Nanty

            I tell myself and anyone who will listen that
I am an open and caring person and that I follow the advice of others much better now
compared to several years ago. However, depending on the exact circumstances
of my recent behavior Cindy may not fully buy into my argument. I have been
told that I can be somewhat unilateral and single minded at times and  ignore the good advice offered to me. One clue
that I have slipped into a disagreeable frame of mind is when Cindy picks up the
nearest weapon, like a screwdriver, knife, or hammer, and moves directly toward
me in one of two ways: calmly and methodically or hysterically screaming. The
real tipoff that I may need to listen to what she is telling me is her focus on
my head or on another vulnerable part of my body. She may utter or scream something
like, “I’m going to jam this screwdriver in your head, then maybe you’ll listen.” I
suddenly become a bit more attentive.

            Cindy
has the most experience attempting to communicate with me during the last
thirty years, so she is completely immune to what little bit of charm I can
muster when I am cornered in a lie or self-centered behavior. Those who know me
less well, I have found, are less likely to tell me I am full of shit when I may indeed be full of it. That is with
the exception of my friend Haynes, who I have known for over seven years. Haynes
can see through the BS, perhaps because he is a past master of selling similar spin.

    One
such occasion when Haynes sensed that I was full it was when he called
recently to see how we were. I told him we were great and that Cindy and I planned to paddle
the Nantahala River the following day, just us. He told me that he always goes with at least
two friends because there’s no telling what can happen on the river, especially
on a cold day in November, and that I should really reconsider my decision. I tried my best to convince him that I knew
what I was doing , that there will surely be others on the river that will
help if Cindy and I get into trouble, and not to worry about us. After
several minutes of this back and forth conversation, he realized that I was not going to change my mind and that he was wasting his breath. He simply said, please be careful.

            I
was sure we could handle the Nanty, after all Cindy and I had four trips under
our belt and we had not come close to getting in trouble—we were experienced. Ha,
we were about to find out just how inexperienced we were.

            I
did not sleep well at all the night before our excursion. I kept thinking of what
Haynes had said, the safe line to take through each set of rapids, and just what
could go wrong on the river. Cindy did not sleep well either and we hit the road almost an
hour earlier than we had planned.

            As
soon as the sun came up, thick fog hung in the low areas slowing our progress.
We came onto a bad accident near Blue Ridge, Georgia
that had all four lanes of the road blocked with smashed cars and emergency
vehicles. We made our way around the wreck and drove on to the
river.

           We arrived at the put in point about 10:30 AM and immediately began unloading our boat and
gear, including our brand new two piece dry suits. I drove the car about seven miles downstream to the takeout point, parked it, and thumbed a ride to where
Cindy was waiting. We paddled into the current about 11:15 AM. The air and water temperatures were both in the mid forties.

            About 100 yards downstream I noticed waves were splashing in the boat. I thought that this was weird because we had not yet reached the first real whitewater. I then realized the river was running much higher
and stronger usual, or at least higher than I was used to seeing the water. We rounded a bend and headed towards Dellabar’s Rock, the first class two rapid downstream from our put in at Ferebee Park.. The
current was pushing us to the left toward a big rock despite both Cindy and I trying like hell to stay right. After clearing the upper part of this rapid, we paddled into an
eddy on river left. Cindy said, “Let’s try to surf the waves.”

            As
we paddled up the eddy, the swirling current sucked us
toward the wave. Easing the boat into the wave we were immediately pushed upside down. It was a surprise to be completely underwater trying to figure out which
way was up.

            When
I popped up Cindy had her arms wrapped around the front of the capsized boat. She was saying, “Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit.”  She asked me if I had my paddle as the current
pushed us downstream. I said, “Oh shit, no,” and turned to see it float past us by
about ten yards away. I swam to retrieve the paddle and the cold forty
five degree river water seeped in my pants, soaking my skin. I did not think about the cold at all as I swam back to the boat.

            We tried to push the boat to the shore; however, we made little lateral progress as the current continued
to push us downstream. We both repeated, “oh shit, oh shit, oh shit,” as we
swam as hard as we could toward the shore with the bulky boat. We finally made it to a small eddy
where we righted the boat and climbed in. Cindy looked back me and said, “I’m wet and I’m
freezing.”

            We
paddled as best we could through several rapids immediately downstream and made it to an eddy in a
sunny spot. We both drew a deep breath and wondered aloud what we had in mind
by trying to save money on two piece dry suits that did not keep us dry at all during our swim. I said that skimping on equipment intended to keep us warm and dry was not
a real good way to save money. Cindy said, “No shit, and we should not be
alone on this river.”  We noticed that our
suits were steaming in the warming sun.

            Paddling
back into the current, we made our way downstream. We had limited control of our path down the river. The river pushed us where it wanted to take us. We continued to
paddle and only rested where we could eddy in the sun.

            We
had one last problem when Cindy fell out of the boat upstream of The Bump. She
quickly climbed in, we paddled through The Bump, and we ferried to the beaching
area upstream of The Falls. We hauled the boat on shore with no intention of
running the class three rapids.

            We
sat in the sun, removed our wet boots, drained our pants, and were grateful that we made it
without either of us being hurt. I hiked to the car and when I returned we packed up and
headed home. As we drove, Haynes called my cell phone to see how our trip went. I recounted our adventure
and that the river really got my attention. We will not paddle alone again.

Copyright © 2007 Mark Holmberg. All rights
reserved

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