Summer isn’t complete for me until I have taken at least one float trip via canoe or kayak down the river. Whether a day trip or better yet an overnighter it doesn’t matter. So in line with tradition Buzzy, Ayrton and I went from Worthington to Newberry the last weekend of August.
The trip had been planned for weeks, but it would seem every time a date was set another thunderstorm would dash our hopes of going. A similar storyline would play out the weekend that we went. Three days earlier a major thunderstorm had passed through Indianapolis... just enough time for the runoff to make its way to Greene County as we would soon learn. Then the morning we were to depart another rainstorm came through. We waited it out and as luck would have it (or so we thought) the skies cleared just in time for our planned departure.
Launching the boats at the Worthington boat ramp we must have looked much like the Clampett family from the Beverly Hillbillies. Canoe loaded down with a cooler and gear, all cinched up inside industrial sized trash bags. Overweight undoubtedly, ill-advised at best. Ayrton cruised the water like a jet fighter compared to our fully laden canoe. The whole first day passed without any drama. We stopped halfway to Bloomfield for lunch meat sandwiches and to stretch our bodies.
Landing at our previously decided sandbar for camping we were greeted by the aroma of rotting fish. For 20 minutes we debated back and forth on the merits of staying anyway or continuing on in hopes of finding more aromatic locales. In the end our noses won out and we loaded back into our crafts and resumed the trip.
A mile downstream we came across another suitable campsite, and with the day’s light rapidly receding to the west we landed and hastily set up camp. In short order, the tent was erected and steaks were cooking on the grill, all while Ayrton attended to setting out catfish poles. For a time, life was idyllic. Stars came out and catfish occasionally came to hand.
Heading into the tent around midnight we did as most campers do, telling tall tales and calling each other out on lies. Drifting off to sleep my mind was filled with thoughts of what was to come the next day.
The next day...
I woke up as the sun was peeking over the horizon. Stretching and rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I sat up to take in the morning view. What the view held for me was very much a surprise. Aware that the river would likely come up overnight we had made sure to pull the boats and equipment completely onto the sandbar. What we hadn’t accounted for is just how much the river would rise overnight.
The first thing I noticed was just how much closer the water was to the tent. It had gone from 100 feet to maybe 20 feet away. Grasping the reality of this, my gaze turned to the boats. The canoe was completely surrounded by water, and the kayak... Nowhere in sight! Excitedly waking my companions, I exclaimed “Hey guys the river has come up and the kayak is gone!”
Being one to joke around, I was a victim of the “crying wolf” effect. They just rolled over and replied with “Yeah, OK, whatever.” Upping my enthusiasm I exclaimed “No I’m serious! It’s gone! Look for yourself.” Verifying what I said was the truth we all jumped out of the tent to assess the situation.
Not a moment too soon either. I ran down to check on the canoe, and all it took was a small nudge to dislodge from its berth. Looking downstream we could see the kayak lodged in the nearest bend. Assuming we had time to retrieve it, I went about making a breakfast of bacon and eggs. Just as we had finished eating, the kayak freed itself and floated out of sight around the bend.
Madly rushing to pack all of our gear plus three occupants into the canoe we rushed down river to catch up to the kayak. Having only floated a short distance before wedging itself in a logjam, we attempted a careful approach. As the river had risen 18 inches overnight, there was no slowing down and we smashed headlong into the logjam. The canoe turned sideways with the current and as it sidled alongside the logs it started to take on water from over the side. Moving quickly to right the canoe we realized we were stuck in position. Paddling as hard as possible, we weren’t able to free ourselves or the kayak from the mess.
Seeing no other option, I stepped out of the canoe and onto the logs. By doing this, I was able to pull the canoe around the logs and free Buzzy and Ayrton to float on past. As they went past I could see the look on Ayrton’s face, he was clearly concerned for our safety.
This left me with the predicament of hauling the kayak over the logs then stepping into it mid-river. I’m not what you would call a graceful person, but somehow I managed to complete the task.
At this point we were all ready to be done with the float trip. But as fate would have it I would make the bone-headed decision to exit the kayak one more time. As we came up on the old railroad bridge known as the 105, something up in the log pile caught my eye and I just had to investigate. The river was high enough that I was able to pull right up to the concrete bridge piling and step out.
Having satisfied my curiosity, I attempted to re-enter the kayak. Putting one foot into the kayak it started to move away from the piling. Out of reflex I reached to grab the side while my legs continued to spread farther apart. You can see where this is going... The kayak flipped and into the river I went. Water over my head, kayak rapidly filling with water and a cell phone in my pocket.
Struggling to get my footing I happened upon a log that was underwater at about shoulder depth. Using it to get my bearings and drag the kayak back out of the water I made it back onto the bridge piling. Shaking the water from myself, I hear my phone start to ring in my pocket. I answered it to hear Buzzy calling out of worry since I should have been in sight by now. (By the way, my Galaxy S6 Active lived up to the claim of being waterproof, thank goodness.) I answered and explained what had happened and said I would be on my way in a few minutes.
This left me with one problem, I still had to get myself into the kayak. I’m happy to report that the second attempt went much smoother than the first. Following this we made it to Newberry without anymore excitement.
One thing I learned from this trip is to respect the river. It can look like a serene and mild creature from the shore, but those views can change in a heartbeat. Had the water been colder, or had we panicked, circumstances could have been very different. Personally I would much rather my family read about this story in my blog, instead of in a DNR press release. In conclusion, have fun out there, but above else -- be safe.