Wednesday, August 1
I check to make sure we have everything for our float trip down the Madison River. My Sevelor inflatable canoe is in its bag behind the driver’s seat of the PTV. I have marine rope to lace through the grommets once she’s inflated. Two life vests for the crew, paddles, Coleman air pump, water shoes, and my camera with extra batteries in a heavy-duty zip-lock baggie. I should’ve bought a waterproof case for the camera. Oh well, this will have to do.
I heft the small cooler with canned goods inside up onto the PTV’s passenger seat. Its purpose is to provide enough ballast to keep my long, two-person canoe from lifting in the front while I’m sitting at the back. If we capsize, cans of corn, tomatoes, and spinach will sink to the river bottom!
Bridget and Spike sense my excitement.
They don’t hesitate to jump into the PTV. I’ve been told a guy with a truck starts ferrying people at 11 a.m. from a boat dock area downstream up to another boat dock area upstream from Red Mountain Campground. He charges ten dollars. The float takes a little over two hours.
I park the PTV in the lot. Several vehicles are already there, fishermen and floaters who have two vehicles, one to leave behind and one to take them upstream. It’s 10:50 a.m.
I wait until 11:30 and the guy never shows.
Hmmm . . . Somehow we’re going to float that river today! In a few moments I have a new plan. I’ll drive to the put-in that’s way upstream. We’ll float downstream, under the bridge, past the other put-in, until we come to our camp on the river. That should make a float of an hour to an hour and a half. Someone at the campground will give me a ride back so I can drive the PTV home.
I drive us upriver and park near the boat ramp.
I pull out the boat, paddles, and the rest of the gear, leaving Bridget and Spike in the PTV. My canoe inflates quickly. Two young boys watch with interest. “Look at that thing. That’s so cool,” one says to the other. Their mothers come along with inner tubes. With much splashing and laughing (one of the mothers is quite large, causing her tube to dump her out), they push off. The current quickly carries them away.
I thread the rope through the grommets spaced all around the canoe. Canoe, what a silly name for this bulbous behemoth! I wedge the weighted cooler into the bow, adjust my seat, and place the paddles lengthwise. Oh boy, now for the crew! Bridget and Spike are very excited, wiggling and barking while I struggle to fasten them into their personal flotation devices. I hook a leash on each PDF.
“Okay, guys! Time to be good, little mariners!”
The crew and I hurry over to the boat ramp and our waiting vessel. Two young women giggle at the sight of Spike in his yellow PDF and Bridget in her red PDF. I lift the crew into the canoe, and Bridget immediately jumps out.
“You want some help?” one of the women calls over.
“Sure! We’ll probably need a shove to get this thing launched while I hold onto these two.”
Soon we are out in open water with me paddling to point the bow downstream.
Oh my gosh, we’re going fast! Spike lies on my lap, motionless with his chin resting on the cushiony side of the canoe. Bridget squeezes herself tight beside me, watching the bushes and trees on the riverbank move mysteriously past us.
I hear one of the women yell from shore, “Don’t worry! We’ll be right behind you if anything happens!”
I pull out my camera and snap a few photos.
I can’t believe we’re finally doing this! While putting the camera back in the baggie, I notice a rock sticking up out of the water. Uh-oh. Better get away from that! I paddle furiously toward the right, but instead of going to the right, the canoe simply swings sideways to the current. Of course, this makes it easier for the current to drive us toward the rock. I’m paddling like crazy. Bridget starts to move around in the boat. “Bridget! Sit DOWN!” It all happens very fast.
We hit the rock broadside.
The water pushes up under the canoe, lifting the side.
Bridget goes to the low side, adding to our predicament. “Geesh, get back, Bridget!” Spike lies on my lap, dead weight, his head down. I look upstream. The women are tiny, orange and pink dots. I dip the paddle over the side and determine it’s about five feet deep next to this rock. No way I can get out and stand. The current is too strong. We need to get off this dang rock before more water tips us!
