Monday, July 21, 2008
River of Tears
My 2008 has pretty much subscribed to the provisions of Murphy's Law, "If anything can go wrong, it will." Of late, I have basically accepted it. So the fact that I actually thought I could float down the #@$#&!! Provo River without a hitch was a naive sentiment, bordering on moronic. If I were to review the events of those four harrowing hours in deserved detail this entry would be a small novel, so I will condense the chapters.
Chap 1: Lambs and Flowers
We went to the river in high spirits ready to take on the day, be sun kissed by the flawless sky and have some good clean fun with old and new friends. Since I have never floated a river before my M.O. was "When in Rome" and since about half of the "Romans" were going barefoot, I did the same.
Chap 2: Ummm Crap?
We didn't have a plan. Instead, some of us had preconceived notions that we would be slowly making our way down a lazy river with friendly banks and a few exciting "bumps" every once in a while. Even as I was getting into the river I grossly underestimate the malevolent current that tossed me into a side of a bridge about 1.2 minutes after I got in the water. The water was only shoulder to waste-deep but it didn't matter since the current forbade me to stand, stop or get back on my tube. Instead it dragged my legs feet and toes over rocks and I could do nothing about it. When I would try to put my feet in front of me to stop I would just go through a series of toe-stubbing, resulting in torn and broken toe-nails. Either way it was incredibly painful, and on top of that the water was roughly the same temperature as the water that comes out of the door in my fridge. So breathing was hard. I don't know if it was the water temperature or the drum roll taking place on my legs that hindered breathing, but either way all I could do was gasp. I can't tell you how long this lasted. My legs, which today look like a bruised banana, if given voice would say something around 10 minutes. But it was probably closer to five minutes when the current slammed me into a spiky large bush/tree where, after being stabbed a few times, I was able to grab a branch and finally stand up.
Chap 3: Crap
While the branch by the side of the river granted sweet relief from being stoned, it presented another large problem. The current was still really strong and my tube, which was closed off on the bottom, had flipped upside down. I had a hold of the branch with one hand and the handle of the tube with another but the current was so strong, and was also filling the inside of the tube with water, that I couldn't pull it back, nor could I flip it back over with one hand.
So I just stood there stretched out like I was on the rack with the river rocks torturing my feet. I had NO idea what to do. Everyone I was with had floated by me, just as helpless as I was, so there I stood for maybe another 6-8 minutes. With no other options I finally just let go and went back to the river-bottom torture for another two minutes until I came to a calmer more shallow part of the River. I was bleeding, numb and alone but at least I wasn't being dragged. If I could have gotten out of there I would have. But the bank was covered in bushes and trees and there was no way. So I got back on my tube and headed down the river, bracing for the next bout of hell.
Chap 4: My Knights
After floating solo for about a half-hour I saw another fellow loner in the river and as I got closer I saw that it was Josh. It was like Christmas. He had gotten out to wait for me at one point and then was slowing his pace until I caught up. He had had his own river drama and got separated from the rest of the group but had gotten a large stick that doubled as an ore and also helped guide his direction using the river bottom. We hadn't gone far together when we saw Dave. He had capsized going through a particularly rough slab of river and had done the worst: lost his tube. So there he was at the river’s edge - barefoot alone and tubeless. We paddled over to him (we could because it was a calmer spot), got out and stood at the bottom of the steep bank trying to decide what was next. Screw it. We're walkin.
Chap 5: Naked hiking.
It's no secret. I don't look the best in a bathing suit, so I try and only wear them for the intended use of swimming and laying out. I don't walk around in them for kicks, and I certainly don't hike or climb in them. But I didn't have much choice. The river bank was a good 25 feet up and I was climbing it barefoot with a tube. I felt totally naked, but luckily the pain of being scratched and poked by the native weeds and bushes took my focus off the fact that I was climbing on all fours with my formidable booty in the air for fellow floaters to get a good look at along with my rapidly forming wedgy. Dave and Josh pulled me up once I got close to the top and after our bare feet made it through another 20 feet of rocks and stickers, we were on a smoother 4-wheeler trail. As we started hoofin' it down the road problem #432 presented itself. Even though the path was much softer, the hot gray dirt was burning our feet to the point that walking in the pokey brush was just as comfortable. Enter: David.
Chap 6: Swaddling Clothes
He burns easily. Since Dave forgot to put sunscreen on he decided to deprive the females on the river by wearing a t-shirt so he wouldn't burn. I don't know if was my whining or his own foot pain but out of nowhere he stopped walking, ripped off his shirt and said. "I'm gonna make some shoes for you." It was genius. He shredded his shirt into strips and Josh fashioned them into sandals on my feet.
Dave made himself a pair, and Josh made his own out of his bandana and what was left of Dave's shirt. And so we continued on in discomfort, but not pain, for another 15 minutes or so until some river goers shouted to us that if we had lost a tube, one of their buddies had it and was coming down right behind them. Though the makeshift shoes alleviated a lot of pain we still jumped at the idea of giving our feet a break - even if it meant getting back into that #$%*&@&#^@&*#! river. We found a way to get back down to the bank at a place that we also discovered was the shoe graveyard. Shoes for everyone!! Albeit mismatched, Josh found a pair of flip flops for him and Dave, while I strapped on a lone Croc on top of my swaddling shoes. We stepped back into the river pain-free with all three tubes and were ready to go. But Dave wasn't having it. "I'm not getting back in this river."
Chap 7: He Took a Few for the Team
Josh and I left Dave with his new shoes on the bank and made our way back into the river while Dave said he would meet us at the end via the trail. The two of us latched on to each other and Josh navigated our pitiful two-tube vessel around jutting rocks, dead trees and branches. We were fine until the bridge.
Damn the bridge.
The water was really rough right before the bridge and we were moving fast. There were four walls holding the bridge up and we were trying to make it through the middle slot without hitting. No dice. Josh hit it first we exchanged a glance that conveyed both panic and resignation right before I hit him. His body and tube soften my blow but he wasn't so lucky. With the same look he let go of his tube, made an attempt to push me on through, and then disappeared momentarily in the churning ice water under the bridge. It was there that he got a bloody goose egg on the front of his leg and a few more bruises and scratches but at least he recovered his tube. He was shivering, with some chips gone from his spirit, but after a few minutes was back latched to my side. I think it was there that I may or may not have told him that a part of me would love him for the rest of my life. Or it could have been after the second disaster, when we were attacked by a mostly dead, evil tree. We had purposely chosen to hug the deeper bank for a while in order to avoided getting beached on a shallow bar in the middle of the %#$@%^#% river. The current took us right into the tree. Josh grabbed large branch to slow us, let go of me and said "keep going because if I let go it's going to hit you!” I did. He let the branch go, and he was gone. By the time he had once again recovered his tube and had caught up to me again his spirit was broken, his teeth were chattering and he was in a bit of pain. But it was almost over, right?
Chap 8: Officer Buttface
Every bend we came to we silently begged for the end. And when I saw it I didn't care that I had to slam my body into a sharp rock to stop myself or that I had to, yet again, climb another steep bank in my suit. By the time we got to the top I half expected people to be there waiting with awards or medals for our success in finally making it - or maybe just a bouquet of flowers or a congratulatory hug. Instead we got hassled by law enforcement peeps who were apparently charged with the noble task of leaning against a fence and heckling the broken, yet lucky members of the public who made it back. "You know you have to have a life jacket to be in this river!?" "We could give you a ticket, there are signs everywhere." "Get off the train track - that is federal property, that's against the law!" At least that is what I thought he said. However all I really heard was "I am a sad little man who was picked on in high school, who dropped out of college but needed to find some way to conjure the illusion of power and dominion over others to make up for my colossal failures in life so I became a typical jackass cop. But even though I wear a badge I am afraid of real criminals and would rather intimidate and harass river-floaters and small children." I fought the urge to say “Officer, are you going to take me in? No? Ok, then kindly shut your hole.”
Chap 9: Sunburns and contusions
We found the rest of the group not long after. Courtney, who had on river shoes, experienced a crash and burn early on and had called it a day then and there and got out of the river. Dave, finding that the trusty river trail that we were on ended about a half a mile down, had turned around and walked back and was picked up on the road by the more fortunate part of our group. Yes, there were some who made it down without a scratch. They were the same friends who couldn't stop laughing when they saw our make-shift shoes. They wanted to stay in the canyon and have a bonfire later that night. But we were out of there...I don't even think we said goodbye to anyone. Walking was painful, I had half of my big toenail broken and dangling, Josh was limping and Dave was sunburned beyond belief. We drove in silence for a long time. And when we stopped to eat we inhaled our dinner. It wasn't until later that night that I realized that almost exactly a year ago to the day I was stung by a stingray on a California beach. Give me that damn river any day.