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Doggone Day on the River

Everyone's been on those trips that just seem to be a series of disasters. One thing leads to another and before you know it - it's chaos. We experienced one such a trip several years ago on the lower Snake River in Minnesota. Although the Snake does have some fun rapids on it, we were quite a bit downstream from them. We expected a fun, fast ride - nothing that couldn't easily be negotiated in an open canoe.

When we hit the river it was high - possibly the highest we'd ever seen it. It was early spring when the runoff from the melting snow fills the rivers. The water was fast and cold. I was paddling with my husband and our 55-pound, shepard/collie dog, Molly. There were three boats, six of us total on the trip, seven counting Molly. Our group included people of various levels of paddling ability, which always proves to be interesting. Our least experienced paddlers were a couple that had no white water experience, and they were going to paddle their lightweight, Kevlar touring canoe.

We had an exciting day canoeing and by the end of the trip the water was screaming. The waves were now constant all the way across the river! What a great time for those of us that were used to it, which included Molly the canoeing dog! But for the couple lacking any white-water experience, in their rather fragile Kevlar boat, it was extremely nerve wracking. Close to the end of the trip the river gets very rocky, and very swift just before it dumps into a larger river, the St. Croix. It was in this home stretch that our friends in the Kevlar canoe lost it. Their boat turned over and they plunged into the icy water. At least we were all intelligent enough to wear life jackets and can all swim.

My husband, Molly and I were one of the first ones to get to the capsized boat. We pulled the woman out of the frigid water. In the meantime the other boat arrived and rescued the guy. At this point there was no way for us to grab the overturned boat, so we left the boat and headed for the shore. We hit the bank, jumped out, quickly made sure the woman was all right and told Molly to stay with her. We then hopped back into our boat and went back out to try to save the canoe.

This is where things started getting a little fuzzy - especially for me! Everyone was in a panic trying to quickly save the people and get back out to chase the capsized boat downstream. In the excitement, when my husband and I jumped back into our boat, for some strange reason he sat in the middle of the boat. This proved to be a bad idea!

We paddled up next to the run away boat. We actually got our hands on it, but since it was upside down there was absolutely nothing for us to hold on to. As we worked to try to coax the boat to shore, over the roar of the river, we could hear the rocks abusing it. Oh what an awful sound - Kevlar crushing. Then the boat got away from us. A few strong paddles might get us back on top of it. Right! My husband was sitting so close behind me that he was within paddle's reach of my head! As he hurriedly swung his paddle around - SMASH - he hit me hard on the back of my head! (I later had to wonder - was this a Freudian slip?!)

I was immediately knocked unconscious and I slumped forward. My husband panicked. He pulled me back into my seat but he had to keep paddling because we were out in the middle of the fast water. I was only out for a minute or so. I came out of it and looked down and there was blood all over my lap. I could also feel blood running down the back of my neck. Now I panicked! If I hadn't seen the blood I might have thought I was OK. In the meantime my husband was paddling like crazy for the shore.

Molly had been not-so-patiently watching all this from the river bank. Now that we were headed for the opposite bank her patience ran out. We hit the shore, and as we started to evaluate the damage to the back of my head, Molly leaped into the water on the other side of the river. She was immediately swept away in the fast water. Doggone!! What a mess! We could see the wet couple on the other side of the river, trying to call her back. Although I was still dazed, I now had to think about her, not me. First we let our friends try to call her back to their side of the river, since she was closer to them. However Molly wouldn't think of turning around. The loyalty of a dog is an amazing thing. We gave up on trying to get her to go back and instead my husband ran down the river, coaxing and encouraging her as she bravely fought the cold water.

They were a long way down the river when Molly finally dragged herself out of the river. When she finally came back up to me her face said, "Wow, that was more than I bargained for!!" We were overjoyed that she was all right.

In the meantime the overturned canoe had finally been rescued. We did what we needed to do so that we were all in one place and excitedly exchanged stories. As it turned out my head quickly stopped bleeding, but I had one heck of a bump and a headache - and few choice words for my husband! Molly was wet - but happy to be with us and out of the river. We were all happy because together we'd saved everyone and everything.

The only ones that weren't too happy were the owners of the Kevlar boat. Ouch. It had taken some nasty abuse in the river and the bow had a large gaping crack in it. It would end up a bit heavier after being repaired, but it would float again - just never, ever in fast, water!

Submitted Linda Brennecke

For more great stories: See the Archive!

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