the canoe in front of Bob and me, overturned on a rapid. As I recall, the rapid was very tame, and David, being the much larger passenger, leaned way too far over and rolled them over. I still see them in the water with some of their gear floating with them by the canoe as Bob and I paddled by - laughing all the way!

In all my years floating on those rivers before and since, I never rolled over. Until this year. Nick and I were kayaking on the Jack's Fork river on Sunday, June 14, following the yearly family reunion for my mom's side of the family. It rained off and on at points during our float, and at one time was just pouring rain so hard we had to pull off and wait it out for half an hour. After that break, we came upon a split in the river - the inside of the bend looked a little shallow, and the outside of the bend has clearly much deeper - and much faster, including a pretty strong current churning in to a "strainer". A strainer is a downed tree in the water, and is so named because if you hit it, it stops you while the water, and typically your boat, keeps going. Nick wisely took that inside bend, while I drifted noncommittally into the outside bend. I thought I could paddle hard and cut across the current enough to miss the strainer, but I was wrong. I hit it at and angle, and over I went, while my Pelican Trailblazer 100 (which is a kayak tub - no bulkheads to help it float) promptly filled with water as it continued downstream.

I still had hold of my paddle, which was caught on the debris under the tree. The water here was about 8 feet deep, and I stayed under after going over, working on freeing the paddle. I'm sure it wasn't longer than 20 seconds, though it seems much longer, but imagine the scene: I'm underwater in the clear waters of the river, quite visible in my bright green shirt, as Nick watches from down river a bit. He has seen me go over, but not yet come up, and can see me a few feet under the surface of the water. For like 20 seconds. He was beginning to get concerned, to say the least!

But all was well, I freed my paddle and came up, while my kayak was stopped a bit down river in another, larger group of downed trees. My nice banana-yellow iPhone 5c was in its waterproof case - somewhere at the bottom of the river, along with my cheap waterproof camcorder - which had been mounted in the rigging at the bow, but which was now missing. So I have no photos from this trip, thinking I was going to have some nice video. Oh well. Here is photo NOT from this trip, but from our next trip a couple of weeks later, on the Missouri river:



In an interesting footnote, while Nick and I were gathering my stuff and emptying the water out of my kayak, we saw a couple of canoes go over at the same spot. The next day, while on the way home, Nick got a surprise text from my phone - someone who had gone over at the same spot had found my phone while looking for their wallet!

Here is the trip as recorded by my iPhone and Endomondo. You can tell where I went over, because that is where the speed goes to 0 at the end of the map plot. :)

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