Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Side-Channel of DOOOOM

You may recall, we bought a canoe last summer, right? Well, we managed to make it through our first year of canoeing coupledom not only without a particular boyfriend's body being washed up downstream after suffering any severe head injuries from "accidental" paddle attacks... but also without managing to capsize the little boat.

It should be noted that both the BF and myself have dreamt of owning a canoe for many years-- many years prior to beginning out relationship as a couple, in fact.

Just imagine-- two lost souls wistfully dreaming of one day owning their own canoe, casually drifting toward each other and Destiny. Each one coddling their own little canoe-dream close to their heart. Until, one day, they end up together to pursue their canoe fantasies as one.

It makes a lovely story line for a romance movie, doesn't it?

And so it seemed this was our story-- until we actually bought the canoe.

Even while we were pouring over canoe brochures for the 4 years prior to actually settling on our 17 foot Wenonah Spirit II, it was apparent that we might not have been entirely on the same page (sometimes literally) in our individual visions of our canoe future.

I-- for instance-- wanted a long, steady, touring canoe. Big enough to hold both the BF and myself, all our gear for at least a week's camping trip, and two medium/large dogs. I saw us strapping our canoe to the roof of the car and setting off for places seldom seen.

We would load up our family and gear and set off across calm, pristine mountain lakes in the early morning while a lite mist still hovered above the water as the sun rose above high alpine peaks.

We would glide peacefully across the water as the woods awoke around us. Little birds would sing from the trees, eagles would dip majestically on the air currents, dolphins would jump playfully as they followed us across the lake, bunnies and squirrels and baby deer would emerge from the forest along the shore to admire our sleek, quiet, journey as we glided across the water to the far side of the lake where we would put up our camp and live in perfect harmony with nature.

The dogs would lie by the fire, the BF would strum the guitar, and I would prepare delicious stews and fruit cobblers in the dutch oven.

(The BF doesn't play the guitar. The dogs would only lie by the fire after they'd eaten the bunnies. And Dolphins are rarely found in fresh-water mountain lakes... but bear with me, I'm setting a scene here.)

In my version of canoe-ownership, canoing would be quiet, peaceful, and require very little work. Like a scene from Snow White-- with little singing blue birds and adoring bunny rabbits-- I would make my way across the water with a gentle stroke, stroke, glide-- switch sides I'm paddling on and then-- stroke, stroke, glide....

You really miss out here by not getting the full, verbal rendition of the story. In person it comes complete with soundtrack-- so you'll have to add the lilting Snow White singing to my vision yourself.

However, it turned out that the BF's version of canoe-ownership was more like a MegaDeath song playing on amps turned up to the full "11" while we paddled frantically for our lives up-river in class 9 rapids.

It works out fairly well for us-- and our relationship-- that we live in an area that sports neither glassy mountain lakes nor MegaDeath-worthy rapids. What we do have, is the St. John's River.

The St. John's is not always much to speak of. They "turn the river off" during much of the winter, leaving a dry, sandy riverbed winding down from the foothills to the mostly non-existent Tule Lake bed. And many summers, the water in the part of the river that winds along the outskirts of our hometown isn't deep enough to skip rocks in.

But the year we bought our first canoe was the summer of a high-water year for California's central valley and a high-snow year for the high Sierra, whose snowmelt feeds our waterways throughout the summer.

The St. John's River was flowing high and fast and we cut our canoeing teeth on the 2 mile stretch between Lover's Lane and Cutler Park.

On our maiden voyage, we carried the canoe over the Levy and set it in the water. This is when I came to the conclusion that a 60 pound canoe is still a heavy sonuvabitch, which was only slightly after coming to the conclusion that the BF's idea of "an easy first trip" was to start out by paddling UP-stream for what would turn out to be close to 2 miles before we would be able to turn around and commence my "stroke, stroke, glide" plan on the downstream stretch.

As I recall, it was about 110 degrees in the middle of the afternoon and we were starting out only yards upstream of one of the concrete weirs that litter the riverbed. Which really freaked me out-- what if we couldn't paddle upstream fast enough to avoid being swept downstream and over that dam? I mean, sure, it's only about a 4 foot drop, but it'd still hurt! Not to mention, it was a brand new fiberglass canoe! The BF was all crazy about it touching the sand for crying out loud! If we went over a concrete dam, I was pretty sure I wasn't going to have a place to live anymore.

Well, that first trip went well. And by "well," I mean that we did not damage the canoe, lose a paddle, tip over, or get mauled by bears. (No. There aren't actually any bears where we live.)

I did seriously consider never getting in the canoe with the BF again. In fact, it crossed my mind to not be in the same room with the BF ever again.

