Kayaking sounds fun and relaxing. I always pictured a lovely placid lake without even a hint of a ripple when I heard people talk about kayaking but that was before I tried it. My first experience in a kayak was not on a placid lake but instead on a river in Maine appropriately called Crooked River.
River kayaking is a different animal all together. There are factors to consider such as annual rainfall, proper gear for a full day and the actual length of a river named Crooked River, things we considered in hindsight.
We were all excited for the day to begin and awoke early, packing sandwiches for lunch along with four bottles of water and Deep Woods Off mosquito repellant. Since this was in the days before cell phones, we had already mapped off where Nana would drop us off and a designated pick up point just before a dangerous waterfall. We unloaded and set the kayaks at the water's edge, generously doused our bodies in Off spray and waved goodbye. “See you in a couple of hours, Nana,” we shouted up the hill and then we were on our way.
The water seemed a little shallow for the time of year, early summer, when the snow melt along with normal rainfall would typically have it full to the top of the river banks. It was well below that level but it didn't daunt our enthusiasm at all as we paddled and enjoyed being surrounded by nature—birds, trees and peaceful sounds of four paddles as they slapped and splashed the water in synchronization with the wind and buzzing bees.
Things were going great until we rounded one of many curves and spied a pile of brush blocking the entire width of the river, the water so shallow at that point that we were scraping sand and rocks with the kayaks’ bottoms. We had to step out into the frigid, ankle-deep water dragging our kayaks up onto the bank and around the dam of branches. It was exhausting, in cheap water shoes, to slop through sand, muck and poison ivy to bypass the blockade and then re-launch on the other side. This set the tone for the rest of our trip. Early on, we had consumed our food and water and my daughter and I were slowly lagging behind my son and husband after circumventing multiple shallow dam-like areas and miles of low-watered, crooked terrain. The kayaks were heavy and our arms were shaking from the effort of paddling then carrying those bulky monsters.
At one point, my husband excitedly yelled back to us, “Hurry. A mama moose and her baby!” but by the time we arrived, we just caught a glimpse of the backside of both mama and baby as they were disappearing into the woods. My son and husband were so far ahead by now that my daughter and I could barely make out their silhouettes through our tears. A drink of water had been the most important thought in my mind for seemingly hours and the thought of thrusting my face and slurping up the shallow sandy water entered my mind more than once but fear of flesh eating parasites quickly squelched that idea while my daughter and I even stopped sweating as dehydration set in. My husband and son could be heard in the distance laughing and enjoying the exercise while the two of us prayed and cried that the pickup point would magically appear in front of us.
Finally after one final kayak drag around rocks, we heard water rapids in the distance indicating the dangerous waterfall hazard was ahead. We laughed and cried in hysterics as we realized that this kayak trip from hell was ending. We could see my husband and son already safely on shore and Nana's truck at the top of the hill.
The waterfall was getting louder and we could hear shouts from the safety of the bank, “Paddle, paddle harder. This way! Don't get close to the falls.” They began to sound frantic as my daughter and I with arms as weak as kittens struggled to get to the safety of the bank. We were just a few feet from death and dismemberment and this gave us both surges of adrenaline needed to make it ashore.
We were so happy to still be alive but also so thirsty we could barely speak.
“Wow! Kayaking is fun,” exclaimed my husband and son.
Lisa Owens writes a monthly column for the Empire-Tribune and Glen Rose Reporter. Her columns are inspired by true events. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.