Monday, November 10, 2008

How I Spent My Summer Vacation: On the River Day 2

This is a continuation of the recounting of my last vacation. Which was in August. I've been a bit slow in recording things lately. Day one was here.

Day 2 on the river dawned cold. We were told to be up for breakfast by 7 and be prepared to shove off by 8 am. When left to my own devices, I will normally sleep until the very last possible moment. Especially when I am warm and the temps outside my are significantly colder, I am a reluctant riser. But there is something about crisp mountain air (and the incessant cries of a full bladder!) that propels me out of bed long before my body is normally inclined to get up. The river company issued each of us a silver mug with our names hand-written on a piece of purple tape and a clever little carabiner handle. Each morning as others roused themselves with coffee, I started the day with a mug of rooibos tea - one of the few food items I had brought from home. Each morning, I also dispensed some of the steaming hot water provided into a ziplock baggy containing a wash cloth so I could scrub the grit out of my eyes and feel refreshed. My personal feeling is - when camping - washing my face and brushing my teeth feels pretty much like a shower. Only faster. Supplementing with generous applications of deodorant helps sustain the feeling (especially when applied to stubble free pits! [waxed armpits is a new must do before any vacation for me!]).

Breakfast each morning was consistently hearty and delicious. Again, I wish I had thought to record what we ate because I loved it all. I remember having a dutch oven huevos rancheros concoction one morning, pancakes with bacon another and some delicious cream of wheat and maybe even oatmeal? At any rate, since breakfast is pretty much my favorite meal of the day, I did not hold back and was always prepared for the day's vigorous activities following the first meal. I also followed up breakfast with some hot chocolate with my already used bag of rooibos. Let me tell you - rooibos hot chocolate is delicious and will likely be making an appearance in my home this winter.

After breakfast, I would pack up my gear, stuff away my sleeping bag, sort out what I would need for the day and break down my tent. I was generally one of the first people (save for one morning) to deliver my bags to the sweep boat. That first morning I was more than ready to head about by about 730. Except for the cold. The night before I had signed up to start the day in a kayak. But the kayak sits in the river and creates a lot more opportunities to get soaked. Luckily, in addition to a splash jacket, before the trip I had purchased some paddling pants on clearance from REI as well as neoprine socks (which I figure I can reuse snowboarding this winter) and water shoes. With the sun still hiding behind the canyon walls at 930 or so when we shoved off, I was happy I had made the extra purchases. After practicing my kayaking skills on the Hudson River in the weeks leading up to my trip, I was anxious to get going and feeling pretty confident. Of course, the free weekend kayaking in New York was pretty calm. No rapids and very few waves other than the wake of larger boats moving up or down river. Also, that is sea kayaking in sit-on-top fiberglass, heavy kayaks. What we had on the Middle Fork were very light, inflatable kayaks.

As everyone was boarding their boats, I spent a few minutes paddling around the small pool where the other boats were still docked. I felt confident. This was the moment I had prepared for over the past month- I was alone in the kayak and I was going to tackle the rapids! Exciting, right?

Well, as it turns out, we had less than 50 yards before the first rapid - a Class III I believe. I was told to stay left and keep the nose of my kayak pointed straight at the waves. Things started out as planned. I paddled to the left, up against the side of the cliff but once I was there I realized I was getting too close to the cliff as the water was very shallow there. And what I remember doing next was to steer myself slightly right. Unfortunately, steering slightly right in an inflatable kayak while being propelled quickly into a rapid is quite different from steering slightly right in a fiberglass kayak on the slow moving Hudson River.

Somehow I ended up parallel to the waves as the nose of my kayak shot to the far right and I was going down the rapid sideways.

Then I was under water.

Very, very cold water.

I was somehow holding onto my paddle and my kayak and thinking "Feet up. FEET UP!" as I was being pushed chest first down the river and my feet felt as if they were made of lead as they dragged across the river bottom.

