Last night I had a great time hosting Patty Tuitte and Mark from the Willimantic Whitewater Partnership on the Transfer Station. Patty will be playing Saturday March 5 at the Art Space in Willimantic for the Big Dam Party-a fundraiser for the Willimantic Whitewater Partnership. You can check out event details here. I had a blast getting some great blues on and talking about the upcoming paddling season. So in honor of the Willimantic I thought it time to re-post the follow blog about my own misadventures on the river. It’s a classic tale that shows clearly that if I can do it ANYONE can-but really best to wait for spring-time temperatures before heading out. You can also get more information on the Willimantic Whitewater Partnership here. And now…
The View From the Front
We headed out in a dreary drizzle. Temps in the low 40s but Dr. Pepe and I knew it would get warmer as the day wore on. Maybe the clouds would lift. We joined other paddlers in a pre-race ritual (finding a tree in the woods) and we are ready to roll. In their infinite wisdom the organizers had us launch 3rd, with all the serious big time paddlers chasing us from behind (I guess they must have had dinner plans or something). We got off to a good start. Rolling along we even caught one guy before the kayakers began passing us by. I was up front and working hard. The rain didn’t bother me I was pushing forward. Soon I settled into my rhythm and the only pain was from the strain of kneeling for an extended period of time.
We passed my family on the shore and my excitement built. It was just the burst of energy my tired arms needed to push on-the race was longer and the current slower than I initially thought. I quickly spent this reserve of good tidings as the rain picked up and then turned to sleet. It wouldn’t have been a total loss except I noticed quite a bit of water in back of the canoe. “What’s going on back there?” I inquired. “We got a lot of rain water in her” replied Dr. Pepe. Now I’m looking at our gloves and Nalgene bottles floating around his feet and I know there is no way that’s all rain water. When I voiced my concern and that perhaps we should check things out I got put off.
“No we’re ok I think I just figured out what happened; we’re ok.” But I was really getting that sinking feeling.
I knew that was not rain water or splashes from our paddles in our boat. We were filling up. As we approached bridges I had some serious doubts if our vessel would finish the race. I passed my concerns on to Dr. Pepe wondering aloud if we could continue. Dr. Pepe fought the good fight (feet fully submerged in water) to press on. In the front it was hard to tell how dire our situation was. My strategy was to remind Dr. Pepe we could always pull out and to trust his decision on whether to press on. Once he gave a go ahead I paddled with what my body now tells me was more than all my might.
Finally, we had to pull to the river bank and empty the canoe. Here we confirmed our worst fears. There was a long gash in the bottom of the canoe-we had a leaky boat (you can squirm and you can dance…). The best improvisation we could manage was throwing a towel over the hole and putting as much weight as we could on it. At best I considered it very sketchy.
We paddled on with our boat was filling up. For the record it becomes quite a bit more difficult to paddle and maneuver a canoe once it pulls in 10-30 gallons of water. I was working hard as hell. I was not only paddling, but leaning forward as far as I could to distribute as much weight to the front of the canoe as possible (as Dr. Pepe was slowly sinking in the back). Another dump and our load lightened once again. Then we rounded the corner and hit Eagleville dam and the wind was right in our face.
Now we were in brutal open water, face to the wind, no current, with a boat filling up as we went. We had to power through to get to a bank where we could dump before Dr. Pepe’s (rear) end went completely underwater. We didn’t make it by much but we made a quick landing (emptying out within site of the finish) at the last possible second. Then it was the sprint for the finish. For pride-no that was long gone-we saw land we saw the end and it was a great sight for two people who are too stubborn and/or stupid to know when to quit. Despite all of this and we were known as the only guys who were grinning the entire way. We enjoyed ourselves so well we were accused of having Sierras in the boat. But it didn’t matter; we had made it.