Yakkin’ the Bear

There are a few things that everyone who at some time has called Walnut Shade “home” really should do, and I did one of those on Saturday.

The Childs were visiting with us last week, and in the spirit of maintaining tradition, we went to Silver Dollar City on Wednesday, played frisbee golf (no, I did not go on that particular jaunt) on Thursday, and went floating on Friday.  We floated Bull Creek, putting in at Round Mountain Road and taking out at the bridge.  It was a fun float of nearly three hours, even though it was only about 65 degrees, totally cloudy, and we paddled in steady rain for the final mile.

There was also the issue of the downed tree.  Approaching a rapid somewhere between Gaars and Shady Rapids, Scott (ever our intrepid leader) called out that we should go far right.  We did.  He then rounded a bend, made a loud noise of some kind, and commenced hollering and gesturing madly at us to “GET OUT!!!”  Being the compliant types, we did, but not before Tobi and then Neal managed to capsize.  They were fine; startled but not hurt.  Tobi’s kayak was sideways against whatever it was and it filled with water, but the other guys dragged him and it out and drained the water (from the latter).

It turns out there was a tree down across the creek, and it was both too low to shimmy under and too high to float over.  Hence the pile-up.  Andrew, Danette, and I portaged around the offending obstacle and managed to avoid tipping.  = )

The Childs left later that afternoon.  The next day was warm and sunny, and the creek was up even higher.  I say, “the creek,” meaning Bull, but Scott had his eye on Bear.  He asked me if I would go float it with him, and being the W2 that I am, I said yes.

I’m sure our kids realize that I had to have taken complete leave of my senses.  Bear Creek can only be floated about two days of the year – and that not in every year – only when it’s nearly flooded.  It has lots of twists and turns, it’s rockier and drops more than Bull Creek, and it’s just plain scary-looking from the get-go.  What on earth was I thinking?  In the past, I have always been the (ahem) designated driver.  You know, the non-floater; the one who puts folks in at the Reno Springs Road low water crossing and then drives back toward along the creek with the window down, outwardly cheering them on, but inwardly worried for their lives!  I wave and take pictures from the Bear Creek Road bridge and then I drive home and wait.

Not this time.

I was concerned when we got to the slab.  Usually when Scott gets his wild and crazy idea to float Bear Creek (they always did it in a canoe in the past), the water’s three to six inches deep over the slab, but Saturday it was dry!  That meant the creek was several inches lower (read:  more treacherous) than all those other times.  And I was going to float it.  In a kayak that I alone would be controlling.   AARRGGHH!

Two of the kayaks were unceremoniously dropped onto the concrete getting them off the Durango, so let’s just say that tempers were a little raw to begin with.  We launched into that churning, rocky rapid right there at the bridge, and I just held my breath, afraid that at any moment I was going to hit some unseen rock or log and tip.  But I didn’t!  There was some tight navigation and a whole lot of rocks, but for the most part I was able to see my way through and make a decent path between the obstacles.

The weather was absolutely gorgeous, and the creek was beautiful.  We frequently found ourselves following a great blue heron, and I did see one turtle plop off a log.  We saw green herons and heard lots of other birds.   I only got stuck a couple times, and I was either able to scrape and rock myself free, or Andrew – ever the gentleman – would rescue me with a pull or a shove.

Once we got past the Hwy 65 bridge, we were home free, so to speak, but as we cruised along next to Dunn Road, Scott called out that a tricky section was coming; that there were two rocks we would need to avoid.  Okay. . . As usual, he was out front, and Andrew and I wisely hung back to watch how he navigated it.  I’m not a good follower for nothing, you know.  It ended up being a re-run of the previous day on Bull Creek.  There was a bend in the creek there, so Scott couldn’t know till he was on it that a tree was down between the two rocks.  There was no way to get through and he lost it, but since we were in kayaks for only a couple hours (instead of canoes all day) and had only a water bottle and a t-shirt each (instead of an ice chest, a bag of dry food, towels, ropes, sunscreen, car keys, hats, sunglasses) and all the other stuff that we usually carried in the canoes), nothing was lost and no harm was done.

Andrew and I drew up on the near bank and hauled our kayaks through a tangled mess of willows on a squishy gravel bar and put in again just below the downed tree.  Scott extricated himself and his kayak and came to help us.

All in all it was a grand float until the very end.  We had parked a car at the Woods’ house, and when we attempted to land there, it was in a whipping hard current sucking around the bend.  As I tried to beach my boat, I broke Floating Rule #1 (At all costs, NEVER get crossways to to the current) and tipped completely over right there at their yard!  The current was so fast that I had to choose between standing up or trying to hang onto my water-filled-and-on-its-side kayak.  I chose self over boat, stumbled and with effort hauled myself up the bank, let my lovely Dagger kayak drift, and just held onto my paddle.  I figured the guys were slightly below me and would stop the kayak, but the paddle was much smaller than the kayak and therefore much harder to grab.  If I lost the paddle it would quickly be gone for good.

They did drag my kayak out and dump it, so although I was a bit humiliated in the final 30 seconds of the float, it’s now official (and I have witnesses) that I did indeed ‘yak the Bear!!!



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