My excuse is… I never grew up around rivers. I first got in a boat of any kind (a kayak) in my late 30s. But it still takes an astonishing lack of wisdom to underestimate Mother Nature.
She and I fought this past weekend, and I’m very lucky to be alive. And still have both my dogs alive.
Like most of you, I feel guilty I don’t exercise enough. And the only kind of exercise that doesn’t feel like being forced to scrub floors on my hands and knees (thanks mom & dad!) — is sports. So when a friend suggested we go kayaking last weekend — it sounded great.
We went to Bald Eagle Creek, a place I’ve kayaked 20 or 30 times and always enjoyed. Sometimes the river is slower, sometimes a little faster — but the change is barely noticeable. The idea this sweet, lazy river could suddenly become a killer never occurred to me.
But it should have!
Round One: Mother Nature – 1, me – 0
Four years ago I stopped my RV in Arizona on the Colorado River for a nice couple of hours kayaking. I didn’t know that the white water on the top of the river meant the river was traveling at great speed. I put in the kayak, my two dogs on top as normal, and was lucky to get back to the shore — using all the strength I had. It left me with visions of ending up in Mexico as an illegal alien with just $20 in my pocket and a key to my (at that point) worthless RV.
But apparently it didn’t leave me even a tiny bit wiser!
Round Two: Mother Nature wins by a knockdown
Last weekend we pulled in to kayak on the Bald Eagle “Creek” without it dawning on me to check the water levels. I never had before. And if I’d had a lick of sense I’ve have turned around when I saw the white on top of the river — instead of saying, “Wow, it’s moving pretty fast.”
Naturally we headed up stream. It was impossible on one side of the river, but we crossed to the other and there were areas of relative calm on the bank where you could catch your breath before trying to move upstream to the next calm area. It was feeling like a good workout. Then I crossed back across the river to go downstream to the put-in area we launched from. I tried to stay close to the bank, but on this side of the river there just weren’t any calm areas. What there were instead — were low-hanging tree branches.
I saw one coming right at me that I couldn’t maneuver around. So I reached up to grab it, thinking it would at least slow me down. Wrong. The river was moving so fast, it instead tipped over the kayak with me and my dogs both hitting the water.
It’s funny how I can see it all in slow motion, as I remember it. But all I cared about were my dogs. I yelled each of their names and they swam to me. I got one arm about them both and the other was holding the upside down kayak. But apparently I was only looking at the dogs — not where the river was taking me. Because another tree branch must have hit me in the head. I know this only because the right side of my face is bruised and very sore — and I was suddenly under water. I remember wondering if this was going to be my end. Knocked unconscious under water.
When I got back to the surface, the kayak was still there. But my male dog was a distance away. I yelled his name — and yelled for my companion to get him — but Loupy had seen a bank near him and was swimming for it. To heck with staying in the river with me! I relaxed as I saw him nearing the bank, then looked for my other dog. She was dog paddling but facing towards the middle of the river. I screamed her name and she turned and came back to me. I was able to get her up on top the upside down kayak. Mission accomplished — dogs safe.
It was only at that moment that it dawned on me that I could be in real trouble myself.
My companion (who was a neophyte in kayaking — and may never try it again(!) had seen my dog get to the bank and fortunately for me ignored my call to save the dog and had paddled close to me. Someone at the landing had heard my screams and put into the river towards us. I don’t think they could have saved me if there weren’t two of them.
I despaired as I saw the three of us speeding past the put-in spot — unable to get me to the bank. As far as I knew there wasn’t another place to get out for two miles — right before a falls(!)
I told the newcomer my other dog had swam to the bank and he reassured me his wife was there and would get that dog.
All’s well that ends well?? They managed to get me to a bank about a mile past the put-in area. I managed (barely) to crawl out and lift my dog to the shore. The wife drove to where we put in and she soon appeared with Loupy — who looked smugly happy all wrapped in a warm blanket.
I hope the lesson learned is NOT to sell my kayaks and never do it again, but I’m unsure. It really scared me. My biggest terror is something happening to my dogs — and it almost did and it would have been my fault.
Hopefully I’ve learned how changeable Mother Nature can be. Just because the river was easy the last 30 times I paddled it doesn’t mean it’s easy today. Maybe I should stick to lakes in the future?
I’ve also learned something about the wonderful kindness we humans can show to each other. I was too frazzled to remember the names of the wonderful couple who jumped right in and rescued us. I thanked them, but thanks seems like such a small thing to people who did so much so selflessly.
Marlene Jensen is a 71-year-old full-time marketing professor. Previously she was a VP at CBS and ABC and spent decades as an entrepreneur and pricing author/consultant. Sadly, none of these prepared her for the onslaught of marketers who now think her daily interests/needs consist solely of hearing aids, wheel chairs, adult diapers, medi-alert buttons, medications, and bath tubs you walk into.