My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

We both lost our heads

Well, I’ve had a shower and washed the river water off from me, so I am feeling a lot better. I know I smell better, I love rivers, but river water on humans or dogs doesn’t smell that nice. So, how did I get wet? I’ll get to that later.

Four of us went kayaking today, Connie, Mike, Randy, and myself, and we did the lower Rogue River below Rockford again. I know that we just did the same stretch of river about a month ago, but it’s close to home, and tons of fun after a heavy rain like we had this last week. We spotted my vehicle at the bridge on West River Drive, and put in at the River Street access in downtown Rockford. The river wasn’t quite as high today as it was the last time, but only by a few inches, it was still moving along at a good clip! And it was a beautiful day for a paddle, clear blue skies, and warm temperatures, couldn’t ask for a more perfect day.

I was paddling well, picking good lines through the rapids at Jericho, and at the rock garden at the powerline access site. I only bumped bottom a couple of times in the rock garden, so the river was still very high. During the summer, if we haven’t had much rain, I usually end up walking at least part of the way through there. Then we came to the real rapids at Childsdale, and I picked a much better line through the them this time than I did the last time, since I had a better idea of how they have changed. The standing waves weren’t as large either, today they were only chest high, not over my head like when we did it last. The waves were still high enough that we stopped at the pool below the Childsdale Bridge and drained the water out of our kayaks. I had thought about wearing my spray skirt today to stay dry, but it was the kind of day that getting wet was an OK thing, so no spray skirt.

On a side note, it is amazing how much the river has changed in just one year. When I was fishing the upper Rogue a few weeks ago, I noted many changes to a stretch of river that I had fished so many times that I knew it like the back of my hand. With the wet spring we had, I am having to relearn the entire river, almost as if I had never fished or kayaked it before. Not only have the rapids at Childsdale changed, or the changes I noted in my earlier post, but the sandbar just below Packer Road is gone, as are a couple of the small “islands” a couple of bends further downstream. I love rivers, one of the reasons is that there are always new things to learn, they are forever changing.

But, back to today, it was awesome! Surprisingly, we were the only ones on the river at that time, other than two guys fly fishing above Childsdale. I scared the crap out of one, I didn’t mean to. I yelled out to him that I was going behind him to give him some advance warning so he would know we were coming, and you could tell that it gave him quite a start. But, that’s the way it is when you’re fly fishing, you get lost to the world, which is why I love it so.

Other things of note, just above the rock garden, I saw what had to have been a 3 to 4 pound trout jumping out of the water as if it was hooked and being played by some one, but there was no one around. I wonder if it was leaping out of the water to catch dragon or damsel flies? Trout sometimes do that, and it was a big fish I saw today. Going to have to fish that spot soon! One other really cool thing was a deer standing just a few feet from the river as we went past. Then there were the turtles, including one super huge one that we saw just above Childsdale. It had to have been close to 24 inches in diameter, not a snapper though.

We were paddling along, enjoying the day, with Connie and I out ahead of Mike and Randy by a little bit, when we came to an island just above Rogue River Road. Connie went to the left, and I went to the right. Just about the time I got to the end of the island, I heard a splash, and saw Connie bobbing along with her kayak, she had gone over. She told us after that she couldn’t decide which opening to go for to get past a tree in the river, and waited too long to make up her mind. By then, the current was so fast that she couldn’t make it to the opening she did finally choose, and she hit the tree, which rolled her. Just last week I had told Mike that she wasn’t the greatest paddler, but she kept her head and didn’t get into to trouble. She did keep her cool after she rolled, she was staying with her boat which helped keep her above water, along with her PFD.

Another side note here, I think a dry hatch is one of the most important features to look for when shopping for kayaks. Not just for storage, but the dry hatches add floatation to the boats, keeping them, and possibly you, above water. With out a dry hatch, or added floatation, a kayak will sink, or actually, roll along in the current below the surface. I won’t own a kayak without a dry hatch for that reason. You can add floatation bags to kayaks with out dry hatches, but you’re better off with a kayak with the dry hatches in my opinion.

Anyway, Connie was holding on to her boat, but her paddle and a water bottle were floating away from her, so I swooped over and grabbed them, and could see she was having trouble getting her feet out in front of her due to the fast current. I was waiting for her to gain a foot hold so I could help her, but I didn’t know the water was too deep there. I was now floating backward, with her stuff and mine, but I didn’t want to hit her. I thought that she would be able to get to her feet, then I was going to paddle up against her boat to help her hold it in the current until Mike and Randy caught up to us. That didn’t happen.

What did happen is that I floated backwards into a log just above the surface of the water, too low for me to go under, but just high enough so the back of my boat started under it. Not good! I was thinking I would bump it, turn sideways, and that I could muscle my way off, wrong! My boat started going over before I could grab the log with enough muscle to hold me upright, and water started rushing into the cockpit, I knew I was a goner then. I had that helpless feeling of doom, well, not doom, but the feeling of knowing I was helpless right then. It seemed like it took forever, I’m sure it was only a second or two. I yelled “Bye”, tossed my paddle towards the front of my boat so I wouldn’t get tangled in the paddle leash, and waited for the boat to roll. It did, and I slid out of the cockpit into the river.

I popped up above the log some how or another, but my boat and everything else was below the log. I ducked under the log, saw my $1,000 hat floating away, grabbed it, and put it back on my head. No, I didn’t pay $1,000 for a hat, it is the hat I got from Trout Unlimited when I became a life member, and that did cost me a grand, but I refer to my life member hat as my $1,000 hat.

