Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Moonlight Paddle in Big Red

It was going to be another blistering weekend so there was no option of exploring, hiking or cycling. After wilting so badly last weekend, I couldn't face anything that involved a lot of exertion in this heat. So a paddle with friends seemed to be the answer, and a moonlight paddle sounded even better. I was foolish enough to shower before I loaded Big Red onto Stuart and afterwards had to stand in front of the open fridge for a while to prevent myself from melting away.
Soon I was traveling to meet the others and as soon as the boats were unloaded and carried down to the beach some of us decided to sit in the water while we waited for everyone to arrive. Because we wanted most of the journey to be done in the dark we were in no rush and it was blissful to totally relax while laying in the river with just our heads poking out. We chatted and laughed and simply enjoyed the moment.
Some of our beautifully colored boats with Big Red in the foreground, and Cindy posing by her river kayak.
Some of the boys discussing the best way to negotiate the first batch of small rapids. This was going to be my first time in a bigger more streamlined boat so I was a little apprehensive but it actually became instinctive to me to read the water correctly. Of course there were times when we just had no idea that rocks were hiding inches under the water line so quick reactions were crucial to avoid tipping over.
The sun's setting so it's time to put in.
Obviously all these photos were taken on the still water, I was in no mood to try and get my iPhone out whilst dodging rocks but I was pleased to get another opportunity to try out the waterproof case and take some shots down by the water line. On a couple of the photos I got water drops over the lens but I think it just added to the effect.
We had dinner on a ramp and watched the sun dip below the horizon and then started the next leg of the journey in the dark.
I took my last photos of the evening then secured all my belongings in my boat. We were under strict instructions not to use any lights whatsoever as we wanted our night sight to be as keen as possible. We set off and I was very excited to be on such an exhilarating adventure but then my tummy trembled when I heard the next set of rapids ahead of us. We all hung back and bobbed around in circles like baby ducklings as we waited for Bob to take the lead and show us how to negotiate these. "Single file only!', he yelled above the water and then disappeared into the crashing gloom. It was extremely difficult to read the water but I steeled myself and went forward. It was very much like being on a roller coaster, feeling that fear of the unknown but then the immediate exhilaration afterwards as I powered myself through and came out the other side onto calm water. This was fun! We had a few of these to negotiate and inevitably we hit some rocks but each time I managed to stay upright although a few others were tipped out. Bob had me howling by asking who was sending texts of''OMG I hit a rock' or 'LOL I'm alive!'
On the calm stretches it was wonderful to feel the cool night air and watch lightning bugs dance across the water while a breeze wafted an exotic perfume of wild flowers across us. It was amazing how much we could see but the moon was evading us. We twisted and turned in our boats trying to see it but to no avail.
At one point we could hear the fireworks from a concert at Antietam and see the glares in the sky so that for a moment it felt like we were Marines stealthily paddling our way down a river in a war. It was also noted that this was the 40th anniversary of Deliverance so someone hummed the Dueling Banjos and I smiled as I realized that everyone kept to the middle of the river and away from the banks.
We stopped briefly for a potty break and were warned about the Black Widow spiders that had nested under the toilet seats and then as we regrouped Bob gave us a lecture about the upcoming rapids famously known as The Razorbacks. These were a relatively large group of rocks spread across the water that peaked out above the splashing froth of the water coursing over them. Control of your boat was imperative as immediately after that were two long lines of rock just below the water's surface that ran side by side down the river. It would be easy to tip out onto these, or lose control of our boats against the current and seriously injure ourselves. And we had to do it in the dark! Bob of course went first and then I wasn't hanging around either, I steamed forward. I could see the rocks and knew it would be impossible to not hit any of them. But I didn't think I'd end up perched on top of one. I was aware of someone else caught on a rock near me and we worked our body weight back and forth trying to free ourselves. I leaned over to the right and looked down onto more rocks and promptly sat up straight again. I really didn't want to get out of the kayak as I was worried about being swept away but eventually got free and gushed forward through the rapids and heard yells of  'Over here!' I managed to steer over to the bank against the current but then found myself in quiet water with a couple of the others. We waited a while for everyone to come through and then one by one steered down past The Razorbacks. Even in the dark I could see the unyielding stone wall under the water.
Bob told us later that a previous group of kayakers had serious issues with these rapids but wouldn't go into details so I was impressed that we'd all got through with out any incidents. Apparently more fatalities have occurred here than anywhere else on the river. Jolly glad he told us that afterwards and not before. A couple had to get out of their boats to get off the rocks but we'd all stayed in control. Bob said 'it was a testament to our abilities that we all came back okay', so we all fluffed and preened with pride for a bit after that comment.
The rest of the paddling was smooth but some in the group were getting tired, then we rounded a corner and there was the moon! Big and orange, hanging above the trees, it was a wonderful sight, restoring our energy. A couple of miles later we arrived at Shepherdstown and looked up at The Bavarian Inn, it's bright lights welcoming us back. We'd paddled 12 miles but I didn't want to get out, I could've paddled all night until sunrise.
After 2:00am I arrived home and forced myself to unload Big Red and put him back in the barn knowing tomorrow I would be glad I'd done that before turning in for the night. I collapsed into bed relishing the fact that there was nothing that I had to get up for in the morning. I was exhausted but it had been a magically exciting and fabulous trip.

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