I wiggle and pry at the rock with my paddle.
In the midst of the struggle, I have to laugh. One rock in the middle of this wide span of water and here we are, perched on it like a big, blue turtle that can’t push off. I wiggle some more, imagining gashes ripped across the bottom of my canoe. In a rush of water, we break free. “Wahoo!” Away we go!
We come to a shallow, placid section of the river.
I can stop paddling and enjoy the scenery. No person or sign of civilization is around us, not in view on either side of the river or downstream. I lean back and relax, dangling my arms in the cool water.
I wonder who has floated this river before us, some 150 years ago or more. For a moment I imagine myself as a young, pioneer woman in calico and high-top, lace-up shoes, on a raft made of rough timbers. My brave husband pushes at the river bottom with a long pole, guiding us and all our worldly possessions downstream toward a frontier outpost on the Bozeman Trail.
Up ahead the water looks funny.
More rocks hide beneath the surface, bubbling up white water. This time I manage to steer clear of them. The highway bridge appears. We easily glide between the pilings. Spike is heavy on my lap so I shove him forward in the boat. He acts paralyzed. Either he’s terrified, asleep, or a little of both. The rocking of the boat is hypnotic.
Bridget, on the other hand, is Queen of the Nile!
She sits up, looking this way and that, like a seasoned mariner. I never expected this from her. I marvel at her confidence. I always thought it would be Spike at the bow –“I’m king of the world!” Instead he’s zonked out on the deck, while Bridget sits erect, completely engaged and fascinated by the adventure.
The river is very wide and we’re on the wrong side.
Soon our camp will appear on the right and here we are, way over on the left. I paddle toward the right bank, making good progress. There’s the big motorhome next to the BLT. We’re almost there.
We’re three-fourths of the way across when we hit a channel.
No amount of paddling will move us across it. Gee whiz! We’ve got to get across or we’ll float downstream to who knows where, with no way to get help. There’s only one thing to do: jump out.
I throw my legs over the side causing water to flood into the boat, dousing my camera in its zip-lock. As soon as I leave the canoe, the current pulls it away from me with great force. I can hardly hold it as I stand on the slippery rocks at the bottom of the river. My slip-on sandals impede me. Darn! Why didn’t I put on the river shoes! I kick off the sandals, retrieve them from the water, and throw them into the boat.
Spike and Bridget are on their feet, nervously sizing up the situation.
I tug and haul and slip and fall, fighting the current, until we finally make it through. Once Bridget sees shallow water, she jumps out like she does this sort of thing every day, and splashes to the river bank. Spike jumps in after her. A few more tugs and I can heft the boat onto the dry rocks on the river bank. Whew! We made it! We’re home!
Bridget and Spike prance around, happy to be on terra firma once more.
Much to my amazement, my camera survived with photos intact!
P.S. Shortly thereafter, fellow camper Renee, a reader of this blog, came by and gave me a lift back to the PTV. I met Renee on a previous day while sitting in my camp chair with a book, next to the crew in the pen.
“Hi, Sue!” she called out as she approached. “I knew it was you! I saw the PTV and BLT when we pulled in.” Ah, celebrity does have its benefits . . . .
July Out-of-Pocket Expenditures: (Previous July costs may be seen in July 25th entry)07/26/12 . . . $7.50 camp fee (The Falls) 07/27/12 . . . $0 camp fee (Grassy Lake Rd) 07/28/12 . . . $40.14 for 11.15 gal. gas @ $3.59 gal., $31.93 groceries, $8.18 sundries, $4.00 camp fee (Red Mtn CG) 07/29/12 . . . $14.39 dog food, $9.66 groceries, $4.00 camp fee (Red Mtn CG) 07/30/12 . . . $4.00 camp fee (Red Mtn CG) 07/31/12 . . . $4.00 camp fee (Red Mtn CG)