Worth the wait

“I don’t want to alarm you,” my husband announced as he ambled his way down to the water, sat in his boat and slipped his skirt over the cockpit. “But, there are about 80 people standing on shore at Corner Pocket.”

We were temporarily eddied out above Smelter, where we had agreed to meet up once he discovered he had forgotten a crucial piece of equipment at the put-in. Although I wished he hadn’t shared that piece of information, it came as no surprise. For the last few days, a sudden heat wave had caused the water levels to shoot up by the unheard of tune of about 1,000 cfs a day. And strangely enough, as the water level rose, so did the public’s interest in rubber necking. Over the previous few days, I had noticed the normally sedate smattering of spectators at the popular play hole had swelled to a rowdy mass of hungry, heckling, jeering carnivores. Suddenly, river running had become a spectator sport. As if keeping your line through a wild, rushing torrent wasn’t enough to occupy all your faculties, you now had to do it in front of dozens of bloodthirsty fellow townspeople – friends, coworkers, neighbors, neighbors’ dogs. All gathered in the name of one thing: carnage.

And there seemed to be no short supply of that. Over the last few days, I had seen the flipping of countless rafts, a few of which were claimed by the river gods, at least until some lucky guy in Aztec reclaimed them as his own. There were more swimmers than the sinking of the Titanic and there was more square footage of timber than a lumber yard.

I’m not sure what it is in human nature that causes us to delight in the misfortune and suffering of others. But going all the way back to when those first Christians were fed to the lions, and possibly earlier, there has never seemed to be a shortage of spectators. How else do you explain the immense popularity of all those absurd reality TV shows? Of course, the key difference in my situation was that, unlike the people used as lion fodder, I was a willing participant – and not just because I was a fledgling actress trying to springboard my career by eating grubworms while blindfolded and wearing a bikini in front of a national audience.

See, it was the epic runoff we had all been waiting for – some of us since the last runoff of historic levels more than 20 years earlier. Of course, I wasn’t around for that flood, but there was no way I was going to let this one pass me by. What would I tell my grandchildren when they asked about the great flood of ’05? That it looked pretty darn impressive from my lawnchair on the river bank and then refer them to some historical photos? Hell no. For better or worse, I wanted to experience it for myself – I just hadn’t envisioned doing it with 80 of my closest friends watching. It’s not that I didn’t trust my big water abilities. I knew they were there, somewhere deep down inside, packed away with all my other defunct skills from the last decade, like drinking tequila and pulling all-nighters. See, family life had taken its toll on my big

water adventures, relegating me to the world of park and play. It was no National Geographic spread, but with a tight day-care schedule and hungry mouths to feed, it was better than nothing.

water adventures, relegating me to the world of park and play. It was no National Geographic spread, but with a tight day-care schedule and hungry mouths to feed, it was better than nothing.

Of course, going to the dark side meant owning a boat the size of an I-Pod, which made me a little nervous on the high seas. So I did what anyone in my position would do (and exactly what they teach you not to do in kayak school): I backseated it the whole way down and braced like there was no tomorrow. In fact, I was so far back, that I didn’t even notice the throngs of people on shore wishing evil and destruction on me, all for the sake of a little family entertainment. All I saw for those few, brief moments was water and sky – thanks mostly to the fact that the insides of my eyelids were peeled back like sardine cans from the force of a few, surprise monster laterals. As luck would have it, my little bobbing cork of plastic served me well, and I managed to keep my business end up. When I reached the end of my harrowing run, I thanked my lucky stars for not allowing me to make a spectacle of myself in front of the entire town, and then immediately ran back up to see if someone else perhaps wasn’t so lucky.

I wedged my way into the crowd just as a solo kayaker made his way down. The prospects looked good. His torpedo of a boat, made by a manufacturer now only known to the kayaking Hall of Fame, well exceeded the 10-foot mark, and his plastic Pro-Tec sported a metal face cage. And much to the crowd’s disbelief, he was trying to back into a nasty old V wave – the same one I avoided moments earlier like a bottomless abyss. I was sure he was going to get window-shaded faster than a ragdoll on the spin cycle. And that’s when he showed me, and all the other smug, little, short boarders, a thing or two. With effortless precision, he maneuvered that hulking piece of antiquated plastic like a boat half its size and a man half his age. While punier boats haphazardly flailed by, their pilots hanging on for dear life, he gracefully front surfed, endered and side surfed to his heart’s content, never once flipping or so much as putting in a panicky high brace. And while he likely neither knew of nor cared for double helixes, blunts, splitwheels and loops, there was something refreshingly new about what he was doing. There was no pretension, no glitz, no talk and no crap. Just a guy who probably had been waiting 20 years for the water to reach that magical level that served him so well. That level where the river reclaimed herself, going from a tamed amusement park to an unforgiving, raging force of nature. The level where she played for keeps yet happily accommodated those who showed her due respect.

Sure, the sauve old-schooler may have disappointed the bloodthirsty crowd with his unexpected prowess. But for a few of us watching, who had lost touch with our roots over the years, it was well worth the wait.

– Missy Votel



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows