My wife has gotten sick of hearing me say how bad I wanna kayak down this, or that set of rapids, so as we drove over the bridge in Kenduskeag she suggested I “try” kayaking down the rapids so she could get it on video.
“You think I won’t?” I asked her.
“Knock yourself out! I don’t care one way or the other.” came her disinterested reply.
“‘Cause I will!” I shot back.
“Do it…Don’t do it. I don’t really care.” she yawned.
“I mean it! I’ll go home and get the kayak right now!”
I could tell she didn’t think I would do it! HA! I was gonna show her! Once we got home I parked across the top of the driveway, alongside the road, and headed down to where my kayak had been waiting for me all winter.
I hoisted it up onto the roof of the van, strapped it down, and headed for the stream.
My wife said very little on the drive back to Kenduskeag. She was likely getting a little nervous. Not me though!
Once we got to the stream, I drove down a short dirt road to see if I could find a place to launch but didn’t have any luck. Across the bridge and on the Route 15 side of the stream didn’t look very promising either.
“SHUCKS!” I said…thinking I wouldn’t be able to launch above the rapids my wife wanted to see me shoot through.
She suggested that behind the volunteer fired department looked promising.
There was no backing down now…Not that I wanted to…Don’t get me wrong! I was TOTALLY ready to do this??? I mean I WAS TOTALLY READY!
Yeah…that’s it…this was nothing! The salesman last spring at the Old Town Canoe Outlet assured me it was very difficult to capsize a kayak. And this stretch of water didn’t look all that mean.
Besides, it was just a short piece of white water before it got relatively calm…AND I was REAL close to the fire department in the unlikely event I needed rescuing.
Now I won’t admit it…I was nervous! I mean what could possibly go wrong right? I’m a relatively young man, not THAT heavy and my blood pressure isn’t THAT high. If I said I was a lousy swimmer, I would be bragging. And it was a nice warm 48 degrees…Probably the water wasn’t that much cooler.
I was wearing jeans, and a T-shirt, but as I started untying my kayak I started to get a bit of a chill, so I put on a long sleeve shirt. I confidently put my life vest on, and buckled the straps, not bothering to use the zipper and made my way down toward the stream as my wife and son headed off in the van to watch from the bridge.
My wife was going to toot the horn when she was ready for me to start my run at the rapids.
As I got the kayak in the water I had to fight the current with the rope I had tied on to the handle at the stern to keep it from shooting the rapids without me.
I knew I would never hear the horn over the roar of the stream that was starting to look much more like a raging river every second.
I strained my eyes for some sign of my wife and son off in the distance, and saw what I suspected was William running back and forth. I raised the kayak paddle above my head to get his attention, and sure enough, he stopped running. I figured they must be ready.
I undid the straps of my life vest, and pulled the zipper up, before engaging the buckles again and pulling them snug. Then I sucked in my stomach, and snugged them up some more. You know… Just in case.
I grabbed my paddle with my right hand, and grabbed the side of the kayak in my left. I stuck the paddle in the mud and sat down in the kayak, and quickly back paddled to keep from heading down the mighty river sideways.
I slowly eased away from the bank, and out into the middle of the stream. So far so good. I had to paddle a bit to go forward, as the current wasn’t as fast as it looked. In fact, it looked like the waves were coming back toward me.
As I headed into the waves, I noticed something a lot disconcerting… The nose of my kayak was sitting low in the water, and the waves appeared to be towering a foot or two above it.
That was about the time I began to recall something I learned way back in the early 1980’s as I prepared for a whitewater canoe excursion with some classmates. Water piles up behind large rocks.
But it was already too late.
The bow of the kayak started to plow through the wall of water but climbed rapidly at the last moment. For a moment it seemed like I was suspended in mid-air. Then the kayak plunged into a deep hole in the water before striking a rock so hard my wife and son heard it on the bridge over the sound of the rapids.
The nose of the kayak went under water for a moment, as the center caught on the rock, and I started to roll to the right. I leaned to the left to keep from capsizing, but I had already taken on some water before I had started to tip.
The next rock I hit leaned me to the left, and again, I leaned to the opposite side, but the water in the kayak was still moving to the left, and I was plunged into the water.
My life vest did its job, and I instantly bobbed to the surface. I had tied long ropes to the bow and stern of the kayak, but I couldn’t find either one as I headed downstream.
I managed to grab the stern handle and find the rope before I thought to try and stand. Happily, the water was only about 4 feet deep so I started walking toward the shore on my left.
I didn’t make it far before the water got more than 6 feet deep, and the current threatened to pull me under the kayak. I pulled my left hand out of the water, still clutching the paddle, and I hugged the bottom of the overturned kayak. With my right hand, I easily righted the little craft and stuck the paddle in it.
Still holding the gunnel, I stuck my feet down again and found the water to be much shallower, so I stood up to rest. Fighting the current, and keeping my kayak and paddle from continuing downstream without me had taken a lot of effort.
Slowly I worked my way into shallower water. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I was on dry land.
I asked my son if he and his mother had been worried he told me only just a little. Then he admitted that his mother may have laughed at me. Then he admitted that he may have too.
One thing is sure. Next time we drive past some rapids, I won’t be so quick to say how bad I wanna shoot down them in my kayak…well…not until things warm up a bit that is!!!