Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Man vs. Wild

Usually when my family and I have an adventure, I go straight home and write about it. I hesitated on this one, however, largely because it took me a few months to find the humor in it.

You see, my husband surprised me by saying he'd like to go kayaking down the Flint River for Father's Day weekend. It had been a good 14 years since the last time we went. Back then, we used to go almost every weekend, and I remember it as being an easy, relaxing trip. I guess you could say those times have changed like the weather.

Speaking of weather, did you know that this past June the Flint River was near or below an all-time historic low level, according to a monitoring station that's been active since 1901? Neither did we. Until we tried to kayak down it with five kids and two other adults, one of whom gave up a day in his recliner, thanks to us.

"Come on, it will be fun," we told him. "All you have to do is sit in your boat and float. We'll take the half-day trip, and you can be in your recliner by noon."

Little did any of us know that nine hours later we'd be dragging our wet, grumpy, sunburned, thirsty and hungry selves out of the water, minus one kayak. The trip was a little like the movie "Deliverance," except this time the rednecks were the heroes. And, no, I don't mean us. Here's what happened:

We started out before the crack of dawn and drove to Thomaston to be ferried upstream so we could float the kayaks we brought back to our vehicle. The van driver was eerily quiet as we joked and laughed and excitedly began our journey. He dumped us and the boats out and hightailed it out before we could ask, "Where's the water?"
"Perhaps it gets deeper downstream," we said, as we hit our first rock located about a foot from where we pushed off.

No one warned us that the river's stream flow was normally five times greater than it was on this faithful day. Somehow, despite our best steering efforts, we managed to get stuck on rock after rock after rock. And, there's only one thing to do when you are -- try not to cuss, get out and drag the kayak off it. That's when we discovered that the Flint River is full of jagged rocks and deep drop-offs. We also discovered that Crocs make great dock shoes and very poor river shoes, and flip flops are equally hopeless.

Fortunately, I was in the kayak with my son, who is still young enough that he likes to prove how strong he is. God forbid the day when he outgrows that. It wasn't long before the kids grew hot and bored and tired and began asking, "Are we there yet?"
We soon pulled our boats up to the nearest flat rock, stretch out and had a great picnic.

"Surely, we are half-way," we said. Yeah, half-way to "H-E-double hockey sticks!"
"Why don't you take my kayak? You seemed to be making better headway than I am," my husband said.

So, I took my son and his friend all the food, a dry bag full of cell phones and sunscreen and pushed off. Immediately, we hit rapids, and, in the midst of it all, a bee stung me on the back. Soon thereafter our kayak flipped, emptying its contents and dragging us across sharp rocks as we clung desperately to the boat until I yelled to the boys to let it go. I managed to lose my shorts in the process, leaving me in my bathing suit and with very little dignity. For the record, my husband's version differs. He swears the water was only knee-deep. He doesn't factor in the fact he is a foot taller.

Once I passed the rapids, I got out and stumbled on the rocks, breaking my flip-flop and spirit in the process.

"I can't do this without shoes!" I screamed and threw the broken flip-flop down as hard as I could.

"Do you want my shoes, Ms. Leigh," asked my daughter's sweet friend.

"Yes, thank you," I said and snatched them before she could change her mind. I still owe her a pair of shoes.

It wasn't long before we learned that the kayak I was in had a hole in the bottom and was quickly filling up with water. My husband and daughter worked with it as the rest of us dragged our kayaks downstream. Soon, they were out of sight. My friend caught up to us and reported, "They said to go ahead without them. They are going to float back."

I felt uneasy but agreed. In the meantime, our friend with recliner dreams in his head left me and my son behind. As soon as he was out of sight, I remembered he had rescued all of our necessities that had gotten away.

For the next four hours, we made our way slowly -- without sunscreen, food or water -- until we could see the bridge and the boat ramp --our final destination --beyond it. It soon became like a mirage, taking us a good hour to reach it.

At one point I uttered these profound words of wisdom to my son: "You just can't beat Mother Nature. You can try as hard as you want, but, in the end, she's the winner."

"Yes, ma'am," he said, as he patiently dragged our kayak out of the weeds. "Can we do this again when the water's up?"

We made it to the boat ramp, and, as I tried to exit, lost my footing and flipped backwards.

We waited about 45 minutes until I saw a beautiful sight -- two canoes navigated by the most redneck-looking people I've ever seen. They were dragging an upside down kayak behind them. Inside their canoes sat my husband and daughter.

"We saw them a way back and knew they'd never make it. We ain't gonna leave nobody on the river," said the redneck boy, causing tears to fill my eyes.

I guess my son and I both learned lessons that day. He learned to appreciate Mother Nature, and I learned that one should never, ever judge a book by its cover. I could probably add that my husband and his friend learned a lesson as well -- when in doubt, opt for the recliner, especially on Father's Day.

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