The kayak trip up the Tilton River that I reported three weeks ago was so memorable that my son Matthew, his wife Lanita and I decided to duplicate it on Memorial Day by paddling the Skookumchuck River from Schaefer Park to Riverside Park. We wanted to do it before the water level got so low that we’d be bumping our bottoms on the rocks. Anyone who has tried to ride an inner tube down that river in the summertime knows of what I speak.
The first mile or so was wonderful, floating past vegetation on both sides of the river with only an occasional stroke of a paddle to keep us straight. A few areas of ripples along the way caused minor concern, but no problems. Areas of ripples usually mean that the water is flowing over obstructions to the flow along the river bottom — usually rocks. After awhile, the river seemed to be flowing more downhill. The ripples became higher and we were moving faster. In spite of my paddling to stay in the center of the river, the current forced me — rapidly — to the left bank. Suddenly my kayak lurched and twisted. Thrown out, I found myself underwater, wondering which way was up. My personal flotation device automatically inflated underwater and I was soon standing, holding onto the cause of the mishap, a large underwater limb of a fallen tree.
My kayak was floating down river, being chased by Lanita, while Matthew was paddling toward me, fighting the current.
By then, I was standing, holding on to the culprit branch that had caused my kayak to flip. I grabbed onto the rear of his kayak, floating until he managed to paddle to where the water was only knee deep. He got out and helped me stand up.
We needed to get to the right bank for any possible help, which meant fighting the current and walking barefoot — having lost my slip-on shoes — over very slippery and painful rocks of every size and shape. Many times he had to grab me and hold on tight to keep me vertical.
We reached a plot of tough shoulder-high grass, just as painful to walk on as the rocks.
In spite of my insisting I was OK, Matthew insisted I wear his shoes. He called 911 and was connected to the fire department reporting an estimate of our location. The patch of grass turned out to be a small island, so we still had a stretch of river to cross. When we got closer to the bank, we realized it was too steep to climb so plan “B” was put into effect — waiting until something or someone showed up!
In less time than I thought possible, a voice shouted from the top of the bank. We’d been found and were told to wait until a few more aid people could come down to the river bank on a trail downstream. When they reached us, they insisted I lie down on top of Matthew’s kayak, which was towed to the trail. At the top of the trail, I spied a line of three aid cars in a field, a graphic example of the speed and professionalism of their response.
All Matthew had left to do, then, was paddle downstream to meet Lanita, who had caught my kayak, then tow it to Riverside Park, deflate their inflatable kayaks, carry all three across a field, load them into the back of my pickup truck, drive back to Schaefer Park to pick up their car and, then, drive both vehicles to my place. He did this barefoot because it wasn’t until I was being driven home in an aid car that I realized I was still wearing his shoes!
You think there’ll be no more kayaking for this nonagenarian? Aw, c’mon friends, you must know me better than that by now.
Finally, since the nearest aid station to our dilemma was the old District 12 fire station on Harrison Avenue, it pleased me to remember that I had been one of the six members of Centralia Fire Department and District 12 Fire Department that, initially, proposed the public vote to form the Riverside Fire Authority. A special thank you from the three of us to the men and women who are there when we need them.
Bill Moeller is a former entertainer, mayor, bookstore owner, city council member, paratrooper and pilot living in Centralia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.