A DUCK IN THE CREEK
No, I’m not a winged critter, though I saw plenty of happy fowl on my kayak down Swift Current Creek, April 9, 2021. Clouds floated across a pale blue sky, the thermometer sat around 11 degrees Celsius, and the wind was 22 mph from the southwest – a tail wind for the most part, I concluded.
Joined by a friend, I looked forward to this first paddle of the year. I had reconnoitred the creek a few days earlier, and though there were several rocky passages, I decided we could get through with a few short portages. We drove down the back alley behind my friend’s house around noon, loaded her kayak in the back of the truck alongside mine and headed for the southside of the city.
While she and my husband unloaded the kayaks, I danced about on one foot then the other changing my shopping shoes for booties and Dawgs, grabbing gear that hadn’t been loaded in my kayak – and in general looked like a newbie without a clue. For someone who double-checks gear, insists on precise timing and lives on the premise “a place for everything and everything it its place” this was an awkward start.
My humiliation increased as my husband launched me into the creek just after my friend floated away. As the current caught my kayak and whirled me backward down the creek, I realized the water flowed much higher and faster than three days earlier, and I hadn’t freed my rudder and could not put it down. I yelled at my friend and I managed to get myself turned around and up beside her so she could release the strap. Back in control, I promised myself a deep breathe. Not a chance! I rounded a corner right into a stretch of rapids that required picking a route through a boneyard of rocks.
From one side of the city to the other we would go through seven sets of rapids, some so narrow, maneuvering through the rocks at speed injected adrenaline into our systems, like junkies getting a fix. The high carried us down longer stretches of quiet water, protected from the chill wind by steep banks of dried grasses. Pairs of Mallard ducks came out of hiding and led us down the creek for some distance away from their nests. I enjoyed these restful moments, when chatting with my friend about the last set of rapids or what appeared ahead, prepared us for the next wild ride.
We passed under eight narrow bridges and found we had plenty of head room – until we didn’t! Coming up fast on the last walking bridge, I suddenly realized the higher water made necessary easement iffy. In the lead, I yelled at my friend, and as the creek swept me under the bridge I slid down as low as I could in my cockpit. With my hands raised, protecting my head, I felt the steal girder tickle my finger. On the other side, I looked back and saw my friend slide free. No decapitation today!
Now, I split my attention between the water course and my phone, so my husband could locate us for the take-out. As we yelled out recognizable landmarks along the bank, we approached another rapid. I dropped the waterproof case holding my phone, which I’d tied onto my kayak, and calculated the best route through the rapid. A jungle of rock showed on the left, metres ahead of two big rocks that rose out of the white water on the right. I steered right, heading for what looked like the deepest water between the two biggest rocks. My kayak should just fit. With my rudder up, the current caught my bow. I paddled hard aiming for a grassy strip on the right, but the big rock caught me, tipped me on my side and flung me over.
My paddling buddy passed between the two rocks as I came up for air. “What should I do she called?” “Stay in your kayak,” I returned, knowing we’d have even more trouble if she got out in the fast-flowing water. Gasping from the shock of the cold water, I slid out of my overturned kayak, and found I could easily stand. Now I faced a new quandary. The current pressed my kayak against the large rock, with such force I couldn’t slide it free. I had a steep bank on my right, and a 14.5 long kayak with only 4.5 feet of water between rock and bank. It took ever bit of muscle I had to pull it off the rock and angle it downstream, until I could slide it onto a low spot on the bank. I pumped my kayak out, while my friend backpaddled and picked up a few tips on what to do when you capsize. DON’T CAPTZIZE IN THE FIRST PLACE is my best advice. An inch of water sloshed around me as I continued downstream, located my husband on the west bank and began the yelling discussion of the best take-out spot. He jumped back in his truck and we met up on the far side of the #4 highway. I paddled downstream, did a quick upstream turn around my paddle into an eddy, where the quiet water helped me maneuver my bow onto a grassy bank and get out safely. My friend joined me. We dumped the remaining water out of my kayak, loaded, and I took advantage of the drybag I always carry with a spare set of clothes, and changed. Although all my gear was soaked, I didn’t lose anything but a plastic water bottle. At least, my professional packing and preparation paid off.
We both agreed it was a wonderful adventure – a prime start to the paddling season. I got the advantage of practice, and she received a lesson in what not to do, and what to do, when the ‘not to’ part throws you a curve. I’ll quack along with the happy ducks for a while.