Meet My New Best Friend
I just finished a weekend getaway with my new best friend named Pack, my solo canoe. I know, it says a lot about my social life, doesn’t it? I spent two days paddling and fishing. The final tally shows thousands of paddle strokes and no fish.
The Eleven Point River in Ozark country of Missouri is an awesome place to relax, soak up some sun and get some exercise. Every day, twelve million gallons of clear, cool spring water, feed the river, compliments of the karst topography of the area. The river features numerous rapids. A couple may be a little unnerving for the novice paddler.
An Example of Karst Topography
I approached one of these rapids and scanned the situation. I was looking for the best route. The best route has different meanings for different people. I was pleasantly surprised that on this trip, best for me meant the route that would give me the optimal chance of staying alive, dry and in possession of all my camping gear. In the past, I looked for the riskiest route, the one no one else would attempt. Then I either paid the price, or I was the hot shot paddler for the day. It was a Charlie Brown kind of thing. I was either the hero or the goat.
I floated toward the deep, fast moving water and grew increasingly uncomfortable. It was a ninety degree turn, but that’s not unusual. This time it included an eight foot long boulder precisely in the middle of the best water. On the right end of the stone-slab-of-death was the trunk end of a tree, pointing at an angle from beneath the raging water, directly into the face of anyone so unfortunate as to have chosen that route. The same sad paddler would also be skirting the entire length of another fallen tree on his way to being smashed against either the boulder or the tree trunk.
The View From My Campsite
Why would anyone choose this route, you ask? There was a four foot opening between the boulder and tree trunk on the left and the top branches of the other tree on the right. On the other side of this gauntlet, an immediate left turn was required, emphasis on immediate and required. If the paddler failed to make the turn, he would be successful in having an up close and personal encounter with a five-foot wall of dirt and tree roots compliments of the force of the river at his back.
I share this little vignette because I want you to know I did not go that way. Instead, I pulled my canoe up on the gravel and waded out into the water to survey the situation. To the novice, there may have appeared to be only two options; the route I’ve described and portaging. The two paddlers before me opted for the latter. But on the left was a swift, three-foot wide channel that hugged the shoreline. It looked shallow, but my canoe has a very shallow draft. I climbed back into my boat and shoved off into the current. It was difficult to paddle, as the ground, only inches to my left, raced past. But the route turned out to be an easy path through treacherous rapids. The paddlers behind me followed suit.
Not all my choices were so maturely made. Later in the day, I passed a group of young people and immediately came upon a wide set of rapids with no clear sign of deep water except to the left. That route had a problem. It was blocked by a fallen tree with barely enough clearance between it and the surface of the water for a boat. But that was the best water. The only other option was to drag my boat across the rocks through the shallow water, and I wasn’t about to do that with twenty somethings on my tail.
I paddled into the swift, deep current that flowed beneath the fallen tree. It swept me away to the point of no return. The downed tree was belly high on this sixty year old fool, and I’m sure to the observers behind me there was no stopping the inevitable. At the last second, I flopped backward into the extra long space behind the seat of my solo canoe. An instant later, I popped upright and started navigating the rapids. I could hear the screams from behind me. Were they cheers or expletives? I probably scared them half to death.
So I’m a work in progress, even after six decades. Yet there is a glimmer of hope that wisdom and maturity may yet catch up.