Monday, April 4, 2016

Contrast: The more things change

The first paddle of the season is always euphoric. A winter of hiking generally curbs the craving for exercise; I love the strain of my hamstrings after a long hike on the Georgia AT, but nothing, simply nothing, compares to being on the river. It's the Broad River, outside of Danielsville, which ties for Beavertail Point in Michigan's UP for the closest place to heaven I can imagine.

Three or four years ago, I was with two of my daughters on the first weekend Broad River Outpost opened in March and it was chilly. That day I went in the river three times, while my daughters swished me aside and retrieved my kayak. I could have done it myself, but "We got it, Mom," they said. So I waited and shivered while they emptied my kayak and handed me back my paddle. That day I lost a camera, a shoe when my foot got entrapped, and probably a couple of water bottles.

But this is a different kind of paddle. For one thing, it's warm. I'm with a friend, or I think he is a friend. I'm not sure exactly what he is yet, but he is a lot of fun. He's never been kayaking on a river before and the Broad has some challenges. Today we've had a lot of rain and it's higher than I've ever run it. My friend loses it on the first feature and goes in, but he keeps his paddle. We manage to get to the rocks where he rights himself, and he stays in his boat on all the other rapids, including the four-foot drop and the Roostertail, which I think is the most furn and the hardest to navigate. I'm in my white water Pyrana for the first time on the Broad and it manages the rapids with ease, but it's tippy. I stay up. My dry bag keeps my phone and our lunch dry. I get to the take out with both shoes.

There's no huge difference in this paddle and the one three or four years ago, except I've paddled a lot more and have a better kayak. But those variables don't mean a lot. It depends on the rain and the river. I've run the Yellow River and the Broad and the Chattahoochee and the Cartecay over and over in the past few years.  Sometimes they were a cakewalk and sometimes they were terrifying. Once on the Yellow I thought I really might die in a Class IV hydraulic. I'm not constructing the river as a metaphor for life or anything; it's just a body of water, and it changes like everything else. But it's true that plus les choses changent, plus elles restent les mêmes.

Rivers are eternal. Mark Twain knew it, as did Langston Hughes and James Dickey. I know a little about rivers myself now and the more I'm in the water, the more I learn to trust or at least accept it. Same river or different river, there's no better place on earth to be than in the water. The river always knows where to go.

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