“To leave no regrets we must live with courage, moving toward what we want rather than away from what we fear.” –John Izzo in The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die
Dan came down from Chicago to visit in between his gigs. After kicking around a while post his mid-day arrival, we decided to check out renting a couple of kayaks. Now I’ve been thinking about trying my hand at kayaking for some time. And like several things I’ve been thinking about – and ought to just do – I’d not yet done anything about it.
So I drove us to the only place I thought for sure rented kayaks; a place on the Nolichucky river. I was almost right – they rented ‘funyaks’ not kayaks. If you don’t know, a funyak is the rubber, flimsy, clumsy version of a real kayak (similar to the funyaker in it; in my case).
Dallas, a really cool young dude, tied the funyaks on the van, fitted us with vests, and proceeded to ask if we wanted helmets. With testosterone in full flow, we declined. Big mistake. And why they ask I’ll never know. When they see ‘green’ fools like us, they should simply measure our respective craniums and stick a helmet on top. We got our brief instructions, jumped in the monoxide mama van, and headed off to put-in for our two hour tour – a.k.a. our unguided trip.
The stretch of river we put-in to conquer has class I and II rapids. Dan later told me that he got his ‘big fat butt’ stuck on a rock at the top of every set of rapids. At one particular set, we could hear before we could see. The river took a right turn into the top of the rapids, dropped 20 to 1,000 ft. (felt like a lot), and then took another 90 degree turn to the left.
I later had a thought of my own, “If this set was a class I or II, I’ll kiss your big fat butt.” I myself got stuck on a rock as I entered this set. I was pointed forward as I sat watching the torrent waiting for me – I think it was laughing. I realized (a bit late) that I had not entered at the best spot … it was not even a good spot, but I was there. I eyed the two big rocks ahead and told myself to aim my flimsy floating friend in between once I rocked free. I freed myself and immediately hit a whirlpool turning my craft into a rubberized launching pad. The whirlpool had smartly turned me alongside those two rocks with one at the fore and one aft. I was catapulted like a grandaddy longlegs thumped off the screen.
It’s funny how the rapids sound the same several feet underneath as they do on the top. I remembered to put my feet first and let them come up so I could see them. That’s all to keep from breaking a leg between the rocks as the fast water does whatever it wants to you. While that helps, it doesn’t do much for your butt, arms, and hands. I was just plain lucky that my helmetless head didn’t get banged (even though it deserved it).
I saw a big – no huge – rock coming fast as the river hit it and was forced to make that left turn at the bottom. I panicked. I frankly could not make it through the next set after that turn. So just as I thought about taking control so I wouldn’t slam into that rock and be carried off into the next set, I went under again, and again. I could feel the weight of my soaked clothes (yet another mistake) and the cold of my shoeless right foot. “This is it,” I thought. And suddenly I found myself saying, “No! This is not the time. My friend comes down, suggests we go to the river, and then has to go back to the house to tell his friend’s wife that her husband drowned. No!”
So I found my footing in the storm of deep green, stood up, hit the rock with my hands, and found the rubber yak and paddle as they hit me in back of the head – and my right shoe as it popped up between my legs. To the right was a less torrential side pool where I, with what little strength I had remaining, pushed the funayk and paddle and pulled myself up into it and collapsed. I lay there holding my shoe because I didn’t have the strength to put it back on. In my peripheral on the left, I could see something bobbing in the water. It was one of my favorite hats that I had written off. Thanks to the paddle, I saved that.
I looked to the top of the raging path that had just kicked my rear, and there was Dan still stuck on a rock. He didn’t even see any of this!
I really do consider this a near-death experience. Did it have a profound effect – or is that affect? Whatever the word, it did not. Is that bad? At first I thought, maybe.
But then I realized, I’m not afraid to die. Am I ready to die? No, but I’m not afraid to.
This is probably about my third near-death (as far as I know). I recently heard someone say that we would be blown away if we could see a film of several of our days and see how many times we each come so close. The new realization for me in all of this; It could all change in an instant.
Enjoy your day!