Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Kayak Adventure, or Ruger LCP gets a bath.

So today, because it was nice out and I've been feeling guilty for not taking my kayak out more, I threw said kayak onto my SUV roof and drove it down to the Shenandoah River. The plan was to go down river for a few hours, then call Proud Hillbilly to come pick me up, since a return up-river against the current was not a realistic option.
I got to my planned boat launch area and it was deserted except for one vehicle, a black Toyota pick-up with a bed full of scrap metal. No sooner did I park then it's owner walked up to me and started asking me questions.
"So, you going kayaking"?
"Where you going to?"
"How long do you plan to be gone?"

OK, these aren't the sort of questions that I like to hear from a guy who will soon be all alone in a parking lot with my truck and all it's contents. And it doesn't help that this guy looks like he missed the casting call for the re-make of the movie "Deliverance". I ask him what he does for a living and he says that he's unemployed now and trying to get his life together. He then tells me that his last job had him traveling all over the country "as an executive" and that he was "in New York on 9/11 when the towers came down, and in New Orleans for Katrina and in Oklahoma City when the federal building blew up", and he quit his job because of all that stress. Yeah, he's not strange at all.

I made as if to ready my gear, and as soon as he stepped away, I called the Sheriff and let them know about this weird dude who apparently had nothing better to do than hang around this secluded parking area down by the river. I also used my camera to snap a couple shots of his truck and his license plate, and finally, when he wasn't looking, of him. The Sheriff's office said that they'd have someone roll by and check him out, but I knew that that could take forever since it was really a low-priority/no-priority call. Weird due saw me on my phone though, and when I hung it up, he walked back over to chat some more.

"So, you calling someone to pick you up down river?"

"No," I told him. "That was a friend of mine. He wants to try to catch up with me here if he can make it over here. I'm going to wait for him for a bit." I hoped that he'd leave, but he just went back and stood by his truck. I hung around for a bit, then decided that I could either scratch the trip or just go. I decided to launch the kayak.

As I dragged it to the water, creepy dude came back over by me.

"Not waiting for your friend?"

"No," I replied. He's probably busy. He is working after all. He may show up after I've gone though, so do me a favor: If a Sheriff's Deputy shows up, tell him I went down river and I'll call him later."

"Your friend is a Sheriff?" he asked, seeming more than a little apprehensive all of a sudden.

"Yep. Great guy. Tell him to keep an eye on my truck for me, ok? Oh, and he might say something to you about that load of stuff in your truck bed not being covered. He's kinda like that." I gave him a big friendly smile as I pushed off, and my guess is that dude didn't stick around too much longer.

And my truck was unmolested when I returned. Win for me. But that's later in the story.

Heading downriver, I quickly forgot about weird dude as I hit my first set of small rapids. Fun! I had the river to myself and I saw tons of wildlife--Herons, Egrets, several Bald Eagles,flocks of Canadian Geese and a few deer on the riverbank. The current was strong enough to move me along nicely so all I really had to do was just keep the boat straight.
For the next hour, it was just my in the river and nature on all sides. Very seldom did I see a structure of any kind other than a few odd cabins. There were no other boats, no nearby roads or road noise--nothing. Every now and again I hit some small rapids--just enough to keep things lively. It was great.
The next hour saw me in a shallower, faster part of the river. There were more rapids and some pretty good drops, and I got soaked more than once. Fortunately the river was still bathwater warm so I didn't mind a bit. But there were lots and lots of rocks too, many just below the surface. More and more, I grounded on these rocks. Many of them were ridges that ran across the river and there was no real avoiding them. I spent more and more time trying to go around them, or just hitting them and grinding over them. I began counting it as a victory each time my boat bottomed out and I didn't have to physically push myself over the rocks by hand. Heck, that last hour, I spent so much time grounded on the rocks that I was thinking of renaming my kayak Costa Concordia. The rapids were picking up in intensity too, and several times I took so much water over the bow and down into the boat that I had to find a still spot and bail the boat with my hat. But I was still having a great time. What a fantastic way to spend the day. Finally I went under the first 340 bridge at Harpers Ferry. I was almost to my planned take-out spot. The river was at it's fastest here, and I was really working it in the rapids, trying to stay off the rocks and avoid getting turned sideways in the rushing white water. I took on a ton of water here, but the river was moving me too fast for me to set down my paddle and bail. But just around the bend, just before my take-out, the river would deepen and grow still. I could bail then. I'd made it.
Well almost.

As I came through the last section of white water, I suddenly noticed that there was a lot more water in the boat than there had been even a minute ago. Where did it come from so fast? I hadn't taken that much over the bow or sides! WTF?! Before I could do anything about it, the boat filled up and sank. And when it sank, the current grabbed the hull and flipped it, tumbling me into the river.

I was almost to the still spot, but not quite. The current was now taking me and my upside down boat along at a nice clip and the water here was deep enough that I couldn't hit bottom with my feet. And all my stuff started to go separate ways in the stream. I tried to grab at all my departing things, but I knew that I'd never get them all.

