Thursday, September 11, 2008

Respect (and fear) Mother Nature

There are few people who get excited about the prospect of a hurricane hitting the U.S., and I’m pretty sure most of them are kayakers.

Last week, as news of Hurricane Gustav grew more and more grim, I began to feel like I did as a kid waiting for guests to arrive for the celebration of my eighth birthday. Hours felt like days, and days like eternity. Every hour on the hour, I checked the weather forecast online, jumping from AccuWeather to the Weather Channel and from the local news stations to Weather Underground. It was too good to be true. After a serious drought, the rain was coming…3 to 5 inches of wet and wonderful rain!

As forecasted, it rained all day Saturday. Jack and I stayed in bed, watching the drops fall.

First thing Sunday morning, before I had brushed my teeth or made my coffee, I checked the American Whitewater Association Web site for stream flows. I saw that gauge for Octoraro Creek in the Conowingo-area was reading 4.5 ft. This Class II creek, is navigable, according the AWA at 2.4 ft. Normal height appears for be 2.8 ft, according to data from the USGS.

We immediately began packing up, and headed out. We dropped Jack’s car off at the take-out point on Moore Rd, just off Port Flats. Then Jack jumped in my car and we made our way to the put-in on New Bridge Road in Rising Sun. Here’s a map of the route.

The water was relatively tame until we passed under the Route 1 Bridge. Suddenly, the water was rushing, creating white caps and waves that crashed against the nose of my kayak, soaking me from head-to-toe. There were not many strainers, as the water was well-above normal levels, but there were plenty of tight chutes and zig-zags to navigate.

At one point, Jack attempted a dare-devil run of a rapid fell out of his kayak. I had been following his tail, and was unable to stop before running him over and knocking the kayak from his grip. I paddled after his kayak, which was only half floating as it was upside down and full of water. I got a hold of his boat tried desperately to paddle ashore but the current was too strong. Jack was trying to run through the water after me, screaming for me to “STOP.” But I couldn’t stop. The water was over my head and I was being pulled through rapids, gripping a kayak in each hand.

Finally, I hit a slower moving, rocky patch and was able to direct my body towards shore as it bounced against the rocks below. The kayaks were too heavy for me to pull ashore, so I had to wait for Jack. By the time he found me, I had managed to choke back my tears. Unfortunately for him, my fear turns to pure rage once the immediate threat is over. We fought while we drained the water from the kayaks. We eventually got over it and continued downstream.

Jack managed to fall out a second time. He held onto his boat this time, but had bitch of a time getting on to shore, as the water was well over his head.

With the two “swim” breaks, the entire trip was about 2.5 hours. The take out spot consisted of some stairs carved into the bank. Tired, bruised and wet, we pulled the kayaks to the gravel parking space. I drove Jack’s car back to the put-in, got my car and drove back for him and the kayaks. Together, we went back for his car, and that was that.

The very next day I registered for a white water safety class with Liquid Adventures on Sept. 27. Next is CPR certification, and, in the Spring, water rescue and wilderness first aid certification. Mother Nature is no joke.

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