TUCKER HOTTES has a healthy respect for the power of the river
Have fun, be safe out on the river
It’s been something like 20 years since I stepped foot into a kayak. Back in the days of summer camp, I always liked to gravitate toward the activities around the lake — fishing, canoeing, sailing, swimming, etc. Clearly things haven’t changed all that much in the intervening decades, but it turns out any of my time on the water in a small vessel has been in a canoe. I usually go with several people, and maybe a bit of gear, so the canoe has always been the best option.
Over the weekend, I took a trip eastward to camp near the Delaware. It turned out we had an odd number for the river trip, and the outfitter didn’t have any solo scout canoes available, so I opted for a kayak. Granted, I had no illusions that these would be super high quality boats, but I figured it’d be suitable enough.
We got to the meeting point in Matamoras and quickly plowed through the paperwork and happily signed our lives away. After a short wait, we were called to board the bus where a very severe woman referred to everything as “hers” — clearly a tactic to try to get the many, many irresponsible looking people to pay attention. I don’t think it had much effect. We smiled and nodded as she made her warnings and proclamations, then took a quick ride upriver to the outfitter’s base on the New York side of the water.
Looking around as we fitted our foul-smelling personal floatation devices (seriously, it’s like some people sweat toxic body odor and have never heard of washing), it became clear that our little group was the only one off the bus not loading up a raft. We’d chosen a location that was noted to be a little rougher, so it appeared the outfitters are a bit more wary of which gear they’ll let people take out.
Once we got underway, I started orienting myself in the not-so-comfortable molded plastic seat, and realized the foot pegs meant to brace yourself were set at the farthest setting out of reach (somehow, I get the idea the pegs don’t see much use). We quickly reached a small set of rapids within the first five minutes, and I made the boneheaded mistake of plowing right into the side of a rock and immediately losing my balance and flipping the kayak. After a pride-swallowing float to the shore to dump it and adjust the pegs, we were back to it.
Turns out failing spectacularly in the first five minutes was a good thing in the long run. Later, when we hit actual, more difficult rapids, I was much more in tune with the boat (and it was properly adjusted), and I got through tired, wet, and with a huge smile on my face. After the final set, we decided to pull over and swim for a little while since we were near the end of the trip.
It was then that one of my friends and I saw a guy plaintively clinging to a tandem kayak, floating aimlessly in the middle of the river. Both of us have lifeguard training — NEVER attempt to help someone if you’re unsure of the situation. We were able to swim out to him and help guide the boat to the side and dump it. He thanked us, and started trekking up the side of the river to find his companion.
It’s a sobering reminder that our rivers can be dangerous, and are easy to underestimate. A 51-year-old man died the very same day a few miles downriver — a tragedy all too common. Always use common sense, always wear that stinky PFD, and do your best to be safe and get to know your gear.