That water was cold! It was one thing to have gotten splashed earlier in the Childsdale Rapids, but it felt a lot colder fully submerged. I could just touch bottom with my toes when my head was almost fully under water. It was a struggle, holding on to my boat, corralling everything else floating around me, and making my way towards shore. On the way, I realized my camera was in my chest pack that I wear when kayaking, and it was fully submerged as well. Needless to say, I made it to the bank, I didn’t drown, but the camera did. I am hoping I’ll be able to revive it, but I’m not holding my breath, I did enough of that in the river today.

As soon as I had solid footing, I took the batteries out of the camera, and set it on the bank. I threw Connie’s paddle up there as well, mine was still hooked to the paddle leash hooked to my boat. I even saved my water bottle from floating away, but I lost Connie’s, and Connie. The last I saw of her, she was still holding on to her boat, floating downstream, with Mike and Randy, who had caught up to us by then.

With them there to help her, I began the task of getting the water out of my boat. If you have ever wrestled with a water filled kayak in a fast current, you’ll know it’s no fun. The spot I made it to wasn’t great, I was standing on a small shelf of knee-deep water, with a drop off to water close to over my head any farther away from the bank. The bank itself was close to three feet above the water, with a little spit of ground that was lower, just below me. I kept pushing my boat farther up onto the lower ground there as the water ran out of the boat, making it lighter all the time. I didn’t wait to get all the water out, I was worried about Connie, so when I had most of the water out, I grabbed everything I had set on the bank, retrieved my paddle from the log it had managed to get caught on, and set off downstream.

A side note on paddle leashes. Mine is a very long one that is self coiling, and having seen several types in action, I think the self coiling ones are best. Connie was using a paddle leash, her’s broke. I’m not sure what she had it attached to, the “experts” say to clip them to yourself. I’ve always been leery of that idea. Today’s the first time I’ve gone over, but I’ve never liked the idea of having a paddle attached to me if I were to ever go over in a fast current. My thinking is that if you are already fighting the current to stay alive, you don’t need a paddle clipped to you doing its own thing in the current as well, or worse, catching on something below the water and holding you under.

On the other hand, one of the times my ex-girlfriend went over, she got her feet tangled up in her coiled paddle leash as she was trying to get out of her boat as she rolled, which is why I tossed my paddle away from me when I rolled today. I clip my paddle leash to the small dry bag I keep my survival kit in, and that in turn is held in place by the deck bungees on my boat. My thinking is that if there was enough strain on the paddle leash, it would pull the dry bag off my boat, and the dry bag would act as a float to help me locate my paddle. I really like the idea of a paddle leash, with my being such a klutz, I think one is essential, even though I thought I would never use it as intended. I thought that having one would save me from losing my paddle when I was taking pictures or something like that. The one thing I didn’t have to worry about today was my paddle, the coiled leash stretched out as intended, and while my paddle was stuck on a log about 6 feet from me, it was still attached. All I had to do was tug on it a few times to get the paddle loose, then pull it back to me.

That’s what I did, and I struck off downstream with a boat a quarter of the way full of water, which makes it hard to paddle. Not only that, since everything was wet, I was holding the strap for my camera in my teeth so it wouldn’t get any wetter. After I rounded the first bend, I saw Mike on his way back upstream, looking for me no doubt. Randy and Connie were emptying the water out of her boat, it was the first good place along the bank to do so, but well over 200 yards from where she first went over. I pulled out there as well to finish draining my boat also.

I didn’t bother to change clothes then, the water that had seemed so cold when I first rolled didn’t seem as cold by then, and it was a nice warm day. The rest of the paddle was uneventful, and very pleasant, despite the drama of having gone over. We made it to West River Drive, pulled out, and I drove Randy and Mike back to their vehicles while Connie stayed with our boats. Then we stopped at Score on Northland Drive for a beer and a bite to eat.

One thing that did happen shortly after we were under way again is that we saw a Great Blue Heron standing on shore, not 30 feet from me, and it never moved. It was taunting me because my camera wasn’t working, I swear!

It will be a few days before I find out if my camera survived or not, I have it in a container of rice to dry for now. I still have my Nikon, but it’s NOT going on a river with me, EVER! Not even when I’m fishing.

I have to think about the chain of events between when Connie went over and when I did some more. I know why she went over, indecision, which is rare for her. I know why I went over, I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going while floating backwards while thinking of a way to help Connie. Other than watching where I was going, I don’t know what I could have done differently to help her. If I had gotten out of my boat to try to help her, then there would have been two of us floating downstream holding on to our boats, which is how we ended up anyway. If I had paddled closer to her, I don’t think there would have been anything I could have done to help her in that current anyway. I could have thrown her a rope, but I’m not sure it would have helped either. I guess what I am saying is that I need to think of a good way to perform water rescues on the river. As much as I’ve read about kayaking, that subject never comes up. Part of that is because every situation is different. Another part is that there isn’t a lot you can do in a kayak without going over yourself, since they are so tippy to begin with, and you need both hands to paddle. Actually, I hope the situation never arises again, but I know that’s wishful thinking on my part.

Oops, I forgot to add in the map of our trip last night when I published this. You can click on this map for a larger, printable view.

Lower Rogue River, Rockford, Michigan

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3 responses

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