Thursday, April 19, 2012

Paddling Uphill

BF and I on the day we brought our baby home.

You'll often hear people talk about there being two types of motorcycle riders: those who have gone down, and those who will.

We knew going into it that owning a canoe would be a lot like riding a motorcycle: eventually we would get wet-- and not on purpose.

The blogging of our adventure is long overdue:

It was last summer; July 2011. Our local river-- the St. John's-- was running high and fast, which is not to say much, it's not a very big river and even at it's fastest, the current is maybe 4 miles an hour. I really ought to learn nautical terms like "knots" or something, but no one would know what I was talking about, so just figure 4 miles an hour.

It was also hot. HOT. We're talking like 113 degrees Fahrenheit or so.

The problem with canoing our local river during the summer season is that we park downstream and then paddle upstream, against the current. Which is a lot of work that results in much internal bickering among the crew. But it is kinda cool that we can do it and then we turn the rig around and get to leisurely float back downstream to end up where we started. Which means that we can do a trip with only one vehicle.

That day was hot, did I mention it was like the hottest day of the summer? Like 120 degrees?

BF at his end of the canoe-- out of whacking range.
We planned to do a long day on the river. We packed up the ice chest with Gatorade and water, sodas, and a couple of beers. We went to Port-of-Subs and got sandwiches for lunch and added them to the ice chest. I put my cell phone, car keys, id, and miscellaneous items in my tiny little dry bag and hooked it to the front thwart.

The BF attached his Garmin Rhino GPS to his thwart.

We parked the car, unloaded the canoe, and hauled the dang thing through the small parking lot at the end of Lover's Lane, up, over the levy, and down to our put-in spot.

Carrying the canoe is my least favorite part of owning a canoe. The thing is 17 feet long. It weighs 63 pounds-- which doesn't seem so bad, until you have to carry it anywhere. And instead of flipping it over and portaging the beast over his shoulders by the center yoke-- in the manner that canoes are generally portaged-- the BF prefers for each of us to grab a thwart and haul it between us.

I find this awkward and often feel the need to set the canoe down so that I can get my shoulder back into its socket.

The BF has not come to peace with the idea of having the canoe come into contact with the ground yet. Which means that if I set my end of the canoe down, it rests on the top of my foot.

And he wonders why I don't love the canoe as much as he does.

Nevertheless-- on this particular day, even I was enthusiastic about our outing and looking forward to making it past Cutler Park and up to the railroad bridge. That would mean about 8 miles up river before we turned around for our down river cruise.

I had every intention of stopping at the Rd 168 bridge for lunch.

Did I mention how hot it was? Like 132 degrees or something. Seriously hot.

And not only do we have to paddle against the current to make upriver progress, but since it's 140 degrees outside in the summer time here, every person in Tulare County was out on the river, tubing down stream.

Some time in the last 25 years "tubing" has become "floating" in these parts, but no matter what you call it, it's the same thing: You grab some sort of floatational device-- from fancy multi-person rafts made for this purpose, to air mattresses-- you'll see it all-- and you strap your ice chest to your makeshift raft, put it in the water and start drinking.

We have had to navigate between vast flotillas of stoned, drunken, sunburned, people headed toward us on a collision path. Many of them are quite nice, good people having a good time. Some of them make me want to hurt them as I watch them casually toss trash, deflated rafts, and such into the river as though the river had some sort of magic janitorial service that comes through at night and filters out the trash.

No wonder so many private land owners along the river don't allow people to access the river through their property-- people are pigs.

Oh-- sorry. Little tangent there, just saying.

But most "floaters" are just having a good time and they wouldn't annoy me in the slightest if they didn't insist on calling out to us as we paddle past them, "Hey! You're going the wrong way!"

Ha ha. So clever.

But we always manage to steer through the throngs.

