Rapid Thoughts

June 13, 2008

Yesterday I burned my legs and feet during a kayak expedition through raging rapids and ice-cold, 49-degree water.

I wasn’t in Colorado or even St. Louis in the Mighty Mississippi. Nope. I rode the fierce Class 1 and 2 rapids of the fierce Chattahoochee River.

But the burned legs pale in comparison to the lives we saved out on the river. Seriously.

When the three of us arrived at the rental location, we saw a school bus in the parking lot. Our deductive skills kicked into gear and we figured that nearly 40 kids were probably already on the river hooting and hollering.

Other than body-part-shrinking water, our entry onto the mighty Chattahoochee was uneventful. We paddled downstream enjoying occasional blasts of cool air and a general feeling of Huckleberry Finn-ness. The current took us through a few rapids (scary if you’ve never been in a boat on a river), but nothing too ridiculous.

The only real dangers were the bears, water snakes, rocks and branches. While we didn’t see a bear, their scat was evident on rocks in the middle of the river. That told me that sometimes a bear would be right where I was paddling.

Further, we didn’t see any snakes, but the guide we spoke to after the trip said there were water snakes all over the place and their favorite habitat was in a downed tree in the water. If offered them protection and a place to call home. He also said that snakes were more determined to avoid us than we were to avoid them. I doubt that.

As for rocks and branches, both could and did grab our boats on occasion. The rocks were determined to stop you completely and the branches would trap you in shallow water near the shore.

That’s what happened to the kids we rescued.

About an hour into our two-hour tour, we saw some kids pinned to the shore in their inner tubes. Tree branches had directed them out of the main flow of the river and they were trapped.

Yes, they had little useless oars and the foolishness of youth, but the water was 49 degrees. According to a 1998 NY Times article…

Cold weather kills more than 700 Americans a year, according to statistics that were released here this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

From 1979 to 1995, the centers said, 12,368 Americans died from hypothermia.

Worse, their counselors were downstream about half a mile and had no way to travel back up the river to escort their charges to safety. That’s where we came in.

Adam was the first one to rescue a kid. He was trapped on a sandbar and no matter what he did he couldn’t rock himself free.

Once he was out of danger we saw half a dozen other kids trapped. Some had already fallen off their tubes into the frigid water and some had lost their oars. But all were getting anxious and starting to panic.

Eventually we towed all of them to safety and tried to berate the morons running the adventures, but the counselors were so common-sense deficient that it was fruitless.

We consoled ourselves by thinking we might get good karma points that could be used during the Celtics’ game, and we paddled away.

In all, it was a fantastic journey that I’ll remember forever. You might think that’s hyperbole, but I’ve been on about four rivers in my life and this was the only time I was driving the boat.

Oh, we saw these organ donors jumping from a bridge at the end of our paddle. The steel bridge is about 60 feet from the surface of the water and this kid jumped from the top.

See that kid in the air? He jumped from the TOP of that steel bridge. Follow along as I watch him plummet to the water. Darwin award runner-up. He wasn’t even injured.

Down and down and down.

Just hitting the water…wait for the splash!

More to come…