|Life is a funny thing; it's a pisser no doubt. Sometimes the only difference between an absolutely harrowing, downright terrible day and a good experience is simply the people you paddle with.
This Sunday found us on the Upper Wind River with a promise of a fairly meaty flow as the take out rock gauge was covered with a slight 'wave-hole' behind it. Keeping in mind this story is about to be told from my perspective I shall alter the names of those involved to protect their innocence.
Eight paddlers strong we were and hell bent for glory. Six of us opted to run lower Trout Creek which flows into the Wind River. This run proved quite enjoyable if uneventful. Thanks go to Fried Chicken and the Sticker Bandit for leading us down. We met up with our other two compadres at the confluence and were off to the races.
Initiation rapid was right around the corner and it was stompin! Big holes and big lines were prominent and we all found ourselves enjoying the first section with an eddy-out to catch a breather. Funny Talker suffered a swim at the bottom of Initiation yet his self rescue of all gear was commendable. This left the group pondering the mighty Ram's Horn, Coach H. who didn't paddle today, had hiked in and set safety for us, so without a scout the mighty Mr. Good Times probed the rapid and nailed his line, I followed with relatively similar results as did the rest of the group, this left us all brimming with confidence and happy to have bested such a mighty foe !oh the ignorance and irony of it all.
After Ram's horn there lies a formidable rapid (at least at this flow) which was to set the real tone for the day. Mr. Good Times and Two Eyes probed, I followed and found myself throwing down some sincere strokes to avoid holes that looked hungry !like just got out of jail and craving some nooky hungry. Just ask Hot Pants, as she demonstrated a formidable Rodeo Creeking (RC) session in one of the holes, about five rotations later, she flushed and was ecstatic at her performance.
At the bottom of the rapid Mr. Good Times was perched atop a rock and I thought to myself, this guy is great ..setting safety and all, and how did he get out of his boat and on top of that rock so fast? Well apparently he rode the rapid in high style, cartwheeling a Z this way and that and eventually lost his paddle and swam, who knew?
Not to worry though as Two Eyes was collecting gear downstream. Next through the rapid was Sushi Girl, Sushi Girl has a tendency to display perfect paddling form and is just plain awesome to watch, this helps too as she witnessed Hot Pants' Rodeo session and opted for a different line, which in turn granted her a RC session in a pourover backed up by a boulder. We are not sure how Sushi Girl came out of that nasty situation but I have never seen someone's eyes so bright.
Naturally when witnessing your probes establish this kind of 'where not to go map' on a rapid this allows for some good lines, primarily Funny Talker gets credit for using the information given to him (i.e. Rodeo Creeking by Hot Pants and Sushi Girl) to negotiate a safe line down the rapid. Sticker Bandit and Fried Chicken also made their way safely down. Funny Talker was tired and decided to hike out at this point, not a bad call at all. Needless to say it is time to regroup and calm down.
The next rapid is BTW (balls to the wall) Right. This rapid incorporates a tricky line down the right side, dealing with and avoiding holes. Two Eyes probed, followed by myself, next came Sticker Bandit, then Hot Pants, Hot Pants had flipped and was working hard against the right wall, her struggles prevailed and she righted herself only to be thrown over into the next hole, still she fought but fell victim to exhaustion and pulled the cord.
Now this is where things get a little hazy and dare I say somewhat out of control, I take full responsibility for a judgment error, Hot Pants was being helped by Sticker Bandit, Fried Chicken and I were racing to assist, I told Hot Pants we have the boat (I should have had her just hang on to it) she let go and I failed to get the boat to shore.
Fear not though, Two Eyes is in pursuit and he is fearless when it comes to chasing down boats !like a really good bounty hunter. I am inspired to redeem myself so I give chase as well. We become separated as I am right on a rapid called BTW Left, this makes for slow going as it's pin-city over on the right. Nonetheless, I am almost caught up to Two Eyes, Hot Pants boat is nowhere in sight and Two Eyes is lining up left on the rapid Climax. This is the worst hole on the river and Two Eyes is about to take the hero route, when I catch the eddy above the rapid I wait to see Two Eyes and his boat or either of them...