The banks of the river-- especially near Cutler Park-- are also filled with people cooling off. Families come down to the park to bar-b-que, wade into the river, jump off of rope swings, make sandcastles, etc. This means that landing the canoe for a break or for the portage over the weir at Cutler Park is fraught with obstacles...
In the "Side Channel of Doom"

Also, who knew kids loved canoes so much?

Seriously, the Pied Piper had it all wrong, what he really needed was a canoe. Kids point and shout at us as we glide along the river as though we were magical beings-- you'd think we were Santa Clause. And when we bring it in to the river bank so we can portage, the children gather around us, fondly stroking the boat and asking all sorts of questions about it from how much it cost to if they can go for a ride.

I am notoriously "allergic" to children-- I find this creepy.

The day in question, the river was highly populated with all of the above-mentioned groups. It was a really hot day.

It does not help the mood at all when it's 178 degrees outside, that I am in the canoe, not the river. All the floaters and waders are relaxing in the water, feeling fine, while I am inside a dry canoe, paddling for all I'm worth up river against a 4 mile an hour current. I am working up a sweat just from the paddling. Sweat is dripping into my eyes, but I can't drop a stroke to wipe it off my forehead. I have my hat and my sunscreen on, but the sun bouncing off the water all around me means that I'm still getting sunburned.

I'm tired, and I'm hot. And I hate being hot.

Owning a canoe was not supposed to be so much work. It was supposed to be leisurely.

We made it up river, through the throngs, around the park, back into the river, and past the park. Now we were headed toward the Rd 168 bridge and were in deeper, calmer, less populated waters. Also, this is where the banks of the river get steeper and covered with dense vegetation-- it makes for a pleasant paddle, even upstream.

Along the line, we passed one guy who refers to the BF as "captain," he makes me laugh. Then we are within site of the bridge. The water level was high enough that there were only slight hints of white water under the bridge.

There are several large, broken pieces of concrete placed in the riverbed under the bridge. I'm not sure why, but it means that most of the time, you don't just float your raft right under the bridge, you get out of the river, walk around and put back in on the other side of the bridge. But that day, the water was so high that floaters coming down river were just riding the small rapids under the bridge. It looked like fun, and I was looking forward to being able to do it in the canoe on our way back down river later that afternoon.

But right now, we are hitting the rougher, faster current downstream of the bridge. We have to dig in and paddle hard to maintain upriver progress.

I am scouting the shore for a place to pull the canoe out of the river, rest, and eat lunch.

Groups of floaters passing by us start asking if we are going to try to paddle up river, under the bridge, over those rapids.

The BF starts babbling about trying it.

I start thinking the BF has forgotten who his paddling partner is.

We get closer to the point of no return.

The BF is making no move toward the shore.

I really want my sandwich and a beer.

The BF is still paddling with all his might toward the rapids.

I'm really hot. I've been paddling against the current for 6 miles, and 3 hours. Also, I'm hungry.

The BF keeps paddling...

A. Those rapids are closer than they apear.
B. Those are not the rapids we were headed toward.
Here's the deal: When you go hiking with another person, and they do something asinine like walk too close to a ledge or think they can swim to an island in a raging river, you can just stop. You can just stop walking. You can tell them they are stupid. You can tell them they are crazy. You can tell them they shouldn't do what they are thinking of doing. But you don't have to go with them. You have the option to just stand still and watch them plummet to their death.

If you are in a car with someone who has a sudden suicidal moment, you might not be able to get out, you might not be able to stop the car before they drive over a cliff-- but you can, at least, close your eyes and start praying.

If you are in a canoe, and your partner keeps paddling, you can't do anything but keep paddling.

And that's where I found myself: staring at the rapidly encroaching rapids, while my paddling partner continued to paddle.

What could I do? I kept paddling! Paddling for all I was worth. I determined that if we were to have any chance whatsoever of making it up that tiny spot of white water, we had to hit it just right... and we headed into it...