I lost a shoe and in addition to worrying about how to get my feet from directly behind me while I was splayed out on my stomach to in front of me and floating on my back, I worried about my stupid water shoes. The ones I bought for $20. One was already gone but for some reason I remember wondering - as the freezing water rushed over me and my legs scraped along the bottom of the river - whether I should let go of my kayak or my paddle to retrieve my shoe.

My solution?

Within seconds (that felt like very long minutes) of finding myself in the water, this dialogue was over and I had curled my knees into my chest, grabbed my shoe with the same hand as my paddle and pushed my feet downstream in front of me so I was now careening down the river on my back (the safety position!) holding onto my paddle, one shoe and my kayak.

But I forgot to breathe.

It was all over in an instant (a surreal, slow motion instant) and I was in calm water being asked if I was okay, over and over again. I repeatedly said yes as I attempted to gulp large quantities of air into my lungs and feared the cold and shock was going to set off an asthma attack. One disadvantage to developing asthma as an adult and never experiencing a full-on asthma attack, is . . . I don't know what to expect. To be treading water next to my kayak in the absurd position of clinging to my one useless shoe and being asked questions while trying to remind myself how to breathe . . . was almost overwhelming. Luckily, I somehow managed to brush it all off. Reassured all the onlookers that I was fine and hauled my soggy self back into my kayak. My sunglasses remained intact. And somehow or another one of the other kayakers found my stray shoe. I guess it floats!

Needless to say, my pride was injured more than anything. I was the first person in our group to end up in the water. But my confidence took a blow as well. I was not so sure this kayak thing was for me so I was grateful for a mostly leisurely drift with only minor rapids before our first stop of the day - a hot spring. And not just with hot pools - with a hot shower!

After stripping off all the superfluous paddling gear, still chilled from my earlier swim, I stood under the hot water fall and felt much, much better. I also discovered, after removing my pants that I did have a bit of an injury - some minor scrapes and gashes on my knee and ankles. Nothing serious, but the cut on my knee was large enough that I needed to put a bandaid on it to protect it from infection. But bandaids don't stay put too well when wet, so I secured it in place with some duct tape. Which made it look like a major battle wound:
I finished out the morning in the kayak and even conquered a very technical rapid (also a Class III) which required some strong cross-river paddling. But by lunch I had had enough and switched to a paddle boat.
The sun was strong that afternoon and it began to play tricks on me as the heat set in. Despite heavily tinted sunglasses, the brightness of the sun was too much for me that afternoon and I felt as if its rays were forcefully pushing my eyelids shut. I was grateful to be in the back of the paddle boat because I could not keep my eyes open and just hoped I was following the strokes of the guy in front of me by keeping a rhythm. If this was the first time I had experienced this sort of heat blindness, I might have freaked out. But this has happened before. I have no idea why it happens or what the trigger is but very, very rarely, the sun wipes me out to the point where I think I am going blind. My eyes just can't take the brightness. While Tuesday was a bright and sunny day without the slightest hint of a cloud, all but one of the days looked exactly like it and I wasn't effected. I didn't have a headache and I wasn't nautious so I wasn't worried about a migraine. It felt like what I imagine narcolepsy must feel like - an uncontrollable urge to shut my eyes.

When we finally made it to camp that afternoon - Big Loon - , I could not put my tent up fast enough. I changed into dry clothes and immediately fell asleep. I missed the afternoon hike and barely managed to rouse myself for dinner a good three hours later. Lucky for me, it was a one time thing and after my long nap, a good meal, some battle stories in the camp circle from the guides and a good night's sleep, I felt as if it had never happened.


renglund said...

It is difficult to imagine the power of moving water until one is caught in it. Cold water seems even more powerful, perhaps because it assaults the senses in such an overwhelming manner. Cool memories for you.

Tiffany said...

I am never going on a river trip. Never. EVER!

Shannon said...

What an adventure!

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