Canoeing: You can get wet – or worse

Canoe on bank
The Winchester Wasteway earlier this month.

An earlier post here told about a canoe trip on the Winchester Wasteway taken by Officer John and Editor John. That served as a practice run for Officer John to take his friend Keith on a return trip to Central Washington’s Wasteway this Memorial Day.

His quick summary of the latest trip: 99 percent perfect.

So what about the other one percent? Here’s his report:

“I paddled the Winchester Wasteway Saturday for the second time in 17 days, this time with my friend Keith, who has a canoeing merit badge.

“We made the trip with a different attitude. When Officer John & Editor John made the trip, we had the attitude that we were to paddle fast — fast enough to make the trip in less than the oft-reported 12 hours. So we paddled fast and did the trip in about five hours paddling time.

“Armed with this experience, Officer John lectured Keith on the attitude of speed: Don’t. Paddle easily. Let’s take our time. Relax and enjoy the scenery. When possible, let the current do the work. Take advantage of the current to rest those tired arms.

“So we paddled for two hours and rested for 30 minutes. Then we paddled for two hours and rested for 30 minutes. Then we paddled for an hour and a half and got within 75 yards of the take-out at the end of road C.

“Remember now, we were taking it slow and easy the entire route.

“Seventy-five yards from the take-out, the current bumped the canoe against the right bank. The canoe flipped over and tossed us into at least three feet of water. We struggled to our feet and stood up just in time to watch our belongings float downstream.

“With tremendous difficulty we were able to walk the canoe past rocks and protruding tree roots to the take-out and, finally, to safety.

“We were not pleased with this clamorous end to an otherwise perfect paddle trip, which Keith estimated with some electronic authority to be 15 to16 miles.”

John and Keith want to remind us all that no matter what the paddle rating is, no matter how placid the situation seems, be careful out there.

They got wet, but their story prompted me to check on an incident where something worse happened. I mentioned that incident in a post on this year’s trip to the Buffalo River in Arkansas. On the day that Kathy and I were supposed to put in, the river at Buffalo Point was at 22 feet – the National Parks System closes the river to paddlers when it is at 10 feet.

Unfortunately for four canoeists farther upstream, they were already camped along the rising river. They tried to paddle out. Some of the four canoes flipped. Three paddlers made it to safety, but one did not. The body of Rick Norber, 65, from St. Louis, was found four miles downstream from where he was last seen. Condolences to his family.

This past week, I joined four others to take a canoe class. I paddled my first canoe more than 50 years ago at Boy Scout camp. Despite my canoe partner Bill Shockey (RIP) and I being ordered off the water for splashing others in the class, I also earned a canoeing merit badge. I have been taking regular water trips these past three years. But the class this past week taught me some new techniques and served as another reminder of how to stay safe and what to do to keep from going from wet to worse.