happiness is...

happiness is...
kenya 2010

Monday, November 18, 2013

today i learned how easy it would be to drown

in all fairness, i knew better. funny, but i say that like it is a defense. does it make something more or less idiotic if i recognize the dangers and do it anyway? i guess more idiotic, but at least you know i was being observant. 

yesterday was going to be the last paddle of the season. blair and i originally had plans to kayak at perry lake, but the weather wasn't cooperating. it was warm in the sun (upper 60s), but super windy. i don't mean a little windy. i mean windy in a kansas way. 20mph wind with gusts up to 40+mph. so windy that we had a change of plans. blair suggested, and i agreed, that we paddle the kansas river instead, in hopes that the river banks would provide some protection. we dropped off the van in eudora (about 10 miles downriver as the crow flies), picked up a couple friends, and headed back to the boat ramp in north lawrence. 

the riverbanks didn't seem to be playing along with our plan. if anything, i think they created a wind tunnel. the water was rough in a way that i'd never seen the river. i had seen the water levels high, swelling against the banks, and i had seen the water speed fast, rushing at breakneck speed toward the east...but i had never seen breakers and foot high whitecaps cover the surface, all the way across the river. we were all set to get in when the alarm bells went off in my head. we didn't have life vests. the two friends we were paddling with had brought theirs, but ours were in the van all the way upriver in eudora. i jokingly mentioned that if we tipped, they'd have to save us since they were the only ones with vests. they headed out on the water and it was an immediate struggle but they managed to start making their way down current. i got in my boat next and blair launched me. i didn't realize right away that i was in trouble, but i did recognize that this was no ordinary paddle. the current was pulling my boat straight across the river and i couldn't get my nose pointed downstream. i literally couldn't do it. i ruddered on the left and did wide c strokes on the right and nothing. i was sideways to the waves and they were breaking over the side and top of my boat. i was pitching side to side as they hit. i tried putting more arm into it, and tried to force my nose around, but it kept pulling back to the right. at one point, i felt like my boat was beginning to turn around backward so i gave a really hard thrust to the right...

and i went over, capsizing my kayak and plunging into the frigid kaw.

the water was so cold that it immediately took my breath away, like i had been kicked in the chest. i turned my head toward the boat ramp and saw that blair was preparing to get into his boat, and hadn't seen me flip. i tried to call his name, but barely any sound came out- mostly because i couldn't get a decent breath in. my clothes were quickly soaking up water and getting heavier, trying to drag me under. my boat was floating away, my paddle in the opposite direction, and i couldn't touch the bottom. with the weight of my clothes and the stiffening of my muscles from the cold, i didn't think i could swim to shore. i waved an arm and caught blair's attention, and then i put all my energy into catching up with my boat and clamoring up the side, until my chest was draped over the top like a shipwreck survivor...and i guess, in fact, i was. blair caught up with me as fast as he could and we tried to figure out the best move that wouldn't include him getting in the water, as well. i tried to kick paddle toward shore but the current was moving me more downstream than across. the longer i was in the water, the colder and weaker i got. finally, i drifted/kicked/maneuvered to an area just shallow enough that i could touch bottom. i slowly walked through the chest deep water, pushing the capsized kayak in front of me, until i reached the bank, and blair hauled us both out. though my actual time in the water was under 10 minutes, it felt like eternity (as little as one hour in 50 degree water can cause death due to hypothermia).

this is the part of the story where i end up shirtless at the kansas river for the second time in my life. some of you remember the story of the first. we had shirts in our dry bag so i was at least able to get dry on top- but not on the bottom. i have never been that cold in my life. i decided not to attempt to finish the paddle- the river had shown her superior strength and i thought it unwise to test her. blair, however, had to continue on since our friends had drifted a half mile or so downstream and were unable to make it back to us. we secured the boat on the shore, and i watched while he struggled against the waves and wind, making sure he didn't dunk like i had. when he had made it most of the way there, i started my hike along the bank back toward the trail head and parking lot. god was smiling on me, and just as i came up out of the river, 4 mountain bikers rode off the trail- one of them, a friend. in less than 5 minutes i was loaded into a warm car and driven to shaun's... wet, cold, humbled, and grateful for the chance to learn from this lesson...

...and to heed those pesky alarm bells in my head.

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