I just learned through my stat counter that The Examiner.com, in their NDE column, has posted a link to my blog post about the kayaking trip. Here’s the link to the article.
The plan for this summer while Lina vacations in Florida with her grandparents was for my husband and me to do some kayaking together. We researched and bought two kayaks that fit our needs: good for beginners but can handle class one and class two waters. We purchased a book filled with river runs in North Carolina and all the necessary equipment to go paddling.
I had never kayaked before, so we took my boat to a lake a few weeks ago and I practiced paddling and getting used to my boat. Hubby has some experience with kayaking and has a lot of experience with rivers, although mostly in canoes. I have NO experience with rivers – I grew up in South Florida, I’m used to the ocean, I’m a great swimmer (I used to be on a swim team), and I love the water. But – but – a river is a different monster (apparently).
He and I visited our put-in and take-out locations the day before we decided to go paddling. Our put-in was just below the Lake Wylie dam in South Carolina and our take-out was River Run park about 6 miles down river. When we visited the take-out, we made note of the concrete steps to the left of the bank so we could recognize where we needed to exit. We also researched when the dam released water, which was between the hours of 8 am and 10 am. We got fully prepared – paddle leashes (check!), water (check!), life jackets (check!) dry bags (check!) sun screen (check!) compass (check!). We were ready.
We put in our boats about 1 p.m. Everything was great – we hit a few small fun white water spots in the river, I saw a lot of turtles. We didn’t lazy around on the river either, we paddled for the majority of the time as opposed to letting the water push us down river. We passed under I-77 and HWY 21 and knew the park wasn’t far away – we had a good time. We start approaching a park and we both think “this has to be it”, we nearly stop, staring hard at the bank looking for our marker – the concrete steps, except we didn’t see any. Some man and his daughter were standing by the bank and they waved – I waved back. Hubby and I decided to keep going because, despite this spot having all the familiar signs of our take-out, we saw no concrete steps.
It was strange – immediately after passing this spot it seemed that the river changed. It got wider, it seemed more vast, never-ending. After each bend we would think “this has to be it”, but nothing was there. There were no signs of human life anywhere, now. I start feeling dreadful but I keep on paddling. I reapply some sunscreen. I decide to skirt the banks because I wanted to see more turtles and ducks but as I do this, I pass by a tree with some heavy over-hanging branches. My paddle hits the branch in order for me to pass beneath without the leaves hitting me in the face and suddenly there are hornets stinging me on my wrist and back. I scream bloody murder. Mind you – I’ve gone through labor and I have three tattoos. I’ve NEVER felt such a horrible stinging pain in my life. I start crying. It is at this point where I start heading down hill really fast. Mentally, I’m tired and now I’ve got searing pain on the left side of my body. I enter panic mode where I can barely hear anything else besides the voice in my head that is telling me we are going to die.
But, we paddle on. And we paddle. And we fucking paddle. Finally, we see a man and a woman sitting high up on the bank drinking beer. Hubby asks them where River Run park is and they say “oh man, you guys passed that about 7 miles ago – you have to turn around”. Now, I’ve lost it. I start hyperventilating and crying. Hubby is yelling at me to turn my boat around and paddle except neither one of us could paddle back up river – the current was too strong. He starts yelling up to the man and woman on the bank that “we need help, someone help us!” I’m now on a whole other level of panic – I can’t hear anything, I can’t see anything. All I know is that my boat is now headed towards a thicket of trees and I’m terrified of getting stung again. I scream to my husband “I’m heading towards the trees!!!” He sees me preparing to jump out of my boat and he yells “DO NOT JUMP OUT OF YOUR BOAT” – but I’m freaked out, all I can think of are hornets swarming over my face and body so I jump.
The current is strong – really strong. There was a log sticking up out of the water and my husband tells me to grab onto it, because if I didn’t the river would keep taking me. I somehow get my shit together enough to grab hold of the log. Hubby paddles over and grab onto the handle on the back of his boat and he paddles to the bank where the woman ran down to in order to help us. She pulls me, my husband and his boat out of the water. I’m still hyperventilating.
Now we are on an Indian Reservation. My boat is stuck in the thicket of trees where I jumped out. A nice kid comes by and helps my husband rescue my boat (they had to use a machete in order to cut through all the brush). We learned from him and the others on the reservation that the river water rose about five feet and covered up our take-out landmark. The river was so high that only very experienced boaters should have been in the water – in fact, there is a company that does river expeditions and they canceled all their trips for the day. We didn’t know this. Christ, we were just there yesterday.
But, we are alive. My husband has some nasty scratches all over him and I have hornet stings that still hurt, but we are alive. And we got our boats back.
We’ve decided that we need lessons and that we need to go with a group of people instead of just us for safety reasons, at least in the beginning.
Never underestimate a river.