We all have those days that we'd like to forget, whether it's at home, at work or at play. Like with life, we can have ultimate highs and canyon-like lows. In the paddling world, I usually float in the clouds and very rarely do I have a down day on the water. There is an old sailors saying that a "bad day on the water, is better than a good day on land."
When I first started paddling, I began this hobby by investing in a mid-level sit-on-top kayak that could be paddled as a single or a double. It didn't take long before I was putting mile after mile on my boat and body in this barge-like vessel. My geographic area on the western end of Lake Erie usually calls for lots of open water and large open rivers. Always wanting to share a paddling adventure with a friend, a buddy and I created "Paddle Tuesday." This was going to be a weekly after work get away when I would show up with the boat and we would launch ourselves on some unsuspecting water way in the area.
We were both excited when we showed up at our launch point on the Maumee River for our first evening of what was supposed to be a full summer of adventures. The Maumee is known to be wide, straight and free of obstacles. It usually offers little to no strainers, sweepers or death inducing logs or rocks. Our planned trip consisted of trying to cover 19 miles of water, paddling down stream, after work and before it got dark. If you do the math, you don't have to work for NASA to figure out we had about four hours before it got dark.
There was no ribbon cutting, fireworks, brass bands or politicians kissing babies when we decided to set out on our inaugural night of Paddle Tuesdays. The only thing that greeted us was a fairly swollen river, a break in the rain clouds and impending doom that wasn't supposed to strike our region until well after midnight (famous last words from a weather man that can be wrong 99% of the time and still keep his job).
We unloaded our gear and proceeded to run down our check list: paddles check, pfd's check, boat check, brains left at home, common sense still in the truck, courage above average. As you can see our trip had all the makings of two naļve rookies, setting out with the Grim Reaper serving as our tour guide.
If you've ever seen a top fuel dragster race, picture us both getting into my boat and peeling away from our put-in like a funny car at the starting line. The rain-swollen river was clocking about 4.698 seconds per quarter mile or in kayaker terms about 40,000 cfs. The light tower hit green and we were off! Two paddle strokes from both of us and we were shooting down the river equal to any greased lightening I've ever seen!
The first third of the trip contained nothing but good times, fast water and a sense of adventure we hadn't experienced before, and then someone turned out the lights. The skies turned dark, like someone had pulled the drapes closed. The first lightening strike made the hair stand up on my neck. We both looked at each other like this trip was the other's idea. The second lightening strike made the Fourth of July look like a sparkler convention.
With one car at the put-in, and the other car at the take out, we had no choice but to keep paddling. After the third massive lightening strike, somebody proceeded to dump bucket after bucket of water on my little craft as the scupper holes worked like mad to bail us out. If you had been on shore we would have looked like we were sitting in the middle of the river. The boat disappeared beneath us, as the self-bailers couldn't keep up with the torrential downpour. We were paddling ourselves as well as an additional 75lbs of recycling water in the boat.
At this point in time we were both starting to sweat our situation. Like idiots we decide to link ourselves together with a painter I had stored in the front of the boat. We each tied one end to each others pfd. Why we decided tie ourselves together is beyond me? Why do people in movies boil water when a baby is being born? If you asked me that question now, I'd respond with "why would I want to tie myself to an anchor, if he goes down, so would I?"
As the rain came down the water level continued to rise. Northwest Ohio is all flat farmland. When the rain comes down, it pauses for a second in the fields and then runs quickly to the nearest low spot it the area. We just happened to be in the middle of the lowest spot in Lucas County, the Maumee River! As the water came down, the water continued to rise and we were being pushed even faster down the river.
There are two sets of rapids on the Maumee, The Weir Rapids and the Turkeyfoot Rapids. On normal days these rapids are 1+, at moderate water there can be 2-3 ft. standing waves, but nothing that anyone would consider dangerous. The Maumee is several hundred yards wide at these spots. During our trip, these intersections looked like a blender on surge. Twice we had to motor through these areas in our already semi-capsized boat. Any other open deck boat would have taken on so much water that paddling would have been impossible.
As we rounded the bend on our way to the take out, it was a dead heat between our craft, a large tree and a hunk of missing dock. The photo finish had us winning by a nose in a time of 2.5 hours! We pulled off a 19-mile journey at an average rate of over nine miles per hour. Seabiscuit couldn't have clocked a better time. We were both shaking when we pulled out after our harrowing escapade. I remember kissing the ground, lucky to be alive.
Needless to say our Paddle Tuesday idea petered out after round two. Our second attempt two weeks later found the Maumee River to closer resemble the Sahara desert than the mighty river we had braved two weeks before. We would paddle a hundred yards at a stint before we would have to get out of the boat and walk down the middle of the river for two miles. Paddle Tuesday started out like a lion and retreated like a lamb.
The final image we both have of our last trip on the river was me standing ankle deep in the middle of the river, five hours after starting, mosquito bitten, tired of walking, the clock creeping closer to midnight and yelling at the top of my lungs at the million-dollar home on shore "you all got taken, you didn't buy houses on a river, you bought on a mud-flat!"
Submitted by Eric Slough - Toledo, OH
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