Up the creek without a paddle

OK, now I know. The proverbial creek people say they go up without a paddle? I know where that is. I've been there. It's in Idaho. And it's a river, not a creek.

OK, now I know. The proverbial creek people say they go up without a paddle? I know where that is. I've been there. It's in Idaho. And it's a river, not a creek.

A friend and I went canoeing a couple of weeks ago. Not a big whoop in itself. It's something that we do on the Crow Wing River a lot. A nice float down the river fishing for northern pike that dart after a bright spinning lure from the deep dark holes along the banks is very relaxing.

I stopped worrying about not knowing how to swim long ago, at least when on a river. After tipping even an anchor like me has been able to dredge over to one of the banks, or at least hang on to the canoe until some deadfall snagged my shorts.

Now, my friend and I are not known for being real bright. In fact, his father often says that between the two of us, we have no more brains than a dung beetle. Again, appropriate given the creek we were up.

So it wasn't surprising that we found ourselves on a new adventure -- unprepared. We were in fact, trying a different river -- namely, Henry's Fork of the Snake River in Idaho. But a river is a river, right?


As we got ready to take off I noticed the water was moving a bit faster than what we were used to. I could accept that. Looking across to the other bank the occasional ripple became white-water as it splashed against large boulders lying just below the surface. Down river white waves turned into a frothing gully. I shivered a little and asked again, "How deep?"

I was assured that it was only three or four feet -- most of the way. Well that wasn't too bad. As long as I remembered that should we mishap, in the middle of panic, all I had to do was stand up.

We maneuvered magnificently through most of the white water, gliding back and forth around threatening boulders and waves. Sure it was faster than we were used to, but we had the hang of it. Even the guys that dropped us stopped watching from high atop the canyon walls that lined the river.

What a surprise then that on a quiet bend, the canoe began to tilt. Don't know why, it was just time I guess.

"Here we go," I said as we plunged into the 50-degree water.

Immediately our paddles, his life-vest, my shoes, and our water bottles disappeared. Poof -- like that. Immediately I panicked. But then I remembered: stand up. That was easier said than done. Fast moving water doesn't look near as fast when you are looking at it from the top. It's different trying to stand in it, on slippery rocks, barefoot. It's really fast underneath. I don't know what the scientific term for swiftness of water is but I figure it was about a million of gallons a second. Even a large fat man like me couldn't stand up in it.

We struggled to hang on to the canoe and one little bag with our dry clothes in it as the river pulled and tossed and twirled us along its course.

Rounding a bend I noticed a fly-fisherman standing on the far bank. Even in my panic the look on his face registered so that I can still see it to this day. A blank "oh-there's-people-floating-down-the-river-and-all-I-wanted-to-do-was-catch-fish" kind of look. Luckily he shook it off and changed his catch of choice from trout to people. In chest-high waders he pulled us in, along with the canoe. He guided us downriver a ways where two friends were fishing near an anchored drift-boat.


We must have looked pretty bad, because panic covered their faces matching what ours must have looked like as we bobbed down the river. The look quickly changed to that of concern.

"Take your clothes off, take your clothes off," they started yelling.

"What!?" I thought. "No, thank you."

Finally I came to realize as the word hypothermia was tossed around, they were concerned that as cold as the water was, we could be in danger. Luckily, I had grabbed the dry-bag with dry clothes in them and we were able to warm up.

Our saviors, two South Dakotans and a guy from Colorado, quickly began to consider the options. They pulled our canoe over to the other side of the river and dropped it on the bank to be picked up later. Then they skillfully guided their drift-boat, with their bedraggled passengers down to the pickup spot.

On the way we met another guided drift-boat that had found not only our paddles, but both my shoes, his life-vest and hat, even our water bottles. "Is everyone OK?" they asked. "We were dreading to see what was coming down the river next."

We were no longer up the creek without a paddle.

My black and blue feet have since healed. Back home in Minnesota I think it might be time to head over for a lazy float down the Crow Wing. I need the rest.

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