Yay, another rainy morning. Get up, apply bug repellent (the mosquitoes love this wet summer and are doing very well for themselves), go down the hill and do my morning yoga routine on the porch before starting work. We put onto the river in a downpour, everyone too excited to be on a whitewater rafting trip to let the rain dampen their spirits. By the time we get down the Indian River to the Hudson, the rain has stopped, by lunch, the clouds are braking up, and the float out is wonderful! Summer sun warming my skin. I can feel the serotonin level rise in my brain. Deep breath in, exhale, relax. These sunshine river days are what I live for!
The run down the Shenandoah is 6 miles from the Millville put in to the Potomac Wayside parking area just upstream of the 340 bridge over the Potomac. It took the three of us 7 hours to “paddle” this section. This was the maiden voyage (with me as the owner) of the two duckies (inflatable kayaks) I brought with me. My best friend from childhood (we met in the 3rd grade), her wife, and their cute little dog floated down the river in the double ducky we called Big Red, and I was in Little Blue, the single ducky. There was plenty of room for snacks and beverages as well. We enjoyed the heat and intensity of the summer sun, the refreshing dips in the river, and the amazing beauty of the Appalachian mountains. We explored behind the islands, even through there was not enough water to actually float back. We spend a couple of happy hours at Bull Falls, playing in the rapid, running it numerous times, and body surfing in the ledge drop hydraulic. I even jumped into the middle of the rapid just from old times sake like we used to do when we were young, invincible, and immortal! There was even that predictable evening thunder storm that seems to happen every July 4th, the humidity builds to an unsustainable level in the atmosphere and it all falls back to earth as a gentle warm rain. What an amazing way the spend a sweet nostalgic summer day!
Well, today I got my tush handed to me on a silver platter in the rapid Carter’s Landing. We had torrential rain yesterday and it is still raining, so the River is coming up fast. A rising river has a bad attitude that you don’t want to get on the wrong side of. It’s pushy too, from all that water bearing down on top of you from upstream, that gets all crowded up with nowhere to spread out in the rapids. So we were careening down through the gorge keeping the boats straight and paddling hard. In the middle of Carters above the last crashing wave train that ends with two hydraulics named Nuts and Bolts, I got pushed slightly too far right. Normally there is just a rock there, but today it was a raft munching pour-over. There was not enough time to avoid it, so I hit it straight with power, but it wasn’t enough…
We slammed into that hydraulic, and the front of the raft came to sudden halt. The back of the raft kept moving, folding the raft in half for a split second (tacoed). I launched face first up-side-down into the front compartment, the raft spun sideways and started surfing as we all desperately tried to crawl up to the high side of the raft. I could see and feel the raft surfing on its side, just on the verge of flipping when the four people on the low side fell out and were swept quickly downstream. With that weight gone, the raft popped out of the hydraulic and landed right side up with all of us left in the raft in a heap on the floor, and floating sideways right toward Nuts and Bolts. One swimmer was actually holding onto the the rope around the boat and was quickly pulled in while we scrambled to get back to our seats and paddle after the others and away from the next two hydraulics. One swimmer was picked up by another boat, and the last two made their way toward shore where we were able to finally catch them.
Nobody was seriously hurt, just some minor bruises and scrapes, and they all thought it was the best super adventure they had ever had, all smiles and adrenaline rush. Of course, it scared the crap out of me because I know just how lucky we all actually were. This whole event happened in a matter of seconds, but we will all remember it for the rest of our lives!
Never take the River for granted because She is always the boss all the time!
I woke up too early, listening to the rapid roar in the twilight. Climbed out of my, no so gracefully, to go pee, the woods were misty and mysterious in the half light of predawn. Afterwards I lay awake wish I could go back to sleep as the light grew steadily brighter. Giving up, I took my sleeping bag with this time and went down to the beach to lay in a raft between the thwarts on top of some fife jackets. This position had me cradled and rocking in the calm eddy with the rapid surging by just feet away. Curled inside my cozy blanket, I peeked out and saw a large sparkling bright blue white star just above the ridge where the sun was still hidden but obviously on its way to light the day in dazzling sunlight. I rarely get to see the morning star. Where I live, the eastern horizon is hidden behind the forest behind the house, so although we can see the sun through the trees when is rises, there is no way to see the morning star. I feel blessed and fall back top sleep for a greatly appreciated two more hours.
This morning was grey, overcast, wet, and chilly, but there was water flowing in the ditch from last night’s rain, so I went for my walk up the hollow and back. Usually the walk takes me about an hour. This one took a bit longer because I was watching the whitewater. This is a pass-time that many raft guides indulge in. On rainy days, we walk around and analyze all the whitewater we find. The rivulet running along the side of the road could be a raging river to and ant. The water rushing by in the ditch is like the Grand Canyon to a mouse. The creek is high enough to take a 16 foot raft down it! I contemplate gearing up and doing a run with my canoe, but I decide that the cold is more than I want to deal with right now and am satisfied with walking and observing. I stand on the the bridge a long time examining the rapid upstream. In the summer, there is a rock ledge that I like to pull the inner tube under and let the water gently fall on my legs. Right now its a class IV rapid. Man and boat eating holes, ledges, undercuts, log hazards, and surging boil lines. I mentally pick different lines through the mayhem, which would be the best for a raft, canoe, kayak. I listen to the creek roar, I feel the vibration on my skin, through my feet on the bridge, and my hands where they grip the railing. I smell the muddy earthy smell of brown silt filled high water. I close my eye and listen to what the water is telling anyone who cares to hear it. Eventually I turn around and look down stream, its a quick moving riffle disappearing around the far bend (into another rapid). I think of all the rain drops it took to fill the creek to this height, I visualize traveling to the confluence with the Schoharie, and following that down to the reservoir, past the dam, all the way to another confluence with the Mohawk River/ Erie Canal. That eventually flows to the Hudson and out to the ocean. I wonder how long it will take each drop of water to reach the sea. Many of them won’t. They will be sucked up into the aqueduct system that feed New York City. Some will be detained by the power authority and recycled endlessly up and down a mountain to create electricity. Some drops will end up on farm fields and other places. I open my eyes and continue waking, watching the whitewater, and thinking like a water molecule.
Excitement! Finally! Back on the River! Ice cold frigid high water, munching crunching rushing rapids, 18 foot inflatable rafts bouncing through the waves! My soul is singing, my head spinning, voice raised in exultation, muscles working hard with the paddle! I did jump off the swimming rock, the only person on the trip to do so, its a personal tradition! There was one tense situation where the raft got sucked back into a hydraulic, spun, tipped up on edge; I high sided as three people flushed out of the raft into the melee of screaming whitewater. Time seems to stop, in slow motion the raft spins again and pops out of the hole, we collect our swimmers and continue down the river. I am back where I belong!
Driving slowly along the muddy road I live on, looking at the high rushing brown water in the raging creek, I notice notice two mergansers in the deeper swiftly flowing channel next to the island. I stop the car and watch their merriment. The male is flashing black and white and the female is an elegant smooth grey with a spicy cinnamon head. They are paddling furiously with their little webbed feet, occasionally flapping wings just enough to walk on the water but not take flight splashing water in every direction. Slowly with much effort they are pushing upstream through the waves and riffles, using small eddies behind rocks to help their upstream travel. Then they dive into the churning water, disappearing for long moments, only to pop up in the fast current, sliding downstream through the rapids. I sit watching this spectacle for many long minutes. I know how they feel, the sheer joy of navigating whitewater!