I wait some more, then I wait some more. Eventually he flushes out, he is swimming, and things are definably heating up today I thought. I charge hard and down the center left, hoping to find a little boof flake that will propel me beyond the frothing madness that just handed Two Eyes his ass on a sliver platter !nope not today, despite a good line and a decent boof, I stall out and am pulled back for a little RC myself, lucky for me I was flushed A LOT sooner than my compadre.
At this point I am honestly tired and breathing hard, Two Eyes is exhausted and as I float past he barely mumbles something about his paddle, it takes a LONG time for me to chase his boat and paddle, I threw the paddle to shore, unfortunately I didn't throw it far enough. We reunite with boat and Two Eyes, I have a break-down, yet before we can even think to formulate a plan, Two Eyes calmly states, 'hey there's Mr. Good Times' cool, I thought. However, Mr. Good Times was swimming and holding on to his boat, we did not have our ropes on us so we quickly strapped our tow-tethers together !this was comical as my earplugs would have reached farther.
But Mr. Good Times is not your average swimmer in need; he HAS HIS OWN ROPE, how courteous. Two Eyes is pulling Mr. Good Times to shore and now I give chase to his errant Z. Eventually and A LONG way downriver I lasso not only the Z but Hot Pants' boat as well. Now I am all alone, downriver from the group, I haven't even seen the group in awhile and I could practically go into business with all the boats I've collected.
I have never been in this situation before and I decide that towing both boats out is possible, as I start to rig together a 'mamba line' for my downriver party, Fried Chicken shows up, followed by Sticker Bandit, Two Eyes and Hot Pants!!! Now for a quick debriefing, Hot Pants had been paddling Ankle's boat as it had somehow fallen into the river after Hot Pants had swum. Mr. Good Times had hiked out on his own; Sushi Girl had hiked out with Funny Talker and Coach H. Wow, we really got spread out in a hurry, yet now we had a group ready to paddle out and we could tow boats as well.
I lash myself to the Z and Fried Chicken opted for Sushi Girl's Java. Now let it be known that I am no expert at towing kayaks (at least before that day) and one thing to remember is that you have a pull cord for a reason. I did relatively fine in towing the boat through the splashy Class III stuff, what I had problems with was getting it to shore after it was full of water. After getting to an eddy and multiple rolls, I pulled !the wrong cord, my skirt. So now I am swimming with a Z strapped to me like a piano.
Thanks go to Sticker Bandit for rescuing my boat and the Z! Fried Chicken and Co. meanwhile had eddied out and rigged a system of multiple float bags and straps to help keep water out of the Java, why didn't I think of that? (because I am frigging moron that's why.)
Again I find myself looking like a pair of numchucks strapped to this godforsaken Z, and again I swim, this one was a little rougher as I was pulled over a strainer upside down, losing my paddle and STILL not pulling the right cord !I guess I had something to prove. This time the rescue credit goes to Hot Pants and Two Eyes, Hot Pants calmed me down as I was a bit flustered and totally pissed at myself.
Sticker Boy then took over the towing responsibility for awhile, despite my statement that I was going to tow that boat out if it f***ing killed me !which it very well might have. Eventually without further mishap we made it to the take out and thank god, everyone was there, Coach H., Mr. Good Times, Sushi Girl and Funny Talker were indeed as happy to see us (and some of their gear) as we were to see them!
The all around winner for best lines, no flips, no swims and a boat tow without a single complaint goes to Fried Chicken. Honorable mention for 'no swims' goes to Sticker Bandit and honorable mention for 'Best Take-out Change' goes to Hot Pants..
I think it is fair to say that we have neither witnessed nor experienced this much carnage on a river. There was some semi-serious debriefing about some of the communication errors that occurred and suffice to say we all learned a lot from that day. The most important thing is that we all came out uninjured and with smiles on our faces. If it was a different group of personalities, it could have turned out to be a horrendous day, however we all came together selflessly !it honestly (call me crazy) was one of the better trips I've ever had.
'Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.'