Thursday, May 29, 2008

At the mercy of the river wild

The Chatanika churned past our campsite on the bank. Steve and I carried the canoe about thirty yards upriver to where a gravel bar provided easy entry. We climbed in, pushed off, and were immediately carried directly towards a clump of low-hanging branches: a sweeper, in river terminology.

I leaned back as if I was doing the limbo and tried to push the canoe away from the trees as the branches overtook me, but the water was too swift. The front of the canoe was driven under the water, and then the canoe flipped.

We plunged into a river so cold that, a little ways upstream, snow still lined the banks.

I popped my head out of the water and looked back for Steve. He was still under, and stayed under for what seemed like an agonizingly long time before his body also broke the surface.

We were shoulder deep in the river as we tried to lift the canoe. The suction of the canoe against the water held it tight to the surface as the flow continued to push us downstream.

My entire body moved as my sandal stayed in place. "Fuck!" I shouted. "I'm losing my shoe!"

My jaw was so cold the words came out like I was having a stroke.

"Leave it!" Steve shouted back.

"Throw that fucking paddle on the shore before it gets swept away!" I replied. The words sounded strange in my head.

We were right next to our campsite; this was the shortest canoe trip ever.

"Katy, throw more wood on the fire!" Steve yelled.

Somehow, we were able to drag ourselves and the canoe from the river. Steve was struck by a bout of laughing. Deja paced nervously. Katy stirred the fire to life. I stripped naked and searched for dry clothes, walking around in one sandal.


Despite those struggles, the next day we decided to put in eleven miles upriver. Around the second bend, we hit a half-submerged clump of trees. We took in water but didn't flip, as the current held us in place against the timber. We struggled for five minutes before we were able to pull free. This is going to be the worst canoe trip ever, I thought, but the rest of the trip went without incident.


Overall, the vacation was nice. We played frisbee and catch with the baseball, roasted hot dogs and marshmallows over the fire, and performed group sing-alongs of all the tunes we could remember.

We were continually visited by a native guy camping further down the river; he informed us that he was there for a week celebrating his birthday. We never saw him sober. His name was Seymour; he informed us that everyone called him "See-More Butts," including his numerous girlfriends. One of his exes had borrowed twenty dollars from him to buy him booze for his birthday. We learned later from his sister that he also had the nickname "Skidmarks." He once wiped out on his bike while drunk.

Some military types near us kept firing guns. This lead Deja to act somewhat erractically, even after the gunfire subsided. At one point, she stood balancing on a log, back curved, all of her feet within inches of each other. "That's it," Steve said. "She's lost it. My dog has gone insane."


Overall, the weekend was quite enjoyable. But it had to end eventually. And a shower never felt so good.

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