As we all know, life can "get in the way" of true happiness. I invite you to follow my posts as I try to reconnect with nature as often as life allows. Then,
if so inspired, pick up a paddle or pack and join me on an adventure that makes everything else fade away. - firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday, August 11, 2014
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Two years ago I took some co-workers on a weekend trip to Meramec State Park and we did the short 5 mile day float. Everyone had a great time and several of them had been asking about doing it again. Last year was just too busy but this year we were going to make it happen. Being that I like longer floats and staying on the river I threw out the idea that we do Round Spring to Two Rivers (18.5 miles) on the Current. We would be camping on the gravel bar for the night. I really didn't expect many people to take me up on this offer, but in the end we had 16 people!
A couple people left work early on Friday, but the rest of us rolled into Round Spring campground later. We had a beautiful drive to Eminence with a nice lightning show in the distance.
Saturday morning we broke camp and hauled everything less than 1/4 mile down to the river. Those of us with cars drove back to Windy's Canoe Rental in Eminence. I used these guys on our 44 miler last year and I highly recommend them! After a short wait they hauled us and our rental boats back up to Round Spring where everyone was waiting to launch.
This summer we had sent Colin to day camp for two weeks to break up his summer a bit. On the second day he had come home saying "Dad! I paddled my own Kayak today!!." He wanted to know if he could paddle his own boat on our next trip. I of course proudly said yes as I had been waiting for this day! In the end, he would end up paddling over 10 miles of the trip by himself! Not bad for a six year old ;)
Once everyone was loaded up we headed out for our first day of paddling. Most everyone got the hang of it but there were a few who were having some trouble. For this reason I held back and helped with some teaching. One was paddling with her two kids and was having trouble with strength. After learning some technique she had everything under control. One couple had never been canoeing before and they were doing a lot of zig zagging that is common among new paddlers. It took them a bit longer, but by the end of the day they were doing great.
While I was hanging back I figured my six year old was paddling along side mom. I later learned that he was in fact leading the group down the river! While this makes me very proud, the events the following day make me wish he had been under closer scrutiny just in case.
Once everyone got into the rhythm of paddling we had a very relaxing day on the river with stops for snacks and to swim. While there were others on the river it did not seem nearly as crowded as other sections I have been on. This could have been due to the commitment of a two day trip, or just luck. The one exception to this was a group of 36 "scouts." I put scouts in quotes because they were not BSA. I am not sure what organization they were other than they referred to themselves as "scouts." They had passed us early on but we overtook them as they ate lunch. By the time they passed us again Colin had tired of paddling (5 miles for the day) and I was towing him. While this worked pretty well, and gave me an extra workout, it did not make for good maneuverability around trees, etc. At one point I could tell he was going to hit a tree because of the way the current was pushing his boat...fish tailing if you will. I called his name to no avail because he had fallen asleep. As his boat slammed into the tree and he flipped out into less than 24" of water I couldn't help but laugh! As I paddled past the debris the scout going by informed me that I should not leave my son behind by himself. I reassured him I was going to pull over and walk back up river, though there really was no need as Colin was obviously more seasoned than this kid. I mention this because this kid would come back into our life later that day.
So, after some more time on the river we arrived at Bee Bluff. This was about 11.5 miles into our trip...very close to the 12 miles I wanted to accomplish knowing the second day needed to be shorter to allow for the drive home. As I pulled into the shore to wait for the others I heard a faint cry of "help." Looking down river I say the same kid trapped in a strainer with his Kayak sideways. I took off running down the beach and motioned for the others in my group who had arrived to do the same. The kid was hanging onto a log with one hand while he tip toed on his right foot. His left foot was at waist lever trapped in some line on his sideways Kayak. As I entered the swift chest deep water he informed me he would not be able to hold on much longer. Thankfully the water was not too swift for me to help. I was able to get his foot free and help him to shallower water where my friends could help him out. He was so shaken he could hardly stand. The thing that irks me about this is that the other "scouts" and even a few I took to be leaders seemed to have hesitated and were watching. They came in and got the Kayak, but it seemed to me they could have helped him much sooner than I. Little did we know that this would be a premonition for our next day.
