The River Always Wins


Although very little of the vanity which plagued my youth remains, yet, there is a residue; and it is this trace amount of pride which screams at me, “Don’t write that story!!”  But I shall turn a blind eye and set my pen in motion.

Like other folks, throughout my life, I’ve had passions [writing, fishing, wildlife] and I’ve had passing fancies [guitar playing, acting, singing, skeet-shooting.] But the fancy about which this tale spools is canoeing.

Way back when – about the same time spoons were invented – I took a notion to buy a canoe. I made good use of it in the many lakes and rivers which grace our valley. Then, it got somewhat hum-drum, so I looked for opportunities to spice up this pastime.

That opportunity arose at the end of the following winter. Early melt had filled the creeks, and they, ordinarily placid, became possessed of such chop and torrent as might make canoeing more adventuresome.

Little did I know…

I managed to talk a buddy of mine, Stan, into a two mile float down the Roanoke River. Our wives let us off at one bridge, then went downstream to another to wait for their dare-devil husbands.

The roar from the river was intimidating, and, as we pushed off, I thought Stan looked nervous. I paddled in front, he in back; my job to power the craft, his to steer it. Less than twenty-five yards into the trip – I mean our wives were hardly out of sight – we needed to make a hard left turn to avoid a fallen tree fallen from the bank which would capsize us into that icy water. I realized, we weren’t turning!

I looked back at Stan, the river had worked a terror on him; he sat there not moving. I screamed at him, Stan, start paddling! We’re going into the tree!”

He sat frozen.

Into the tree, and into the water we went. The freezing water forced the air from my lungs, and didn’t do much to improve my body temperature. I was quickly slammed into a stout branch across my chest. I was physically quite strong in those days, able to bench-press well over three hundred pounds. So I tried to push myself back from that limb. I couldn’t budge; the power of the current was like unto a living force.

All I wanted was to put as much ‘gone’ between where I was caught, and standing alive on the bank. Time was short, my only option was to slip under the obstruction, submerge my head, and let that same current push me free;  assuming there wasn’t a second limb submerged below which would trap me…

I’d been given a fistful of short-straws; no time for ‘what-ifs.’ I ducked, was propelled free, and washed up on the bank. But where was Stan? To rejoin the wives one husband short seemed, at best, bad manners. I stared into the tangle of tree, and there he was, clinging on, head above water, just beyond my reach, still frozen in fear.

I yelled at him several times, but such was his pre-occupation with horror, he made no response. I found a branch near-by, and started to whale at him while yelling insults which seemed to do the trick. Stan came to himself, shoved free, grabbed my hand, and joined me on shore.

Our trip had been quite short. But what it lacked in length, our voyage made up for in near-death.

Funny thing is, thank God, we were still in sight of an oft-travelled highway. A Good Samaritan stopped, looking understandably puzzled, and allowed us, soaking wet into his car. May his child rise up and call him blessed!

He drove us to our wives. They didn’t recognize their two fire-eating, valorous husbands, but you may rest assured, once they had gotten passed their relief at our escape, Stan and I were the butts of many jibes, even from our friends who had mysteriously heard all about our short, calamitous sojourn.

Now, you might think that cured me of my lust for canoeing. If you have so concluded, you forget one thing, Young Gahv wasn’t then much brighter than Ol’ Gahv is now.

A few weeks later, I noticed the irregularly spaced dams which serve more as commas than as periods that pause the Roanoke River once it reaches downtown Roanoke.  Let me unpack that sentence: the ‘dams’ are more barricades with horizontal slots to permit the through-put of the currents. Ordinarily, all of the dam could be seen above water, so they weren’t but about four feet tall. But in the run-off of late Winter, the river crested over the whole dam, making the drop a roiling six feet. Perfect for me. Reckon could I ‘shoot the dam,’ i.e., canoe over it?

Well, this answer is, yes, I did. Kinda…

So I loaded that puppy on to my car’s canoe rack as happy as if I had good sense [the conspicuous absence of which was totally lost on yours truly.]

I back-paddled as I stared at the torrent of log-choked angry current crashing over the dam. I took a hard swallow; then, I dug in and went for it! I hit the slot spot on and shot over the dam. My craft shuddered, then righted itself. I breathed a deep sigh of relief as the water, angry at my victory roared about me. I set my paddle across my legs and let the sweet smell of success wash over me. In a moment, that wouldn’t be the only thing which washed over me…

When a powerful current falls from a height, it creates a back-current, a reversal of its usual down-stream course. [This I read about later during my convalescence from cold water induced pneumonia.]

With a subtlety not far from demonic, that back current coaxed my self-congratulating personage back towards the dam as I sat there basking in blissful ignorance. The downpour filled the rear end of my canoe in a twinkling, and just like that, Ol’ Gahv took his second dip of the season.

Over the next few days, I gave the matter considerable thought. Albert Einstein’s comment on genius having limits and stupidity having none came to mind. Of this, I was living proof.

Shortly thereafter I responded to the implied message, and sold my canoe just to be sure I would forever more not be tempted to out-man homicidal spring freshets.

Look for Lucky’s books locally and on-line: The Oath of Hippocrates; The Cotillian; A Journey Long Delayed; Campfire Tales; Sabonics.