Sunday, August 2, 2009

me vs. the rivers

I spent the weekend upstate at a friends house in Lake Luzerne . They have a cabin at the confluence of the Sacandaga and the Hudson, just below Rockwell Falls. I tell you this because Rockwell Falls has seen its share of tragedy this year, as the current is really swift and there are a great deal of huge rocks. Yet every time I go up there we swim towards the falls and hang out on the rocks just across from the old paper mill. This visit started with a short bike ride but one that was quick enough to warrant a swim, it was hot. Kaoru, Mary and I headed up the river and hung out for a long while talking to these two ladies about the river, Arizona, the overuse of pesticides in Lake George, algae blooms, etc. We then headed back to the cabin and hung out on the beach watching the tubers and kayakers coming down the Sacandaga. We were talking about how it looked like so much fun. So...of course we got a lift a mile upstream with tubes and headed down the rapids. It was so scary, lots of huge rocks, lots of huge waves, lots of very fast water. They are class III rapids that were re-worked for the potential to host the Olympic trails a few years ago. As scary as this trip was I was so ready to do it again. I felt like I had challenged the rivers. It was exhilarating.

Today was a different story. After spending the night drinking one too many G&T's I woke up with the classic symptoms of one to many, exhausted, headache, stomachache, etc. There is one thing I have learned about situations like this, eating potassium rich foods, drinking fluids, exercising and a nap usually take care of it. I really don't know what possessed me to forge ahead on my plan for getting the blood pumping this morning. My friends were headed downstream with the kayak so I decided to swim along with them. It was 4 mile swim, with the current. I was thinking that I would have no problem with this, I would just have to clear the eddy in the cove and then I would catch the current and use it to help me swim downstream. I started out with fins, which helped get me through that eddy without a challenge to my muscles. What I did find however was that there was a great deal of chop in the water, the wind was blowing upstream, against the current and almost immediately I was faced with water in my nose and mouth every-time I needed to breath. I was choking, gaging, coughing, spitting. I couldn't find my rhythm because I couldn't find my breath. I thought for sure that once I got past this area things would change. They did, as the river flows south it gets wider, which increases the surface contact with the wind, the waves picked up in both height and frequency. I was at the point of no return and had to make the best of it. I swam for a bit and hung on to the back of the kayak when the waves got be too much. I was grateful for their patience, but also felt bad as I seemed to be spoiling their morning paddle. We passed under the Hadley bridge and for a short time after that the water calmed a bit so I swam, only holding onto the boat when there was motor boat traffic. Within the next mile however, the conditions got far worse, and a storm was evident. The wave heights were engulfing and hanging onto the boat did not help at all, I was in a bit of a panic as I couldn't catch my breath. I had this thought, this is what drowning felt like, it was only unpleasant because in my case it was prolonged, and for the first time in my life, I had understood that death by drowning could be a remote possibility. At around 3.5 miles I saw Kenny and Dan out of the corner of my eye stop on River Rd. to watch our progress, I swam to the dock they were near and got out of the water. Chris and Kaoru had planned to continue to the boat launch, I hopped in the car and we headed down there to help them out of the water, but somehow we lost them. We spent a good deal of time looking for them, trying not to fear the worst. It was pouring at this point and the water changed significantly. They had thought that they overshot the launch so they turned around and found the nearest dock to the road to pull out. They carried the boat up through the yard of the house that the dock belonged to and waited by the side of the road as Kenny drove by them twice as he looked in the water for them, not ever thinking they would be standing on the road. This story ended well, but it almost did not.
I spent the day reliving that swim in my head, every stitch of it, every stroke, every choke. I felt elated to be fetched from the river, angry at the fact that I had to be fetched from the river, mad that I had not really scouted it it beyond the bridge, ashamed that I put some dear friends in a serious predicament, and let down that I did not reach that damn landing on my own power. Most of all I was humbled by the water. I learned some key lessons today and despite being a very strong swimmer I have learned that forces of nature should not be underestimated.

1 comment:

Mike M said...

This reminded me of a time something similar happened to me and I ended up on the back of a kayak in the water. I almost drown in about 3-4 feet of water. Given it was the back side of a waterfall. I also learned what a hydro is and how to get out of one.

When you say you learn about the forces of nature you have got it right. It tells you loud and clear how powerful water is. It's most likely the most powerful force on earth.

I am glad to hear you made it.

Just for future reference keep an extra life jacket on one of the ksyaks.

Good Luck and keep swimming, don't give it up.