Wednesday, August 1, 2012

1, 2, 3, 4 …. we're all in the river!

“We’ll take this one,” W points to the narrow yellow inflatable kayak, more of a canoe than a raft.

The beautiful Flathead River
My heart sinks. I remember a wild ride ten years ago, bouncing in a 10-person raft through stretches of the canyon we are about to paddle. The experienced river guides take the wider Sea Eagle and launch into the roiling current.

Several days before, W negotiated a calmer stretch of the Flathead River from Hungry Horse to Columbia Falls. “I had a blast!” he exclaimed, coming in from an exhilarating float in the yellow kayak. “It’s stable, fun to maneuver, and I hope you love it as much as I did.”

Wildflowers on the gravel bars
With two people, one sitting in the middle (me) and one in the back as well (W), the stability of the boat is compromised. My reaction as we hit the first rapids is that this is akin to riding in a tippy racing car – as the passenger. W’s every paddle thrust tilts the boat, sometimes sharply. It’s discomfiting.

Nope. Actually I’m gripped by sheer terror, swaying side-to-side on an uncomfortable sloping seat above an inflated floor. Nothing about this feels safe. We negotiate the first series of cascades, carefully following Paul and Cathy’s lead to the side. I start to breathe easier as we are swept downriver. There’s nothing I can do at this point. We’re committed, our lifejackets are buckled, and boat floats forward.

Colored rocks in the Flathead River
Sometimes it feels like we are hardly moving. The green glacier water shimmers between the iron and other minerals sparkling in the cliffs.

W points over the side, “Look below. You can see how fast we’re actually going.” Green, pink, burgundy, and black rocks rush underneath us as the swift current lifts us on its shifting surface. We avoid the pillows of water striking the upstream side of boulders.

Rapids around a boulder
“Let’s pull in and carry the boats through the next section,” Paul says as we approach a stretch of churning rapids. We divert from the main river to float shallow water streaming over a gravel bar. When we bump to a halt, I’m not strong enough to carry my end of the kayak over the rocky terrain. Paul banks their boat and backtracks several hundred yards to help W carry the kayak back to the river.

We relaunch and are carried swiftly away. A young buck, fuzzy antlers held still, watches us from the shore. The Blankenship Bridge drifts by overhead before the canyon narrows to an 80’ deep trench between sheer mountains. The stunning beauty has us gasping with pleasure. “Unless you want to go around and around, avoid those areas,” Paul points to large lazy-looking whirlpools. Apparently, when the water was running high a few years ago, a vortex sucked the front of a canoe straight down. Ugh. Not interested!

A few more bumps through choppy waters and we’re near camp. Paul and Cathy pull in ahead of us. Cathy makes the same wet exit I took yesterday. The fat sides of the Sea Eagle make for an unstable departure into knee-deep water.

Our style of dismount near shore
We start to swing toward the shore, W paddling on the right side. I back-paddle on the left to swing the kayak to shore. Except that he’s switched sides to push us closer in so we’re paddling against each other… while the current is taking us past the landing. I paddle on the right, then quit paddling altogether, and hope for the best. W jumps out to drag the boat in, stumbles on the slippery rocks, and tips us into the icy water.

“Is that your gear bag?” Paul points to the fluorescent orange pouch floating downstream. He, the only dry one, jumps in to swim after it. He snags the bag several hundred yards away and starts for the bank. Meanwhile, the kayak slips from W’s grip, the current catches it, and sweeps it away. The thin elastics of the paddle-straps snap off as the kayak freewheels toward Paul.

A runaway kayak
W’s shouts. Paul turns. Catches the kayak. Manhandles it to shore.

W and I have moved thigh-deep into the fast-moving stream, trying to capture the kayak. We struggle back upstream toward the landing, our Keens slipping on the silted rocks. If we lose our footing, we’ll be hauling ourselves out of the water near Paul. Cathy grabs my hand and pulls me to the riverbank.

We three are sopping wet, head to toe. It’s hilarious – a really ugly dismount with a happy ending. As Cathy and I trudge toward our cabins, trousers dripping through the campground, we laugh about the awkward finale. We agree that it was a fun ride. A hot shower afterwards is my best reward.

Tucked into warm clothing, I thank God for the beautiful surroundings. For safe travels on fast-moving waters. For a wonderful husband whose instincts are opposite mine in a crisis. For cold and warmth. For wet and dry. For senses created to let us fully experience the Creator’s inventiveness. God is good!

Read more:
*What god in heaven or on earth can perform deeds and mighty acts like yours! Deuteronomy 3:24

*Christ was revealed in flesh, vindicated in spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory. 1 Timothy 3:16

Moravian Prayer: In the whole of creation and your actions throughout the world, we are blessed from the beginning until now. May we always trust in you. Amen.

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