At one point, I actually started thinking we did have a chance. We had the nose -- err, stern? bow, I think it's the bow-- of the canoe headed in just the right direction with the rest of the canoe lined up and poised for success. I was paddling on the right side.. and this is where it gets hard to explain without hand gestures and video:

The current was pouring down from under the bridge and sort of created a trough that ran at a diagonal. At the very end of that trough was a little rooster tail like wave, just a cute little curl of water. What we needed to do was get the nose (bow) of the canoe into that trough, upstream of that curl. What I needed to do was keep paddling on the right (ummmm, starboard?) side of the boat, which would give us leverage against the current and allow me to use my paddle to pole against rocks if necessary to keep us going in the right direction-- mainly, upstream.

Things were looking good. Surprisingly good. Like, surging bursts of adrenaline "OMG I CAN'T BELIEVE THIS MIGHT WORK!" good-- when I hear the BF behind me bark out the order "switch sides!"

???!!!! Remind me to go over the concept of "if it ain't broke don't fix it" with the BF sometime.... I called back, "are you sure?"

Which is my way of saying, "are you F***ING kidding me?!" Because right at that moment was about the absolute worst time imaginable to switch the side I was paddling on.

For one thing, paddling on the right meant I was pushing against the wave, keeping us headed upstream. For another thing, taking my paddle out of the water to switch sides would mean dropping a stroke and with that wave trying to push us back downstream AND sideways, dropping a stroke could mean disaster.

But when the BF starts barking orders, it's often a good idea to just do what he says and let the consequences fall on his shoulders....

...and then suddenly, the day didn't seem so hot anymore...

In fact, once I realized I should stop breathing, it felt downright nice. Cool. Albeit a bit wet. No. Make that a lot wet.

I surfaced fast and close to our capsized canoe in time to flip the canoe over and recover most of our belongings-- we lost a beer and our beef jerky. We honestly tried to recover them on our way downriver, but they were never to be seen again.

The canoe and I floated peacefully down river for a moment before we met up with the BF. There were some issues with getting to the side of the river at a spot where we could actually get out, pour the water out of the canoe and take stock of the damage... then there was a rather serious issue with the BF barking more orders at me when I couldn't do jack squat about them; the river banks at that point are kinda steep and the river is deep. Despite the fact that the BF had managed to climb up on the bank and get ahold of the canoe, I was still unable to touch the bottom of the river, and found myself clinging to the side of the canoe on the opposite side from the bank-- so when the BF told me to "let go of the canoe" so he could pull it out of the river and start turning it over to dump approximately 180 gallons of water out of our little boat, if I had done it, I'd have been 50 yards down stream before he'd have had a chance to notice!

So, instead, I continued to hold on; figuring I'd already "listened" to his advice enough for one day.

Once all was said and done and I had scrambled up onto the bank and we had dumped the water out of the canoe, taken stock of our possessions, realized our Port of Subs sandwiches (that I'd so been looking forward to) were a soggy mess, and were peacefully drinking the remaining beers, I gave the BF hell about his whole "let go of the canoe" crap; laying down the law that if that was any indication of the way I could expect him to take my personal wellbeing into account in the future that he could canoe by his own damn self.

In the canoe-- getting along.
(For the record, he was quite apologetic for not realizing that I genuinely could not let go of the canoe and get on the river bank.)

We put everything back in the canoe. Discussed our mutual agreement that that seemed to have been a fair test of our life vests-- and yes, we wear life vests, even in the St. John's river, despite how many of the "floaters" laugh at us for it-- agreed that we were very sad about the sandwiches and wish we had more beer.

We also agreed that we didn't think we were going to continue up river that day, so we got in our little boat and headed back down river.

We never found our beef jerky or the run away beer, but we picked up some stray trash along the way to try to make up for it.

The canoe made it through its first roll without a scratch, and being as it was 220 degrees outside when we flipped over, I have totally and completely forgiven the BF for trying to paddle uphill-- because flipping the canoe was awesome!

But still, if I hadn't switched sides when he told me to, we'd have totally made it.