Flushing out

Ominous signs were all around. A frigid wind howled down from the Collegiate Peaks, which were cloaked in a thick, white shroud. The massive parking lot was empty, save for our lone and extremely overburdened truck. We dressed, perhaps a bit too slowly, while sheepishly eyeing each other for signs of egress. Just a small crack was all that was needed to swing the door wide open. One small, lone “let’s not” and the pressure would be off.

However, as we plied the fleece and dank neoprene over our heads, no one spoke a word. But I knew what they were thinking: “This sucks.”

See, when we had hatched the idea for a girls boating weekend while still in the frozen throes of winter, we had envisioned warm, balmy days and sunny, high pressure. However, a few weeks prior to departure, the weather suddenly veered south, inexplicably resulting in perpetual gray skies and goosebumps. Recent rains, while boosting the run-off, didn’t exactly warm up the glacial torrent.

“Get the sand out of your shorts,” I scolded myself as I tucked my pogies in the back of my boat, just in case. As much as I didn’t want to admit it, I had grown perhaps a little too soft in my old age. In fact, it was quite possible I had attained that dreaded of all fates: fair-weatheredness. Perhaps this was so startling because it was a segue into more practical and reserved behavior. Before you know it, I’d be staying home on powder days and participating in competitive knitting. I’m not sure if it was the thought of a future of televised Tae Bo or the sudden squall that sent a shudder down my spine, but I decided it was better to be safe than sorry.

We walked to the river’s edge and put on, the normal flatwater whipped into a froth of angry whitecaps. Suddenly, my anxiety over my conspicuously small boat and the fact that I hadn’t actually “run” anything of consequence in years was replaced with the desire to get the whole damned thing over and be drinking a cold beer in a warm place as soon as possible. I half listened as we discussed the game plan: “Pool drop … blah blah … down the center … something, something … big rock on the left … .” And that’s when I snapped to attention at those terrifying words: “Toilet Bowl,” followed closely by that other most unpleasant of syntax, “swim.”

The only one in our threesome to have boated the run in the last decade proceeded to recount a tale of horror at the hands of the namesake’s sneaky, swirling whirlpool. Suddenly, I was brought back to the last time I had passed that way, and the nasty, churning, inescapable vortex known as Toilet Bowl loomed larger than life in my mind’s eye. On that day, the flow was a mere trickle of what it was today. There was no telling how big the bowl would be at this level, possibly river wide – definitely big enough to swallow my miniscule playboat like Godzilla popping a Tic Tac.

As such, the lead-in was painfully longer than I remembered, and by the time we had reached the telltale entrance rapid, I was comfortably numb in my slow boat from China. I struggled to sit forward and paddle Barney (yes, I have a purple boat) and I vaguely recalled someone saying that from here on out, it was “game on.” But instead of a competent game of “Chutes and Ladders,” I found myself flailing in a tortured round of “Twister.” After several killer high braces and involuntary squirts (the only kind I am capable of), I righted myself long enough to hear, “That looks just like the scout to Zoom.”

We passed a sandy beach on river left, and I yelled back that, indeed, it did look a lot like the scout for the biggest rapid on the run. However, no one heard my reply, as they had already plunged over the horizon line into the meat. I managed to keep Barney straight for approximately .02 seconds before being submerged into total darkness. Or in this case, whiteness. Fortunately, sky, land and horizon soon returned, and I tried to regain my composure. Toilet Bowl was surely lurking around the next bend, ready to mercilessly flush Barney and I into oblivion for being so foolish as to attempt to outrun it in a small purple piece of plastic.

From here, the river picked up pace, forcing us to rely on visual communication. I paid close attention, not wanting to become an unwilling prisoner of the Tidy Bowl Man. Suddenly, my two cohorts eddied out above a chundering horizon line, and I was sure I had finally met my fate. Never one to practice the fine art of eddy hopping, I cursed them for picking an especially small – and now crowded – eddy so close to the brink of impending doom. We peeled out one by one to face Satan’s porcelain throne, only to find another wave train. A brief pardon, I was sure death was lurking behind the next rock downstream.

And thus, the next few miles dragged on as I lived in a heightened state of alert (OK, obsession) in anticipation of the recirculating drubbing headed my way. In fact, I was so fixated on escaping the clutches of the behemoth crapper that I barely noticed the canyon walls easing and the familiar sight of the take-out coming into view. I let up the death grip on my paddle in disbelief. Seems that with the higher flows, not only did I survive the turbo flusher, but I had flowed right on by without knowing.

Of course, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was elated for skirting death’s door. Yet, I couldn’t help but feel cheapened, as if I had just aced a test by cheating. You know, where the nagging voice in your head says, “You’ve only cheated yourself.” Immediately, I wanted to do it again, thirsty for redemption.

But then another more garrulous voice chimed in. It was none other than that of Ed Abbey, summing up the bizarre attraction to running rapids: “half the fun lies in the anticipation and two-thirds in the thrill with the approach.” (OK, he also said something in there about sex, but this is a family paper.) In other words, as sad as it may be, often the biggest Toilet Bowl is the one swirling around in your own head. Nevertheless, if I’m going to be up shit creek, I’d rather do it with a paddle.

– 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