Stephen Cameron recently posted his story about going thirty years between swims. I thought I'd post my own little story about my first swim in 15.... minutes.
I had been anxiously awaiting my new boat from Dagger for over a month. I had putting off going kayaking due to only possessing broken boats that forced me to hike out on 4 out of my last 5 trips. I finally picked up my boat from Next Adventure and got ready for a fun warm up/get used to the boat trip on the Farmlands the coming Saturday.
I missed my alarm and was late, which I like to think is a rarity for me. The White Salmon was the only thing running that day so the entire Pdxkayaking community was milling about BZ corner by the time I got there.
We finally got going and headed up to Steve's parents house, one of my favorite put-ins of all time. I paddled around the eddy at the put in a couple times and was absolutely fired up about my new Nomad. Dagger lifted the backband and I felt waaay snug. Perfect actually. People started drifting downstream and I followed, getting used to my new boat. The first few drops were pushy class four. I was really excited about how my boat was handling, Iv'e never had a new boat before and it was a different feel than the oilcanned, cracked/bituthene repaired pieces of plastic I am used to.
We regrouped above Little Lava, I boofed it landing in the eddy on the left feeling pretty good. That is about as long as my enjoyment would last. Steve and I decided to break ahead to get away from the congestion a bit. We were in an eddy when Chris rolled in and told us his favorite move of the river was just downstream. I watched him, then Steve make the move. Then I followed pretty unaggresively. I peeled out of the eddy that created the move ready to plop over a fun boof.
This is the interesting part
There wasn't much of a flake but I wasn't worried, just took a stroke and popped up ready to keep paddling. I felt the sucking feeling below me and thought "whoo, that one almost got me". Then the sucking increased and I realized I was going back in. The hole was maneagable but was flipping me over. Each time I would stick my paddle deep hoping to grab outflow, only to roll up still in the hole. I was hoping to work my way to river left into the outflow and saw my chance after my third roll. I took a big stroke upriver and threw my weight into the current flipping intentionally(probably would have happened anyway) to get as much purchase with my paddle and body in the outflow as possible. I had my paddle deep and felt the current pulling, I pulled up for a roll and just as my head started out of the water felt a searing pain and my arm twisted behind my back to a place it had never ventured before.
Fearing a dislocation, I let go of the paddle with my right hand and went for my skirt. In hindsight I should have tried rolling on my left just using one hand(would have saved the ensuing adventure), but at that point I had been in the hole for what I was told later was a minute and was thinking more about air and my shoulder than what the consequences of my actions might be.
I came up and grabbed my floating paddle along with my boat. Chris was right there pushing my boat to shore. I let go and moved over to the canyon wall before the next rapid. I could already feel the pain in my arm and was ready to be done, but there was more to do. Another paddle came floating down which I grabbed, then another which someone else grabbed(lots of swimming on this trip). The next bit was the normal scramble after a swim, but once I figured out my boat had travelled downstream out of sight, the situation began to change...
Being in the Farmlands my choices were to swim downstream through some class III-IV for an unknown distance until I found the boat trying not to get swept over Lava, or climb out. I decided to climb.
This is where it gets more interesting
I made it about ten feet up before I realized this would be much harder than it had looked. I still had my paddle with me and this was a cliff face. The walls were crumbly in places, there were pine needles inches thick on the rocks, and good handholds were very limited. I made it another five feet before making my first move that was not reverseable (by me). I had to stay in each spot for about a minute collecting myself and plotting the next move.
Not one step after the 15' mark was easy. Two moves stood out. The first being one where I had to throw my body wieght through the air and grab a pathetic looking sapling, hoping it wouldn't give. The second was the final move I made. I thought I had gotten stuck, when I saw a "what if" sort of move. I thought if I did this one thing I would be home free, but it was sketchy as all get out and I am no rock climber. I had to take off my life jacket to make the move as even the extra inch of paddling would rub the wall, throwing me off the cliff. I crouched down and made two seperate moves under an overhanging rock ledge onto a 5" shelf covered in pine needles and sloping the wrong way. I stood up and immediately a feeling of acceptance came over me. I had made a move I could not repeat going the other way, and I had committed myself to a place I could not get any farther. I was stuck on a ledge with a vertical 25 foot drop behind me, and a face level shelf in front of me with no hand/foot holds.
It was at this point I gave up relying on myself for the first time on a river and truly put my destiny in someone else's hand's. Eric Arlington, Anna Herring, and Eric Harvey had all been waiting to make sure I got out safe. I cannot properly thank them enough for this. I gave the hand across the neck signal and Eric shouted he would be back with a rope. They took off downstream and I was alone with my thoughts (most of which dealt with overcoming my irrational fears of how the rock would choose this moment to crumble beneath me, or the slightly more rational fear of my foot slipping/pineneedles giving out). I watched another group of boaters pass. I didn't call to them as I thought that would only make the situation more hectic. I enjoyed watching them eddy out, peer down the next rapid, then run it together, totally unknowing of my presence only forty feet above them.
There was a dead deer in the eddy below me. I felt there was a good chance he had died falling from the very cliff I was perched on now. After about 15 minutes I was pretty comfortable. Its not often I let go mentally, but I did hear. Stuck in the same position all this time didn't leave me much choice. After what I am guessing was 45 minutes, I heard a whistle and Eric Arlington, Jesse Combs, Chris Arnold, and Shawn Haggin showed up with a rope. From there it was a quick process getting up and out.
I ended the day and hiked back to Stephen's parent's house and did a bit of reading with Mt Adams in the background.
My shoulder is getting better, but odd things like skipping a rock still cause me significant pain almost two weeks later. Keep this in mind next time you are thinking about getting lazy with your roll. Its not always an option, but good technique will get you a long way.
It was a good experience, with some lesson's I needed to learn thrown in. The most important was the extra incentive to stay in my boat next time.
And boy do I like this new boat!
Chris, Eric, Eric, Anna, Jesse, Shawn. I know the others would have been there had they needed to be, and they have been before. But you guys were there this time. Thank you.