So, after the excitement, we all cooked dinner and relaxed. One by one people turned in and I was the last to leave the campfire and go to bed. I think everyone had a good day.
We awoke Sunday and packed up camp. This time, I was out front with Colin paddling near me. We had seven miles to go and I expected it to be a nice easy day. At about two miles into the day I saw some whitewater ahead. Now for anyone who has paddled this river, it is a very odd occurrence to see something like this. Years ago, Colin and I had been defeated by the Big Sugar Creek after a record flooding event and a river full of debris. We had spent a lot of time and energy roping the boat through debris and avoiding obstacles rather than being adventurous and running it. He was after all only 3, and I was rightfully being cautious. Fast forward three years and this looked like fun. As I headed into it I told him he could either run it our walk his boat through knowing full well he would likely end up taking a swim. I had not seen the strainer when I gave him this choice. For my co-worker and her husband who had never canoed, I told them they should walk it through.
As I rounded the bend I saw that the main force of the water was propelling me straight toward a strainer (root ball). A small portion of the current was being pushed around to the right of the tree in an S curve. I used the current to my advantage and paddled through, immediately pulling to the shore, knowing that one or more of our group were going to have difficulty with this. No sooner was I out of my boat walking up the shore to warn people than my co-worker and her husband came through...backwards. They hit the root ball sideways and were stuck, their boat bouncing in the swift water. Not five seconds later I watched as my son, the love of my life, rounded the bend and slammed into the side of their boat. He instantly capsized and my heart sank as I saw him enter the water, under his boat, in front of the strainer. Though it all happened so fast it seemed like a lifetime. His lightweight sit-on-top rental moved to the side and his head re-emerged from under the water. It can be hard to get his attention sometimes, let alone as he is screaming and starting to cry out of fear. I yelled his name as loud as I could three times in rapid succession. Our eyes met and I yelled for him to "Swim! As hard as you can towards me!!" I am grateful that since he was a baby he has loved the water. I am grateful that he is one of the biggest and strongest kids in his class. For in that moment, my son was able to swim free of the water pulling him into danger and into the swift S current that whisked him to safety. About the same time my co-worker with the two kids came through, doing a great job of keeping her boat under control. She saw Colin and reached for his hand...he protested because he had started swimming for his hat! We all had a quick laugh, but knowing he was safe I turned my attention back to my co-worker and her husband.
As I looked to them, I noticed they were trying to push themselves off. I tried to warn them to sit tight, but it was too late. The boat rocked once and then twice. Taking on water and capsizing them in an instant. He was in the back of the boat, which was now facing down river. It was clear of the strainer by 3-4 ft and when he was sucked under it kicked him out the other side. She was not so lucky. She got sucked under and re-surfaced with the water at the level of her chin. I have never seen the fear of death in someone's eyes like I did at that moment. She was holding onto the boat and I told her to not let go and ran for my rope. It was not possible to enter the water to help her. I had gone in to my chest during Colin's struggle and knew that about 3ft from the boat was as far as anyone could go without being swept away. As I ran for my rope she did the best thing she could have done. She pulled herself hand over hand along the gunwale until she was to the back of the boat. Another co-worker of mine told her to let go and he caught her as she re-emerged from under the boat.
Knowing everyone was save we turned our attention to freeing their canoe. It took 6 of us and about 10-15 minutes but we eventually got the boat free. With all the gear but one water bottle recovered we set off to paddle the last uneventful 5 miles. We packed up the cars and all headed home with good stories to tell!
I was reminded on this trip that we must have a deep respect for nature. Though we need not fear it we mush be smart about it. I had to have the conversation with my son that he could have actually died in that situation and that he handled himself very well. He asked me what would I have done if he had been sucked under and I truthfully told him I would have gone in after him no matter the cost. Together we decided that we will continue to scout before running questionable sections of river. I am so very proud of him that he did not let his fear deter him from continuing to paddle. I know we will have many more adventures together!