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A cautionary water tale that does not bear repeatingPosted: July 17, 2012

Perceptions by Gerry Warner

Oh, the things men do! And I’m not talking about the smart things. I’m talking about the stupid things. The dangerous things. The things that men do when they’re fueled by too much testosterone, or in my case, too much curiosity and bravado.

About a week ago, I decided to finally scratch another item off my bucket list, namely the Moyie River, from Lower Moyie Lake to Two Scoop Steve’s in Yahk. I’ve driven by that inviting stretch of water a hundred times, maybe a thousand. I don’t know how many times my ever-suffering wife has heard “I’m gonna paddle that stream someday.” So last Sunday, a scorching hot Sunday, I did and I lived to tell the tale – barely.

Launched my 12 ft. ‘Perception’ (note the irony) single-man kayak at the Eagle’s Nest Resort about 11 a.m. on that fateful day and right away I knew I should have packed my sun screen and worn long pants instead of a bathing suit as the sun blazed down on me. But hey, those are just details. And for the most part, things went quite well as I drifted down the rippling blue waters watching fish jump, mama ducks and clutches of little ducklings scoot away from me and gazing in wonder at bald eagles and ospreys soaring overhead.

Yes, there were some rapids a few kilometers downstream, but not exactly the Grand Canyon. A few waves washed over the bow of my trusty craft and into the cockpit but that felt good on my legs that were already starting to turn a bright, beet red under the unrelenting sun. I saw an interesting cross on the riverbank near Irishman Creek where the river starts to foam again for a long stretch but I didn’t make too much of that. I went under a few sagging wooden bridges that looked straight out of ‘Deliverance’ – surely one of the best movies of all time – but no gapped-tooth farm boy strumming a banjo or ‘good ol’ boys’ toting  rifles.

The day was good.

Unfortunately, things began to change as late in the afternoon I drew closer to Yahk. Call it the log jam section. The river started to braid into channels, two, three or more, and the water, which was starting to drop rapidly, started to get very shallow. So shallow I started to hit bottom and that wasn’t good.

I finally hit a log jam that completely crossed the main channel and had to figure out a way around it. Quite cleverly, I later thought, I did just that, ditching my boat on the shore, scouting the small channel downstream and then, wading the riverbank, I dragged my kayak with a rope. Phew! Nothing too challenging for me, I thought.

The next cross-river jam proved to be more challenging. There was no easy way around it, but I remembered floating by an island upstream a little earlier and if I could only get back to it the channel on its far side might be navigable. The bush was so thick on either side of the river at this point that I couldn’t walk the shoreline, but somehow, with much arm-busting labour, I managed to paddle back upstream and get to the head of the island where to my relief the channel down the other side looked inviting. And it was inviting for about 200 feet when I suddenly came up against the Mother of All Log Jams which covered the entire river like the Great Wall of China.

Oh, oh.

What to do next? Then as I drifted downstream, much to my amazement, I saw a narrow gap with water running down it just to the left of the Big Jam. No time to scout now. Shoving my paddle deep to the stern, I executed a quick turn and into the gap I went. So far, so good and then I saw it. Not a ‘sweeper’ in the ordinary sense hanging low over the narrow stream, but a log, at least six inches in diameter sticking straight out of the bank about three feet above the water line and completely crossing my escape route. There was no way I could avoid hitting it.

What happened next I don’t really know.

All I can recall is I did sort of a backward somersault and I was under water and when I came to the surface there was my kayak  upside down, floating  downstream ahead of me with my paddle floating right beside it. Oddly enough, I wasn’t at all hurt and only swallowed a bit of water but I was also keenly aware that if I didn’t do something quick this was going to be a real disaster.

So I swam after the kayak, which fortunately hung up on a stump sticking out from the river bank and I knew it wasn’t going to stay there long. I swam to the upturned craft and slowly regained my senses standing in about three feet of fast-moving water and turned my disabled craft over and started to bail it out.

And, believe it or not, that’s when a funny thing happened.

Foolishly, I hadn’t tied everything into the boat so I figured most was lost when it flipped. But because I had the bulk of my stuff in zip-lock bags almost all of it remained trapped under the kayak and was there when I rolled it over. What an incredible break, I thought to myself  as I started bailing.

Then I saw it.

“It” was my camera. Safe and dry in a zip-lock bag full of air, it floated out of the kayak and merrily drifted downstream. Said brain to self: “I’ve got to get it.” And I temporarily released my hold on the kayak and prepared to swim for my old digital camera, which I could plainly see gleaming in the sunshine inside the plastic bag.

Then reality hit like a hammer. What do you want dumbo? Your old digital camera that you hardly use any more or your kayak that may get you out of this mess?

Needless to say the decision wasn’t all that hard and I actually waved to that wonderful old digital as it drifted out of sight downstream.

My cautionary tale ends here. I made it to Two Scoop Steve’s where my ever-suffering wife was patiently waiting for me. But would I paddle that log jam section again?

Not on my life; a life I’m still fortunate to have.


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