Answering The Call
Years ago when I first started paddling, I criss-crossed almost every body of water I could find in Northwest Ohio in my Malibu II sit-on-top Ocean Kayak. I thought this sturdy and noble craft was the cat's meow. There wasn't a lake, river or drainage ditch I wouldn't tackle on any given afternoon. While I've long since upgraded to more traditional touring kayaks and gear, most of my learning trials and tribulations took place while exploring in that boat. I learned to fall in love with kayaking and I also experienced many moments that would have made the three stooges proud.
One Indian summer afternoon in early October on the Maumee River, near Toledo, Ohio, I decided to take an extended cruise for an afternoon of kayaking bliss. Temperatures had started to cool the waters at night in the area, but on this afternoon, the sun was blazing and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. The thermometer registered in the high 70's and I wasn't ready to break out my cold weather gear. The setting was right for nothing more than my boat, gear, a bathing suit and my smile.
I had launched at a little used river access along the river west of Providence Metropark. I left the shore and paddled with excited determination and a sense of adventure. At several spots along the river there are small tributaries that intersect the river and offer various exploring opportunities. I'd gleefully duck my boat in and out of these overgrown creeks and see how far I could stoke into them until deadfall or water depth kept me from gaining any more ground.
During one of these exploration excursions I wandered up a usually tree choked Turkeyfoot Creek. I was surprised to find that recent rains had cleared out some of the deadfall and I could traverse farther up the creek than I had ever before! At a few spots where trees were submerged only a few inches underwater, I could build up speed and seal launch right over them and keep right on going. I had gotten to a point where I realized I was in the middle of nowhere and blocked from making anymore headway. I was in a steep-banked creek gully with nowhere to easily land and nature's call was banging at my bladder like a landlord looking for the rent.
Since I was in a stagnant section of the creek bordered by nothing but wilderness and the distinct rotting smell of soaked vegetation and wet bark, I was not enthused with climbing a slippery, muddy slope for relief. I then looked over the side of my boat into some of the murkiest, scum-laden, muck-bottomed water I had ever seen. While my excursions into these creeks were fun, I never said it was pristine water. For all intents and purposes, I was stuck up a creek, with my paddle, but nowhere to land except for some large deadfall trees floating and trapped in the backwater. The shoreline was too steep to climb and there was nowhere to land my boat. Usually liking privacy when attending to such matters, I looked around and thought "no time like the present to shake the dew off the lily!"
If you've ever seen a Malibu II and it's 34" beam, it is about as stable a boat as a Mississippi River Barge. Divers use this boat to dive from and I've surfed this boat on Lake Erie without being tipped. Not wanting to dangle anything over the side of the boat let alone my legs or another appendage that's near and dear to me. I proceed to use Nadia Comaneci-like agility to pull myself up on my knees and attempt to stand in my boat. Like Nadia sticking her landing from the balance beam, I triumphantly made it to the upright and locked position.
When I said I had packed my gear, bathing suit and my smile, that's about it, I wasn't wearing much more than my smile. For whatever reason, I had grabbed a pair or spandex running shorts instead of my loose fitting bathing suit. When I realized my mistake, I was already at my launch and figured who was going to see me anyhow? As I prepared to arch a steady stream of relief into the murky water, I realized that the shorts were a bit more unmanageable than a regular pair of swim trunks. The shorts were already wet and keeping true to spandex, they were stuck skin-tight to my legs. While balancing, I realized that this was going to be harder than it looked in my mind. I balanced with one arm and used the other to peel the top edge of the shorts partway down my rear to help facilitate unobstructed release!
As the last remains of ballast left its storage compartment, that's about the time I zigged when I should have zagged. The wet shorts proved to be my undoing as I proceeded to fall off balance while trying to tug them back over my waterlogged rear. My upright position started to resemble the off-balance position of a tight-rope walker readying his last will and testament. Arms flailing and boat shifting, I flipped forward in movie-like slow motion and caught myself on a scum covered log only inches from brackish death.
The good part was that I caught myself. The bad part was that my upper body was suspended on a log in the push-up position and my feet and lower body were precariously balancing on my boat and my half-bare ass was pointed to the sky over a neck deep cesspool of newly pee contaminated water.
Have you ever seen a sailor step one foot on the dock and one foot on his boat and the boat starts to drift into the harbor? This is what I looked like, except I was in the push-up position and precariously teetering over water I really did not want to drop into. Each time I tied to flex and pull the boat closer to me, the log I was using to suspend my upper body would drift the other way.
Just as my strength started to wan, a realization hit me. The realization of what was about to happen would be as an unpleasant experience as I've been a party to. Arms starting to tremble and my abs starting to light fire from holding myself in suspended animation, I made one last ditch effort to pull my body and boat together. This last and valiant effort would have made gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi proud, but it wasn't meant to be as the tree trunk I was using for support shifted in the muck and proceeded to dump me belly smack style into a face full of warm ooze and backwater bile. From the air the last thing you would have seen would be my lily white butt cheeks submerge beneath the surface.
I erupted from the water like Shamu performing at SeaWorld only to find that my plunge had sent my boat to the other side of the creek. I took off like Olympic swimmer Mark Spitz looking to add more hardware to his collection and covered the ground between my position and the boat in warp speed. With noodle arms and melted legs, it took several good tugs before I was safely onboard and rocking back and forth like a small child in a horror film.
It was then that the scene from the movie "Stand by Me" entered my head. Upon navigating chest deep through a swampy area, the child actors in the scene realized that they were covered in leaches and most notably near their plumbing. In my second flurry of arms and legs that afternoon, I twitched, slapped and inspected every square inch of my body for alien visitors and just like the movie, I slowly and carefully peeked down below before exhaling a sigh of exhausted relief.
Pulling myself together I hand paddled over to my paddle and began stroking back out the tributary. Upon reaching the free flowing waters of the Maumee River, I rolled out of my boat and proceeded to wash off what little dignity I had left. I limped back to my put-in, swearing never to tell a sole.
I guess enough time has passed and I can look back and laugh. That was the first and last time I ever tried a full moon while standing in Malibu.
Submitted by: Eric Slough - Toledo, OH
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