I never had the opportunity to do much canoeing as a young man, mainly because we never owned one. My father loved fishing but since he could not swim, he wanted no part of climbing into a canoe. He did however make sure that us kids all went to swimming lessons each summer. Unfortunately for me, it was while attending those swimming lessons that I can the closest to drowning in my life!
I could barely swim and had very little confidence in my swimming abilities, yet I decided to swim out to the dock on Lake Eau Claire. It was a short trip, maybe 15 yards at the most. As I was swimming towards the dock, a speedboat approached the swimming area at a high rate of speed, despite the area being clearly marked off by floating markers as well as by brightly painted ropes.
The boat raced towards me at full speed, and at the last moment it turned suddenly causing a huge wake that crashed into me, causing me to swallow so much water I passed out. When I came to again, I was floating about 5 feet from the dock. I swam over to it and climbed up on the dock, and luckily for me I spent the next 30 to 45 minutes throwing up water. I was sick for several days after that, probably from all the algae and bacteria I swallowed.
The boat operator had to have seen the whole thing, but instead of stopping to help me, he sped off leaving me there unconscious. I will never forget that day, and never quite understood how someone could be so careless and reckless in operating a boat like he did. Since that time, I have met several other people in my life that have been total jerks on the water.
Maybe that is one reason why I like canoeing on the Swanson River or other quiet places so much. Places where we are away from some of those characters, who really should not be allowed to operate a boat anywhere.
Through the years I have gotten into some interesting situations while canoeing or floating a river in a small boat. More than once I have fallen out of a boat or canoe, but luckily for me I have never been seriously hurt on any of these trips.
Shallow water can make what would normally be a pleasant trip, a real nightmare instead, especially if you have a long ways to go. We spent several days canoeing on the Eau Claire River one time when the water was so shallow in spots, that we could barely drag our almost empty canoe. Not only were we totally beat at the end of our trip, we pretty well trashed my brother's canoe as well. I felt really bad about that, but it wasn't something we intentionally did. I made that same trip one more time and it wasn't much better the second time around, so that particular section of the river never saw me again.
On one other trip on the Eau Claire River, we again found very shallow water and ended up walking about ten miles that day. Wearing wet blue jeans full of river sand can make for some pretty miserable walking conditions - sort of like gluing sand paper on the inside of your pant legs. Yes, after a while it does make you walk funny, in fact it can make you think very seriously about spending a few days being a couch potato!
Here in Alaska I have also spent some rough days on the Swanson River due to shallow water or bad weather. Just surviving five straight days of rain can be quite a feat in its own right, but when you combine bad weather with shallow water the trip can turn from pleasant to miserable in a very short time. I know I must have gotten out of my canoe 500 times on one trip because of extremely shallow water.
I also know what it is like to be soaking wet and having all your gear soaked, and yet it continues to rain for days on end. But once you are home, you can look back and think, "Wow, I did that and survived! We fought the weather and shallow water and still made the 14 mile trip in pretty good time besides fishing and hunting!".
I have taken quite a few people of all ages down the Swanson River, and each trip was a new adventure in some way. Through the years I have accumulated better equipment and have become a little better at knowing what to bring along each time, as well as what not to bring along.
On Wednesday, March 3rd I attended the funeral service for Joe Lee of Kenai who passed away recently from cancer. It was at the funeral that I was told a little about Joe's life and some of the adventures of his lifetime. I also learned that my canoeing experience is really nothing at all. I thought traveling 14 miles by water in a canoe was quite a feat, till I heard about Joe Lee and his canoeing trips.
Joe once got into his canoe some place in Canada, and never stopped till he was in the Gulf of Mexico! After hearing that story, I think I will just tiptoe away from this computer and sneak off by myself, as I feel pretty humble about my canoeing adventures compared to what Joe Lee had quietly done. See you next week!
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