Tuesday, July 08, 2008

back, burnt and worn out

Howdy peoples. Did you miss me? Probably not, considering how spotty my posting's been lately. You probably wouldn't have even known I was gone if I hadn't told you...

It was a pretty crazy adventure. One-hundred-twenty river miles in five days. The cumulative wear on the body was something I hadn't counted on. Each day, more tired, more sore. Each day, less enthusiastic. After five days on the water, several hours (8-ish) per day, I *still* feel like I'm moving, rocking slightly, forward and back, like everything in my periphery is sliding slowly past me. I'm getting a little seasick sitting still...

I capsized within an hour of getting on the water at the very start of the trip. We put in on the McKenzie just north of Eugene. The water was moving really fast and we knew it would dump us pretty quickly into the Willamette, which was our goal. We hadn't moved but about three miles when we hit a crazy mish-mash of intersecting waterways. A tributary was pouring into the McKenzie, which was also at that point splitting around an island. We tried to cut hard right and take the easier channel around the island, but we realized the danger too late to fight the current and we all ended up being swept backward into the swirling chop on the left.

At first it seemed fun and I laughed at our helplessness and sheer "WEEEEEEE!!!" factor of being zipped around so fast. I'm used to slow currents and meandering paddles, so this seemed exciting at first. We were all whipped this way and that by a million different eddies. I worked hard to get myself turned around and moving forward, a feat I accomplished just in time to see one of my compatriots being dragged viciously under a low hanging tree by the intense current.

She ducked and the tree raked over her head violently. It looked awful and I knew I was on the same path so I started negotiating my own approach. My plan was to reach up and grab the biggest branch, which I hoped to use to steer me slightly left of the snag. Unfortunately, a split second before I reached the tree, another eddy slammed into me and drove me with incredible force forward into the tree. The extra power ruined my plan and instead of steering myself around the snag I ended up spinning myself out of my boat.

I have flashes of awareness during the spill. My first thought, underwater and upside down, was "wow, so this is what it's like to flip." Then I briefly imagined reaching up to pull off my spray skirt, like I've seen in my kayaking safety videos, but of course I hadn't put on my spray skirt so I had nothing to pull off. Instead, I fell right out of the boat and started for the surface without any effort on my own part, almost as if the hand of god had reached down and grabbed me.

The second thought I had was "I hope there isn't a boat on top of me" as I started to surface. I was so relieved when my head popped out of the water and didn't slam into my upside down boat. Then there was a nice long stretch of time without thoughts. I couldn't breathe, I was choking and wheezing and my breath was hitching in my throat like when you sob and can't catch your breath.

In retrospect, I realize the water was so cold I couldn't draw air in at first. At the time, I wasn't really aware of the cold. I started to panic. I couldn't get a good grip on my boat and in my panic I tried to flip it over to either climb in it or to expose the deck rigging which I could have at least gotten my hands around. Unfortunately, I had a heavy cooler strapped on top of my boat, which caused my boat to keep spinning and to wind up back upside down.

My hands kept slipping off the bottom of my boat and I was totally freaking out. But then I became aware of all my friends in their boats nearby telling me I'd be ok, telling me to relax and breathe, telling me they were going to get me out, telling me I was fine. And you know, if you'd told me before I capsized that they'd react that way, I would have predicted that their reassurances would just get on my nerves. However, in reality, it was so helpful. Once I was able to hear them, I made myself relax a little and then I realized that my life vest was keeping my head above water, even though my grip on my boat wasn't strong, and I slowly started to realize I'd be ok.

It felt like a hundred hours, but pretty soon I drifted down towards an island and my feet started touching bottom. In minutes, I was standing on dry ground gathering my wits while my friends dumped the water out of my boat and tried to dry out my stuff. Miraculously I didn't lose anything, except one handkerchief and a couple bungee cords. My new perscription sunglasses stayed firmly attached to my face throughout. My hat fell off, but Kara spotted it and directed Dynette to grab it. My water bottle floated past me, but Maia grabbed it. Somehow or another I never let go of my paddle. And, last but not least, my bottle of Flonase found its way out of my pocket and tried to drift away, but I managed to grab it.

So I hit the shore with my paddle in one hand and a bottle of flonase in the other. And I think I was also a little bit in shock... but.... whatever...

Anyway, I'll tell you all about the rest of the trip tomorrow. Now I have to go drink beer and eat pizza with my girlfriend who missed me a lot...

More later...


Blogger stumptown dreamer said...

frickin frack!
glad you are here to write the story - yowza.... glad you are writing the story....
welcome home....<:-}

12:05 AM  

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