Kayaking is a beautiful, relaxing and serene activity that continues to grow in popularity and gain more and more followers. Well, today we will talk about a time when all that beauty, relaxation and serenity was thrown out the window as we embarked on a kayak river trip that was supposed to take 2 to 2 ½ hours with plenty of sunlight; this however was not the case.
A friend whom works here and I planned to hit the river after work and with our kayaks on our respective vehicles we showed up ready for the later activities. The planning was done sporadically and was not well thought out. The rains had made the river really fast and desirable and we were very eager to get out and test our abilities. We had not wanted to waste too much time preparing, there was a river raging and waiting for our taking!
The water was pretty cold at the time as it was fall and had been raining heavily in the days leading up to the trip. Although the water level was higher, the first half of the trip went well, our kayaks performed well and we were making good time to our final destination. That’s when the sun started falling and the reality of the situation set in, we still had at least a mile or two to go in our journey and it looked like our light was fading fast.
At first it was not bad, with adjusted eyes and a calm mindset I was leading us through and although we made some wrong turns at forks in the river and had to back paddle up the river we seemed to be making good time. Being what I would consider mid experienced paddlers we kept our bearings but were still having a mild amount of trouble with logs in the river and other obstructions we couldn’t see due to the darkness. We had not gotten wet or tipped yet, so all still seemed to be going good. We knew our take out point at the bridge was coming up quick so what else could possibly go wrong?
Well, the darkness we thought had come only settled more as we paddled on. Like a switch turned off any and all light except for that of the moon which we would be lucky to be out of the shadow of for some moments where we could actually see a bit. It was the most intense feeling and was terrifying as the current was taking us into the unknown deepest darkest parts of the river. We kept on course although the countless log jams and obstacles we had to make split second maneuvers around was wearing us completely. We were weary and on edge but we kept each other going with conversation and uplifting thoughts of “we have to be almost there” or “just a around the next bend we’ll find our ending point” it was the only thing that kept us somewhat calm in the dark of the river.
As we came across a bend in the river we noticed an upcoming bridge, not our take out point but it was an uplifting site until… we paddled up to the bridge and noticed our kayaks with us inside were not going to fit under this bridge, now what? Well we tried to portage around the side first, this was a no go as the water level was so raised that we could not find dry ground to get out on anywhere, and also we did not want to get too far off the river in the darkness. As we contemplated our next move and remembering the water was probably in the mid 50’s as was the air at the time we had made a decision.
The decision was made to jump out of our kayaks and swim them under the bridge to the other side, fair enough, we get soaked but we have to make progress. As we both jumped out into the frigid water, dressed in long pants and jacket, the reality of the situation sunk and our bodies froze up. Gaining our bearings we swam under the bridge and onto the other side with our kayaks in tow. Now soaking wet we gained entry back into the cockpits of our kayaks and continued onward towards our destination, more determined now than ever to find dry and secure land.
Roughly 45-90 minutes prior to the bridge incident we came across our take out point and in the pitch black must have seemed like a bunch of crazies pulling up to the river and coming out soaking wet. At this point we cared very little what others thought but cared much more just to be safe and dry on level ground. They say you learn from your biggest mistakes and in kayaking it is no different, we realized just how lucky we had been to get out unharmed and safe in the end and definitely took note of what to do differently in the future.
In planning a kayak trip please ensure you have allotted enough time to safely reach your destination, if you’ve never experienced paddling a river in the dark in a kayak it is a jaunting alert to a fun and relatively calming activity. Paddling at night is hard and can be very unsafe if you are not prepared. We had not packed flashlights, headlamps or any source of light and it ended up making things very difficult. Take into consideration the level of the river as a high river is a fun river but is also a dangerous river.
The next trip we took we had left much earlier to make it in the light of day which makes things a lot less stressful and much more fun. We hope our terrible time can help at least one fellow paddler out there into thinking twice about the plan for a river kayaking trip, we have definitely learned our fair share from it. Until we pass on the river, in the daytime, we will see you on the water.