"Prioritize!" was my first thought. "Save the leg first!" I could feel my prosthetic leg starting to loosen, because it was my regular walking leg, not my swim leg, and the liner wasn't meant to keep a seal with water in it. I shucked my flotation vest and drove my leg down until I hit bottom. I didn't need the vest as I still had the boat to hold onto, but without that foot I'd have a hell of a time getting out of the river. (Not to mention the down-time I'd get waiting for a new one to be made. "Hey Boss, I'm going to be off for a month or so, waiting on a new foot.")
When I hit the bottom with my foot, it seated the leg properly again. Problem solved. I watched my favorite, much-beloved "Hoplorati" hat go downriver without me. I figured that the vest--brightly colored with my phone number inked inside it, would be found by someone downriver (and it was. I just got a call on it and will go get it shortly), but the hat's likely gone for good. Damn it. I loved that hat. I did save the paddle though. I figured I'd need that if I had to use the boat as a boat again today instead of just an improvised flotation device. I held onto the boat and the paddle and kicked for the shallows. it didn't take long before I was able to ground the boat on some rocks and pull myself up next to it. I rested for a few minutes, then I stood up, turned the boat over and dumped the water out, and dragged it and myself in to the shore. I was actually at old town Harpers Ferry at this point, and when I came out of the water, I was a hundred feet or so from the road and the book store and the bathrooms. No points for style, but I'd made it to Harpers Ferry.

An inspection of the boat revealed why it sank. There's a drain plug on the stern used to get water OUT of the boat. That plug was missing, and while normally the stern rides high enough to keep the drain hole free of the water, when I took on that last batch of water in the final rapids section, it was enough to put the stern under water and the drain let the water in that sank me. So where'd the plug go? That sucker's always been in there tight. Now I'm wondering if someone didn't yank it our while I was parked outside the Post Office for a few minutes enroute to the boat launch. The boat was never out of my sight any other time and even creepshow back at the launch point never had the opportunity. Lesson learned: re-check your equipment every time, even the simple stuff.

My iPhone survived because I'd bought one of those water-proof Otter boxes for it. I got the box for sixty bucks but it paid for itself right there. Most of the shots I took with it didn't come out though. I think the lens hole in the case was fogged or wet. Ah well.

Likewise, My Ruger LCP survived, and it seems to function just fine.

I'd like to fire it to see how well it takes torture, but since I can't go right to the range tonight, I'll just disassemble it and clean it good. Can't have it rusting on me now, can I?

As for the leg--total disassembly for cleaning. But it was overdue for routine maintenance anyway.

So the day ended with PH picking me up (and bringing towels), and I took her out for Mexican in return. (That large Margarita hit the spot. Could have done with a couple more of them though, but not at $8.00 each.) Now I'm home, reflecting on the day's adventure.

I had fun. Can't wait to try it again. This time with a drain plug and a bit higher water in the river, though.


  1. Murphy says you needed a bath anyway. Seriously, glad you survived . You never fail to impress me with all you do.

  2. Could the scraping over rocks have knocked the plug out?

  3. So ... another uneventful day. What do you do for excitement?

  4. @ James: Thanks. Sometimes I even impress myself. :-) Gonna take more than a river to take me out, though.

    @ Bob: No. Plug's up too high on the hull.

    @ Rev. Paul: Well now I'm going to make a bag of popcorn and try to keep it away from Murphy. That's always a workout, right there.

  5. Dang dude. Glad you are ok. Nice hat though. So as Rev. Paul says what DO you do for excitement?

  6. @ Keads: well I was going to go for a night flight tonight, but we did that already on Saturday.

  7. In my kayak I have empty gallon milk jugs with the cap taped shut in the storage voids and I keep all my gear clipped or tied in.
    I learned to do that the hard way.
    And a Motorola XTS-5000 that is water resistant to about 4 feet under water is not waterproof at 20 feet under water.

  8. @ on: Nice idea on the milk jugs. Thanks.

    Hat was on my head, though.

  9. Heh...stories like this are what outdoorsy-types call "adventures". They're also what my wife calls "disasters". Semantics. LOL

    Glad you made it out okay!

  10. For the hat: perhaps a tether to your collar?

    Instead of milk jugs, consider using water jugs and/or bottles. These would have a better screw-on cap, and are a bit more rugged than milk jugs, plus no cleaning needed. Also, the size of the gal water jugs should be easier to stuff in odd places, not to mention the smaller ones. And, they should squeeze/crumple better, since they are designed with expansion areas to handle freezing water.

    I'm thinking some waterproof stuff sacks for your gear might be worthwhile. Maybe even some of the smaller Pelican type cases for the expensive/delicate gear.

    Speaking of tethers, can you rig one up to your prosthetic, in case it gets away from you the next time?
    For that matter, does anyone make a restraint harness to keep it in place in rough service, such as your spill? I'm thinking something along the lines of how women used to keep nylons up, except a bit heavier duty.

    Does the drain plug screw on? I'm thinking an internal tether on it might be useful. Or, safety wired. And maybe carry a spare.

  11. Really sorry to hear you lost the Ruger LGP in the river. just sayin'

  12. @ juvat: It only got lost in the river if/when the Dems manage to ban them.

  13. Anonymous9:37 AM

    I am glad to hear except for your hat all is well.

  14. Just keeping the adrenalin level up eh???