When it comes to flying, I listen to that inner voice. You know, the one that whispers “do you really want to do this?” I’ve cancelled trips based on nothing more than an uneasy feeling – trips that I wanted to make. And I’ve had the feeling afterwards afterwards “hey, I could have flown that, dammit why did I cancel?” But I continue to listen to the voice, because the consequences of getting it wrong are so obviously bad.
But today that voice whispered, and I didn’t listen.
I was kayaking. I’d taken off a bit early from work – overtime time is over so I had to leave once I hit 40 hours. I wanted to do a short but fast paddle up past the weir, maybe up to Browncroft if I was feeling good, but probably not. But I also brought along my old camera (which became Vicki’s camera when I upgraded) to take some pictures. I got a couple of pictures of ducks and red-winged blackbirds on the way up.
The first sign that things weren’t perfect was when I was getting into my kayak. The water was quite turbid, and there was a lot of algae floating in it. This usually indicates a recent rain fall and a strong current. But that’s ok, I’ve handled that before.
The paddle up was fine – the current didn’t seem that bad, and the water wasn’t that high. But then I got to the weir. My first glance showed that it was running very fast. Faster than I’ve seen it this year. I wasn’t even sure that I’ve seen it that fast since the time Vicki and I decided not to try it. And the little voice said something, but I didn’t really listen to it. For some stupid reason, I thought I’d better protect the camera in case some water splashed into the boat, so I moved it from the bungie down in the bottom up to the one on the deck. A smarter person would have said “hey, maybe this is too risky while I’ve got the camera with me.” I didn’t become that smarter person until a few minutes later.
I lined up to the V of water and was tracking straight and true through the turbulent bit, in spite of some big swirls below me. But when I got to the smooth bit I had to pick up the pace quite a bit, and unfortunately I have a tendency to not keep the boat flat when I’m paddling hard. With the water that fast, a slight tip gets amplified by the water rushing under the boat, and the next thing I know I’m fully immersed and sliding out of the boat. At least I verified that I can exit the narrow cockpit, which had been a concern earlier.
To my shame, I let go of the paddle. Fortunately, I grabbed it before it floated away. Next, I rolled the kayak partially up and saw nothing on the deck! My water bottle was floating downstream, but Vicki’s camera was nowhere to be seen. Oh oh, I’m boned.
My next realization was that it was freaking cold in that water. I tried swimming to shore, but it’s hard to swim dragging a kayak and paddle after you, even with a PFD on. That shore didn’t look so far away when I was paddling. I was getting tired, but it finally penetrated through my cold-addled brain that I could use the kayak for bouyancy. That helped. I was considering how to do a wet entry without a paddle float when my foot struck bottom. I was in shallow water, and it was easy to drag the kayak over to the eddy behind a large tree stump in the middle of the river.
The eddy kept me from getting swept downstream back into the deep water, and the stump gave me something to lever against while picking up the other end of the kayak and dumping out the water. I got most of the water out, and then got my first experience at entering the boat without a dock. I sat on the back deck, and got my legs in while bracing. Unfortunately when I slid in I ended up sitting on the back band. I struggled a bit and got the back band up behind my back, but twisted around so it was quite uncomfortable.
Now that I was back in my kayak, my main concern was how chilled I was. I paddled very quickly to warm up. It didn’t really help – I was chilled to the bone, and when I got home I was still shivering. And now I have to make it up to Vicki for losing her camera.
I’m convinced that I need a spray skirt – if the water hadn’t started pouring into the cockpit I might have been able to brace and recover. And if I’m ever going to bring a camera, I definitely need a dry bag of some sort.
But at least I got a lesson in listening to that voice.