Thursday, September 24, 2009

My little yellow ducky

I finally got around to watching 'Into the Wild' recently. I wasn't in a hurry since I had read the book and loved it. As you well know, seldom does a movie live up to the expectations of a satisfied reader.

Based on the book, by Jon Krakauer, it's about a young man's journey to (and in) Alaska. It's a true story as it was written in part from his own journalistic accounts of his experiences.

At one point in his journey, Chris (or Alex as he is known by some), kayaks down the Colorado river. And this got me thinking about my own experience on a river very, very far away from Colorado.

I've rafted a few places in my life, all of them within a few hours of my home. Most of the time we rafted as a group with a guide in one or two large boats. This time we were going for several days and a friend suggested that on one of the days we do duckies. A ducky is an inflatable one (or two) person kayak that looks so easy a kid could do it.

Mmmmm, not so much.

I am not sure what possessed me to believe that I could manage an inflatable kayak down a river by myself. As I have already pointed out I am NOT an athletic person. But for some reason when this idea was floated past me I latched on like a leech.

Before the day's trip even began the entire group (which consisted of many people in large multi-person rafts with guides and a few of us in duckies), waded into the water with our rafts for instructions.

Our guide walked us through basic instructions "keep the oar in the water at all times to maintain balance", "if you should fall out of the boat remain calm, point your feet down river and float on your back until you can get to the side", "if your boat gets pulled in by the rocks in the middle of the river and you are flipped kiss your ass good-bye". Okay that last part wasn't exactly true, but it might as well have been (just ask Skippy).

After the general instructions the guide took a moment to focus on the duckies. And this is where I should have opted to get out of the ducky and into a group boat when offered.

But I didn't.

When you are taking part in something of this caliber (ie. something that can kill you) it's best to adhere to a general rule: if you can't follow the instructions DON'T do it.

But I didn't.

The guide proceeded to tell us a little bit about the craft we were steering; how it's inflatable, is not a toy, blah, blah, blah. Then he did a little demonstration about how we should get back in the ducky when we fall out (not "if", "when"). Little warning bells went off in my head.

I'm not athletic but I was gifted with some power in my body which ALL resides in my legs. It turns out that in order to get back in the ducky after you tip you have to pull yourself up, with your ARMS. Now in a group boat when you fall out you have members of a GROUP pulling you back in. I can pretend to pull myself up when in fact I am making all of my boat mates pull me in. Works for me. Only now this jackass is telling me that I'm on my own? Like hell I am. Isn't this why I paid as much as I did to go with a guide???

The guide demonstrates the method to pull yourself back into the ducky (take the paddle, jam it into the edge of the inside of the boat closest to you under the lip, and use that as leverage to haul yourself in). And he makes it look easy.

Now he wants all of us in duckies to practice getting in and out of the kayak before we get going. As everyone else in the group boats watch. Now I start to panic. I'm not an actor. I'm not even a good public speaker. And now I have to practice hauling my fat butt back into a rubber boat in front of a lot of people I don't know but could very well be responsible for saving my life later on today.

Falling out of the boat I get an "A", as does everyone else there. Now it's time to get back in. Uh oh. I know how this is going to go and I don't want to do it. To make matters worse, everyone there gets back in their boat. Except for me.

I get the oar placement right and I work to pull myself up. I use all of my effort and suddenly I'm an inch further up the side of the boat. Jesus Mary & Joseph this is going to be a long day.

I am able to get a couple of efforts in before the guide (and everyone else) realizes that I am the only one not back in the boat. Now ALL eyes are on me. I gather my strength (and my courage) and give it all I got, pulling with my arms and kicking with my legs just trying to get high enough on the side of the raft that I can swing my leg over and use the powerful thighs my momma gave me to pull the rest of me in.

The kayak is now my enemy and begins to toy with me, throwing me back into the water with a slap! and rocking gently as I slam my fists into its sides as angry tears start to leak out of my eyes. Now I'm angry, embarrassed and tired.

I can feel the restlessness of the other boaters. They can't leave on their fabulously exciting journey until I have conquered the duck. Stupid duck.

I try to gain some leverage by slowly edging myself over towards shore where the water is shallow and I can stand. Any foot purchase is going to be a benefit for me at this point. The muck at the bottom of the Yough offers me no help as my boat shoes slip and slide along the bottom of the river.

The guide, sensing my issues, throws me a lifeline by suggesting that perhaps I would be happier in a group boat. Me, (embarrassed, stubborn, me) resists the urge to look like even MORE of a loser and give him the "I paid for this !@#$%% adventure and I'm going to have a !@#$% adventure if it kills me - and you" look.

He makes eye contact with one of the guides on the group boat and some silent judgment/acceptance thing passes between them and they resolve to get this party started.

At this point most of my friends are laughing at me, I'm exhausted and embarrassed and I have the entire day in front of me. Yay me.

As we navigate our way down the river we navigate through the first rapid. Nothing unpredictable, nothing too challenging, I'm still in the raft. Life is good.

Then we reach the first "serious" rapid. This is the kind of rapid that you don't want to get stuck not paying attention. If you pay attention, keep the oar in the water and steer yourself well you should have no problem.

And I'm in.

Unceremoniously dumped faced down into the cold water of the Youghiogheny River. Son of a !@#$!

First things first when you end up in the river - find up. Luckily I was dumped far enough away from the danger zone (two rocks on either side poking out of the water that form a vacuum and suck unsuspecting boaters to their deaths) that "up" wasn't a problem for me.

What WAS a problem for me was getting back in the duck. I'm less than a 1/4 mile into the day's trip and I'm screwed.

Fortunately for me my survival instincts clicked in. When facing imminent death do whatever is necessary. So I swam. I swam like I was Michael Phelps going for his eighth gold medal in the 2008 Olympics.

I left my pride in the middle of that river, threw my oar into the kayak, and grabbed the side of that ducky and hauled it's orange butt over to the side of the river.

It's amazing what facing your fears dead on will make people do for others in their time of need. The same people that were grumping and laughing at me not a half hour earlier, willingly helped push my butt back into my ducky so I could continue my journey of death right along with them. Good people those Yough group rafters. Good people.

I was elated with my victory and when I eventually caught up with my group I laughingly told them about my good fortune and how my worst fear was realized and overcome. I was ready to tackle the river and have a good time!

And then Skippy told me how he flipped his ducky over by the rock in the water and got sucked in.

And I laughed.

(Oh please, he was alive wasn't he?)

1 comment:

  1. good times, good times...except for the part where I was under water, under another ducky, pinned to the rock. I think you should have said...barely alive. I guess that is what I get for laughing at you. Damn!