I get to sit in the front of the canoe. For those of you-- like the BF-- who give a crap about proper nautical terms, this is apparently the "bow" of the boat. The BF sits in the "stern," what most people would refer to as "the back."

He thinks he's responsible for steering. And if he wants to set the record straight and explain how I'm wrong, then he should start his own blog so he can tell his stories his way.

He also thinks he cannot steer unless we are traveling at approximately Warp 2.

He is also a good 12 feet behind me. --Remember, I cannot reach him with my paddle to whack him upside the head, I've tried.

On that first trip, which seems so long ago now, we managed to maintain steady upstream progress despite his tendency to play drill sergeant and bark out orders that make no sense to me. Including his insistence that I was not allowed to switch sides with the paddle.

Nay. Indeed, I was expected to pick one side, dig in, and apparently end up looking like John Leguizamo from M. Nnight Shyamalan's "Lady in the Water." Which was not ok with me on a couple of levels, not the least of which was that my arm just plain hurt after awhile.

Also, I was not allowed to stop paddling. Absolutely no resting. Even if we had enough momentum that dropping a stroke now and then wouldn't impede our upstream progress.

Which is probably how I got talked into attempting the Side Channel of Doom on multiple occasions.

In the beginning, the BF was all excited because it was a high-water year for the St. John's AND we had a canoe. Just down river from Cutler Park (which is an actual county park, for you non-locals,) on the other side of the river from the park, there is a little channel where-- when it's high enough-- the water will divert from the main river and flow through the little side channel, making an island of a small hill on the river bank.

The BF thought it would be very exciting to see this side channel completely filled with water-- and even more exciting to take the canoe through it.

Who am I to squash his fantasies?

The side channel had nearly no current, it reached a maximum depth of about a foot. For being only a feet away from the main river, it was eerily quiet and overgrown with weeds. It made me feel like we'd taken a wrong turn and ended up in an Indiana Jones movie. I was pretty sure angry, poison-dart-bearing natives would emerge over the river bank any moment and we would be tasked with narrowly escaping an ancient curse.

Naturally, the side-channel expedition started out well enough. We moved stealthily off the main river and out of sight and sound of civilization. It was kinda cool. The water was too shallow to paddle the canoe through, so we used the paddles to pole ourselves along the narrow channel.

And, naturally, half way through the channel, we simply hit bottom.

We determined that we needed to get out of the canoe and walk it.

Once I convinced the BF that both of us had to get out of the canoe, he wandered off over the hill to take a look at our options for getting back to the main river while I coined the term "swamp tromping" as I led the canoe through the shallow water by the bow rope-- like I was taking it for a walk on a leash.

Splosh ,Splosh, Splosh, through the ankle deep water. Mucky, muddy, mossy, ankle deep water. Full of tree frogs and tadpoles and tiny minnow-like fishes. Splosh, Splosh, Splosh. Using my paddle like a machete to whack at weeds that hung over the banks across the creek-like side channel.

Naturally, the other end of the channel deepens-- last summer the upper end of the channel was up to my thighs. Which made it difficult to climb out of the water, up the slippery, muddy banks of the channel so that we could carry the canoe over the hill and put it back in the river...

Oh no. The upper end of the channel is not accessible. There's no way we can actually paddle the canoe all the way through the side-channel and rejoin the river without getting out of the canoe! Even if the water WAS deep enough to keep the loaded canoe afloat the whole way-- there's a tree that grows across the upper channel opening.

Is this what Johnny Horton meant by "where a rabbit wouldn't go?"

 All last summer, over and over again, even as we got stronger and more comfortable with the paddling-- and with paddling with each other-- every weekend we had to do the St. John's and try to negotiate the "Side Channel of Doom" again.

I'd come home from work and he'd be standing there with a creepy, obsessive gleam in his eyes as he explained to me that he'd crossed the river on a test drive that day and "it's higher than it was last week, we could probably do it this time!"

And each time I acquiesced to another expedition only to find myself swamp-tromping through the bug and tadpole infested muck again, I swore I was never going into that side channel again.

After the attempt one evening at sunset when the BF's Warp-2-steering-theory (why do we need to go fast OR steer in the side channel?!) nearly resulted in my face being eaten off by a giant spider hanging in the middle of its 8 foot diameter web directly in our path, I finally had enough.

I'd had enough of the side channel. I'd had enough of the doom. I'd have enough of the BF being completely oblivious to the horrible dangers I was subject to because anything in our path was going to hit ME first! 3 inch cross spiders, that made me think of the Hobbit, for instance!

...of DOOOOOOOM!...

Even the BF admitted defeat. The side channel's cursed, other-worldly nature meant that no matter how high the water in the river got, the side channel would never be navigable from end to end.