Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Into the Wash

That’s what swimming into a rapid feels like. Getting tossed into a washing machine. I floated down the lower reach of the Octoraro that contains a few small sets of rapids. Nothing too big or serious, class 2, which are simple enough in a kayak. But it’s a different world in the rapid rather than on top of the rapid. Even a simple class 2 felt a bit treacherous. The bottom comes up from 4 feet to 2 and the pace quickens. What was easy to swim against is now impossible. The only stopping is to grab onto a rock. The water speeds up and spills through a v between two boulders, and I’m in it. There was no stopping. Even grabbing onto a rock to stop wasn’t an option without risking a dislocated shoulder. The best I could do was fend off fast approaching boulders before I plowed into them. I was poured over rocks and squeezed between them, just like the water that carried me. And while this rapid was fairly benign by kayaking standards, it had the potential to be more dangerous to snorkelers. One unprotected move and I could go head first into a boulder. A different wrong move and my chest could impact. Brain and lungs could be involved. I felt my heart quicken when I realized the danger. Fight or flight kicked in, and I couldn’t run so I was in for the fight.

I’m not one to work against rivers, but rather with them. I’m not big on me vs. them when it comes to nature. I think that’s a pretty human centered, simplistic view. But this rapid sure felt like we were opponents, when in fact the river could care less about my outcome. It did what it did: send water downstream, over, through, and around rocks, whether I was there or not. I was just another very large leaf that was either going to float out the end of the rapid, or get hung up somewhere in the middle. I kept my arms up to fend off rocks. Wax on wax off kind of thing.

The water got too shallow to float so I had no choice but to stand up. I turned around laid back down and clawed my way upstream. It was like aquatic rock climbing. I had to select foot and hand holds carefully or risk getting swept downstream. The rush of the water was deafening loud, like being in a 60 mile per hour wind. And still there was life here. A darter hunkered down in a gap between rocks and an eel emerged from under another one.

Creek snorkeling is what you make it, and what you want it to be. It can be a relaxing silent float, an awe inspiring exploration, or an adrenaline pumping somewhat dangerous downstream ride. Snorkeling through this rapid gave me a different perspective, a new rush, and I will swim rapids again.

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