My love of canoeing didn’t really begin until I was an adult Girl Scout leader in the early 90’s. I was very determined to take the girls out on the lake and gritted my way through the embarrassing training performed mostly in the local Jewish Community Center pool. I learned water safety, rowing, steering and basic emergency techniques, all of which were a lot of fun and came in handy from time to time. However, there were a few things that I found more difficult such as the art of unloading a canoe off the top of your mini-van without breaking your neck and the procedure for getting back into the boat after you have fallen out. There is nothing more humbling than to try to haul your ass back into the canoe after a “tump”. I believe they even call it “whaling yourself up”. Basically you hold onto the side of the canoe across from where the rest of you is dangling in the water, and sling your Lycra-ed behind up and over landing face first onto the slimy bottom of the boat. This is no easy task, and though it never really was necessary to perform this gymnastic feat, I was certain I could handle it if needed. I was wrong.
Fast forward through many wonderful canoeing adventures, to this past weekend and this is where my happy memories fade very very far away.
This weekend’s trek started and ended in a place called Hardy, Arkansas. For those readers not familiar with this area, Hardy is small mountain town whose main source of income is river tourism. The picturesque Spring River provides many water activities and there are lots of companies vying for your money to rent their boats, BBQ and bait.
Mistake number one: Don’t rent a canoe online. Even though I fretted that we needed to reserve a vessel, it really would have been better to SEE the business owners before handing over my credit card number.
Mistake number two and most importantly: Ask if there is anything on the 7 hour canoe trip that might include the word “carnage”. If so, turn back while the getting is good.
So, upon first impression this outfit was small change. It was a husband and wife, both of which were nine month’s pregnant. Apparently, these two were living on the wild side as they were both smoking like chimneys and driving without either a speedometer or safety belts in the drop-off van. The husband told me that he had just had his tonsils out and his throat was a little sore, but he assured me that he was not in too much pain due to pain pills he had been “popping like candy”. (This was while he was driving us to the river).
Needless to say, we arrived at the ramp in one piece and unloaded our gear. This was when he started rattling off the directions as to how to navigate the river. I would like to mention here that on all previous canoeing trips, the river only went one way and directions were not necessary.
“Stay right, stay left, don’t go here, but be sure to go there…” All other options led to unknown perils and certain death. We were even warned about the exit ramp, which was located just before you get sucked under some bridge… so don’t miss it.
It was then that he mentioned “Dead Man’s Curve”. I was already seated in the front of the canoe and ready for the send off…. What was that???
“Dead Man’s Curve” where, apparently, he almost drown and therefore, doesn’t go on this part of the river anymore. What? Hey, wait… did you say a 50 percent change of tumping?
And off we went.
Five seconds after blast off, we hit the first 2 foot drop. Even though we obediently stayed to the left, the front of the canoe filled with water and soaked my pants. The canoe was narrow and we only wobbled a little. I breathed a sigh of relief that we maneuvered that one without dying, but no sooner said, and we rounded a bend with rocks, trees and a giant sign that said “Beware! Stay to the right!” The river was gushing and it seemed like this was the epicenter of several tributaries where we were about to hit a perfect storm.
Paddle paddle…. must paddle faster!!!! I held the front with both hands and tried to steady the awkward rocking.
Too late. The canoe started listing to the side and we hit the 4 ft drop with the speed of a projectile missile. The front of the canoe went down, the back went up and the cooler full of healthy Stevia laced beverages sailed over my head. The next clear thought was that I was under the boat and the rushing water was dragging me along with it. I banged around for what seemed like an eternity and popped out the other side. The canoe took off right side up and as I tried to keep a grip, I knew there was no way to hold on. I struggled with my water shoes that were knocked half off. Why was I doing that? I have no clear answer. I guess I figured I might need the shoes. Who knows, because the nightmare of this ice bath was only beginning.
There is a part in the movie “Emperor’s New Groove” where they pause just before being swept over a waterfall where the guide asks, “Sharp rocks at the bottom?” The llama replies “Oh yeah!” and they share a dreadful look that says something like “Holy crap!”
I do believe there was a pause… and then for the next 200 yards, my ass, knees, elbows and back were dragged over what seemed like razor blades and lava rock. All I could hear was the rush of the water and the screams from my fellow paddlers as they too were flipped over and over.
When the shredding ended and I finally got on my feet, I was done. I dragged myself to the bank and vowed never to set foot in a river craft again! The oars were gone and the canoe was gone, and our waterproof backpack with the cellphone so carefully strapped down was gone with it.
Thankfully, a nearby homeowner, took off down river like a cowgirl on a cattle run and returned with our canoe strapped to her little rubber raft. Most of stuff was lost, but she said we were lucky it hadn’t been worse. She said that there had been the biggest flood since the 80’s recently and the water was too rough for canoeing over that area. She told us the severity of the flood and about the floating boat trailers and BBQ grills that were still turning up, and who knew WHAT else was in that water. Later at the hotel, the desk clerk referred us to a You Tube video, after hearing our tale of terror, about how locals call that part of the river, Dead Man’s Curve of Carnage. There are no words.
There are so many emotions that happened after the incident. I was so angry at the canoe rental people for putting me at risk for the sake of $40.00. No matter how much they needed the money, I thought it was wrong. I blamed their stupidity, their greed and their total lack of safety… I was raging!!!
I blamed MY stupidity for not asking more questions like “Is there any part of this trip that might smash my face and cause permanent brain damage?”
Anger was a biggie, but there was more to it. It is very hard to explain all the OTHER emotions that were going on in my head. I was embarrassed for not being more athletic. I had taken on more than I could handle and nearly killed myself. I realized I’m not as tough I thought I was, and the real biggie was the fact that I had named canoeing as one of my major goals in life. I was counting on my Golden Pond phase during retirement. and now, that dream was slipping away.
Although every part of me was banged up, the thing that was hurting me the most, was my ego. I have so many readers that I advise to try new things, and here I was knocking my brains out trying to live my Red Shoe Life of adventure and not doing a very good job. It was very upsetting.
There is a happy ending to this story though, thanks to my sister. Once I posted on Facebook a few pics of my new river trophies (war wounds), my sister called to find out what the hell had happened. I spouted on and on about the horrors of it all and how I now was terrified to go out on the river again… blah blah blah. Of course if you have been reading my BLOG posts, you know that my sister is always the voice of reason and if she could have slapped me over the phone, she would have. “Deb, don’t be ridiculous! Do you think that people who canoe never fall out? Stop being a baby and plan your next trip.” You get the idea.
Of course, she is right. She always is. I thought about it quite a lot as I finished another tube of anti-bacterial cream. I have always known I would eventually fall out of the boat. I didn’t exactly picture it with somersaults and a tsunami, but I suppose I might try it again.
By the next day, I was still shaken, but I was slowly trying to figure out how I could do it differently next time. I guess I could ASK the canoe renters if the river was gentle. I could go with a group in case of emergencies and I could duct tape hockey gear to my ass in case of unforeseen dragging.
Point of the story tonight is to keep living your Red Shoe Life, even if you run into a few bumps (lava rocks) along the way. A goal is something that you must work toward and you will have set backs. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be worth it. Your canoe trip to your goal may not always be a straight shot. You may need better directions and detour now and again. Remember, while living a Red Shoe Life things may get tough and you may find yourself at the top of a waterfall, but be smart, be prepared, and watch out for the sharp rocks at the bottom!