Swimming Lessons

After my sucessful trip through the Ken Lockwood Gorge I decided to get my own equipment. I don’t really know how to go about it but I spend a lot of time on Ebay looking for a bargain. Finally I see a boat, paddle, helmet, spray skirt, jacket and boots all listed for a starting price of $350.00. The boat is a Perception Amp. The specs say it is rated up to 200 lbs. I have been paddling my friend’s Diesel 65 and its only rated for 190 so I figure I’m OK. I wait, put in a bid at the last second, and the boat is mine.
I pick up the Amp out in York, Pa. It looks a little different than the Diesel, the bow and stern are super thin. I’m really pumped up and keep looking at the boat in the back of the van on the ride home. I throw it down on the lawn as soon as I get home and climb in. At least I try to climb in. I can’t get my sneakers to fit in the boat so off they come and I try again. I still can’t get in. Its starting to look like $350.00 wasn’t such a bargain after all.
The next night finds pieces of the boat spread out all over the lawn. I’ve torn out the thigh braces, seat and foot braces to see what I can do to make myself fit in the boat. I squeeze the foot baces together and reinstall them on the last notch. The seat goes in as far back as the adjustment will allow and the thigh braces are now installed as far forward and wide as possible.
The plastic emits squeals of protest and grabs at the skin of my feet and legs as I shoehorn myself into the boat. I have to wiggle one way then the other but I finally make it all the way in. It occurs to me that I may have some trouble getting out quickly but at least I’m in. I sit happily, though rather uncomfortably, on the lawn in my boat. I can’t wait for rain.
The river comes up the very next weekend. I call Ed and we agree to meet on Saturday to paddle through Ken Lockwood again. At the put in, Ed hops quickly into his boat and paddles out to wait for me.
I’m taking a little while to get into the spray skirt. It’s a small tunnel and barely fits over my hips.  I didn’t realize they came in different sizes. The guy I bought the equipment from was really small. Next comes the helmet and PFD. Not so much of a problem there. Off come the shoes, I cram my feet and legs into the boat and at last I am ready to try out my new purchase.
The Amp doesn’t paddle at all like the Diesel, not even close. I feel as though I am going to flip at any second and every rock I hit sends little streaks of pain through my ankles. My feet and legs are pressed tight against the bottom of the boat and there is no padding to help cushion the blows of the rocks.
I try to relax as we paddle into the Gorge but I am not comfortable in this boat and I’m a little worried that I might not be able to get out if I flip. The Amp does manuever around the rocks with ease but I feel like I’m sitting on a wire as I am cannot seem to find a center of balance.
Ed follows as I pass between two rocks. The boat wobbles and I am instantly upside down. I let go of my paddle and try to grab the bottom of the river to push myself back up. It doesn’t work. Luckily, Ed is right there and I grab onto his boat and pull myself upright. My paddle has behaved nicely and is floating next to me. I pick it out of the water and continue downstream.
We are nearing the end of the gorge and I’m still upright although very unstable in the water. Up ahead, the river narrows, picks up speed and forms a big hole as it passes a large rock. I’m pretty nervous about paddling through that hole in this boat.
Nothing to worry about, I never reach the hole. At least not in my boat. I flip upstream of the hole. The current is racing and I feel myself hit a rock or two. Ed can’t help me as I pull my spray skirt and slide out of the boat. I am helpless and disoriented in the angry current and feel myself hitting still more rocks as I am swept swiftly downstream. I plunge under the water and feel myself go deep as I pass through the hole. At last, the water slows a little and I am able to grab my boat and cling to a rock in the middle of the river.
The boat is full of water and weighs a ton. I try to pull it up on the rock but it weighs too mch. I pull the drain plug and lift the bow to start draining the water. A group of kids drive past on the shore honking and waving. They think its kind of funny seeing a guy sitting on a rock in the middle of the river holding a boat. I don’t really see the humor.
At last the boat is empty. Ed has found my paddle and has brought it to me. I can’t get into my boat from the rock. I really don’t want to get into the water again but I don’t have a lot of choice so in I go and swim to shore hitting a few more rocks for good measure.
I’m back in the boat but I’m not feeling good. I’m sore, wet, tired and certain that I will flip again. I’m paddling really stiffly and just waiting for something bad to happen. I don’t want to be here.
Sure enough, around the next corner and I’m upside down again. I let go of my paddle and once again grab at rock on the bottom. All I can think is that I don’t want to get swept downstream. Eventually it dawns on me that I will have to get out of the boat. I let go of the rocks and pull the skirt. The boat fills with water as somehow I manage to sit upright. I don’t really know howit happened, but it was easy once the boat was full and at least the boat is hitting the rocks instead of me.
I manage to get out of the main current and over to the left shore. I ask Ed if he has seen my paddle but it has departed for parts unknown. We are at the end of the gorge but I won’t be able to paddle down to the takeout. I didn’t want to get back into the boat again anyway.
Ed continues downstream while I empty my boat. Unfortunately I am on an island and have to cross a narrow tongue of swift water to reach the road. The water surges up around my thighs as I step into the current and I am afraid to take another step for fear of being swept away again, but there is no other option so I fearfully continue across until I reach the far shore.
I’m pretty dejected as I carry my boat down the road towards the takeout. I’ve lost my paddle, my feet are killing me as I walk barefoot over the rocks, I’m cold, wet, tired and banged up. Everything is sore.
I finally see Ed coming the other way in his van. He tells me that he found my paddle stuck in an eddy and had to finish the run with two paddles. I ask why he didn’t just throw mine to the shore and get it later. He didn’t think of that. We load the boats and head for home.
Once home, I grab some old chevy orange engine paint and spray it onto my paddle. I seem to have a bad habit of letting go of my paddle when I flip and the black blades are almost invisible in the water. It should certainly show up well now
That night, I am watching TV after having showered when I notice that my wedding ring is missing. It must have fallen off in the cold water and sits at the bottom of the gorge somewhere. Carole is not at all happy. The day ends rather unpleasantly.

One Reply to “Swimming Lessons”

  1. A postscript to this story:
    After this adventure, Andy and Ed signed up for rolling lessons at CCM and met Jack and I. Better late than never.
    If you want to learn to roll, join us at the KCCNY pool sessions this winter. Check our trip schedule on http://www.kccny.com for dates, times and places. Still plenty of time to learn before you swim down a river in the freezing cold water in the spring.

Leave a Reply