Sunday, May 5, 2013

Page 66 - Flushed down the River

I continue walking upriver, along the rocky slopes, until I found a safe place to descend to the river.  By this time, I had lost sight of the stranded boaters, but I knew they were downriver from where I was.  At the water’s edge, I donned my life jacket and tightly secured all three straps, and then entered the freezing waters of the Yampa River.  

My body stiffened and tensed as the ice water swirled around my legs and torso as I pushed off into the current.  Wearing a life jacket, one can’t really swim in the fast water, as in executing the breaststroke; it was more akin to doggy-paddle swimming.  I floated on my back, feet facing downstream.  With a river full of rocks, I wanted my feet and fanny to take the brunt of an impact and not my head. 

Using my hands and arms for steerage and kicking my legs for propulsion, I struck out into the river, with the hope of crossing the fast-moving current as quickly as possible before it swept me past the sandbar where the two kids were waiting.

Rocks cause pour-overs, and of the dozen or so I encountered on my frantic race down the river, I couldn’t avoid all of them.  Going over the top of one was like sliding down a waterslide and slipping under the water once you’ve reached the bottom.  But unlike a waterslide, pour-overs create great force and can keep an object – a log, a human body, a duffel bag, circulating for a very long time.  I floundered in several, but I was able to break free and finally reached the calmer waters closer to the shoreline.  

Now that I was on the opposite side of the river, I drifted downstream with the slower current until I came in sight of the sandbar and the two kids.  They saw me coming and ran to the edge of the sandbar to help me out of the water. 

They were cold and I was colder, but between spasms of chattering teeth, I explained to them how we were going to cross the river to the opposite shore.  I positioned myself between them, holding tight to their hands, and together we entered the river.  In moments, the swift current had caught us and was moving us quickly downriver.  I had to let go of their hands so they could begin to dog paddle. 

It was a race to see if we could reach the opposite shore before the current swept us around a bend in the river and into the next set of rapids.  I struggled, they struggled harder, but we made progress, and a few hundred yards after entering the river, we were able to extricate ourselves from the fast-moving current, then continued to drift downriver on the slower-moving waters closer to shore until we reached the outstretched arms of our friends.  

Once on shore, we gathered driftwood and built a roaring fire, broke out the hot chocolate and counted our blessings.  In retrospect, I was able to do all this because I was in my twenties and still fearless. 

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