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The Paddle-less River

My husband Gary and I traveled with friends to the scenic Sand Hills region of Nebraska for a weekend of camping and dove hunting, which included a maiden voyage on the Calamus River in our new inflatable Sea Eagle kayak. We camped under a golden canopy of rustling cottonwood leaves on the bank of the slowly flowing Calamus River--the perfect warm fall weekend. Our plan was to be dropped off by the other couple upriver and paddle (mostly float) back the seven miles to our campsite.

The night before, we had ventured into the town of Burwell for burgers and beer. The bartender overheard us talking about kayaking down river and warned us that there were rapids at one spot on the Calamus. He said that the rapids were very dangerous that year because of the low water level of the river which exposed the rocks. He cautioned us that many people had been injured at that particular site during the past few weeks. I figured I could handle any local "rapids", as I'd never even seen any true rapids in Nebraska in the sixty-five years I'd lived in the state.

I considered myself an experienced kayaker; one who had just returned from a kayak trip in Belize where I'd had to paddle for my life in a sudden storm twelve miles offshore. That trip included monstrous waves, 40 mile an hour winds... and that, fellow kayakers, is another real "misadventure" story! But rapids in Nebraska? Sure, a piece of cake!

We gathered our gear, snacks, cell phone and inflated the kayak. Our friends dropped us off in the middle of nowhere and left us. For this forty pound overweight, unfit sixty-five year old gal, it was tough hauling all the gear, life jackets, and the inflated kayak through what seemed like miles of tall nettles and thorny bushes. I was ready to get on my knees and give thanks when we finally reached the river bank. "Pack light" is not part of my vocabulary. As usual, Gary had worked himself into a bad mood complaining about all the extra "stuff" I had packed which had increased our load. Of course I had packed too much emergency equipment considering that the deepest part of the river was probably two feet! Ready to go at last! When I asked my husband, "Where are the paddles?" All of a sudden his surly facial expression turned sheepish!

Truly, we were - Up a #$%@ creek with no paddles! There were no houses in sight, no traffic on the isolated road and no cell service! It was way too far to walk back to our campsite. Gary found a branch to help steer the kayak and thankfully we knew the river would flow (however slowly) back to that campsite. I had visions of still flowing on the river well into the night. I was glad that I "over packed" and had plenty of provisions but I hadn't considered needing a flash light!

Finally, we reached the "rapids". Now you have to know that rapids in Nebraska would be considered "a little faster water with rocks sticking up" any other place. These rapids actually turned out to be a good thing for us. Among the debris lodged against the rocks, we found a broken piece of a two by four, which compared to the branch we had been using, considerably increased our speed and course. Thanks to our new "paddle" we arrived at the campsite before dark. I believe it may be the first time anyone has kayaked with a branch and a two by four!

The lesson to be learned from our "misadventure" is - be sure to add "paddles" to your check list or you too may find yourself "Up a @#$% Creek with No Paddle!"


Written by: Carole Thrasher - Nebraska


For more great stories: See the Archive!


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