Unlike Norman McLean, my life has not been haunted by rivers; it’s been more or less stalked by them. For instance, my dream house involves a simple, cozy house or cabin overlooking a river with a wrap-around porch, of course. I have always loved the way rivers take the scenic route most of the time through mountain ravines and forest glades. I have rafted, tubed, canoed, and occasionally fly fished (even though I stink at this) on rivers. I’ve even been canyoning on rivers, and, finally, I believe that I will one day love to kayak on rivers.
I have this notion, some might call it a delusion, that I am a somewhat athletic person. At the very least, this is the image I wish desperately to portray to the world. One sport that I think screams athleticism and utter coolness is kayaking. I think this mainly because it is a sport that involves my favorite body of water and is a sport that requires strength, skill, agility, and a certain gracefulness and daring that other sports sometimes lack. As much as I love baseball or basketball, those sports don’t pose much of a threat of not coming to the end of the game alive. Kayaking has the allure of danger involved in its make up. In white-water kayaks, one must put on a neoprene skirt that attaches the kayaker to the kayak. This is so no water can get inside the boat and sink it. This same skirt is also what keeps the kayaker from falling out of the boat when it turns over. Turning the boat right-side up after turning over is called a “roll” in the kayaking world. Rolling requires all that skill and agility that I was going on about earlier. Rolling also goes against every natural instinct that one’s body has in an effort to survive the very real possibility of drowning in an upside-down kayak.
On a recent excursion with my (extremely athletic) friend Sam, we chose to try some beginning lessons for me in on the Savannah River. We hiked about a quarter of a mile to the put in with all our gear on and carrying our (very cool) boats on our shoulders. Even though I had on the neoprene skirt, which basically looks like a Tim Burton-esque hoop skirt, I knew that all the people we passed on our way to the river would be thinking, “Those girls scream athleticism and utter coolness.” As we hauled our gear, Sam asked if I knew how to “wet exit” the kayak. I said, “No, not really.” She replied simply, “You just take the handle on the skirt and pull it off the boat so you can swim.” “Got it,” I said in my most athletic and cool voice.
Now, the thing no one tells you about kayaking is how incredibly quickly everything happens. The river moves quickly, the boat turns quicker than one would expect, and suddenly, with zero warning, you find yourself upside down in the middle of a rapid desperately trying to reach your lips to the surface and suck in some air but are held tightly in the boat attached to the Burton-esque hoop skirt that is now signaling your eminent death knell. Well, this is what happened to me at least.
Sam, in all her infinite wisdom, somehow knew that if she had told me that is how things were going to go down; I would never have attempted to cross the, probably, class one rapid. After sputtering several times to the surface and gasping for much needed oxygen, I finally kicked my way out of the boat, forgetting entirely the lesson about pulling the handle thingy on the edge of the skirt. I have a sizable bruise to commemorate the kind of wet exit I managed to perform.
Once I surfaced, caught my breath, and was able to get catch up to my paddle and boat, Sam calmly asked if I was ready to learn how to roll, seeing as how I was already wet and all. Without much hesitation I agreed to this plan. She spent the better part of our time patiently teaching me alternate methods of kayaking survival. Although I suspected that she had planned my wet exit all along, I was grateful for the experience. I told her the next day that I thought that I was both too young AND too old for that kind of kayaking. I am too young to die and too old to save my sorry butt from drowning in a class one rapid. I am also, sadly, too stupid to give up that easily, so I will wait for the sequel to my sequel…