Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Sometimes the best information comes from the most unexpected places! In this case, the unexpected place was . . . . my Dad!
A little background - for those of you that don't know my Dad, the man (to his knowledge) has never been wrong - about anything. Let me give you a couple examples, one from the past and one from a few days ago, to illustrate my point.
My Dad and I launched a borrowed 14 foot canoe in Skilak Lake just about ten years ago, with the intention of floating a portion of the Kenai River. Now this was not a sturdy Old Town canoe, wide of beam and generous of free board - this was was the boating equivalent of about 4 cases of aluminum Coke cans, pounded into a vaguely canoe-like shape. The rivets all leaked, the seats were split and slowly separating from the sides, and with two grown (okay, overgrown) men loaded with their gear, it was a delicate balancing act to keep the lake water from eagerly slopping over the gunnels to join the growing puddles seeping up through the floor.
Never-the-less, my Dad and I gamely paddled towards the river outlet. It was a gorgeous morning but clouds in the distance promised a change in the weather before the day was out. It being the first week of September, huge red chinook and sockeye salmon porpoised by the boat, exhausted from their journey from the ocean and perhaps already spawned out and soon to die. Bald eagles observed the struggling salmon from treetops as the outlet narrowed and grew shallow, gently sucking the canoe into the river channel with just an occasional corrective paddle stroke. Dad and I spoke little as we enjoyed the day, the scenery and each other's company.
We continued on like this for perhaps a couple hours, paddling just enough to keep the canoe centered in the river and unwrapping the camcorder from a garbage bag to take some footage here and there as the mood struck us. We were paddling what is known to anglers as the Middle Kenai River (the area shaded in red on this web link) at the perfect time of year when quiet is the goal as we saw only a boat or two the whole time. We covered about 11 river miles with very little effort on our part and I noticed a caution sign on the right side of the river just as we were passing it. As I was in the bow and Dad was in the stern, I called over my shoulder, asking him what the sign said and he replied he didn't know exactly but it wasn't anything to worry about.
Another 200 yards down the river and not only was the second sign very plain in outlining the danger ahead, we could hear the water tumbling through the canyon of what we later learned was Naptown Rapids, a Class III and sometimes Class IV section of white water. A quick note on Alaskan river hydraulics - glacier fed rivers like the Kenai rise when the weather is warm, and slow down when the weather cools, as it is the melting glacier that determines the flow, not snowmelt or rainfall. This warm, sunny September day after a hot August had the river at Naptown moving briskly, an easy Class III, and Dad and I steered the canoe to the river bank to talk it over. The talk did not go quite how I expected . . . . .
It seems that Dad felt we should run the rapids, and briefly outlined his plan for doing so, calmly explaining at what point I should "pull hard on the right" and how we would "shoot by right to the left of that big rock" then "whip to the left bank to avoid that overhanging tree". Well. Let me tell you that at this time in my life I was still commercial fishing in the inlet, and I was very comfortable around water, and was fairly handy with a canoe paddle. But I KNEW there was no way that would work - any of it. In an equally calm voice (my Dad and I don't yell at each other - never have - because I'd like to think we've never needed to), I explained to Dad that there was no way that would work, and that we needed to walk along the bank, holding onto the rope on the bow of the canoe, and get back in when we were below the rapids.
Well. As I said, my Dad has never been wrong, and he was not going to concede to being wrong for the first time in his life on the bank of some river in Alaska. So . . . I said okay. Not because I thought it was remotely possible, but because he was wearing my Stormy Seas float coat (a jacket with a built-in life preserver inflated by pulling a cord and activating a small carbon dioxide cartridge), and I had a fairly confident view that even though the next 2 minutes weren't going to be pleasant, the situation was survivable. With dawning understanding of how this was going to play out, I told him to inflate the jacket, as we would definintely be going in the water.
We pushed off from the bank and I began "pulling hard on the right" as instructed, and for about 5 seconds I had this brief glimmer of hope that by golly, the old man was right as usual, and we were going to be fine. And we were - right until the first real wave, when we took about 24 inches of blue glacial melt right over the bow of the canoe, knocking me backwards off my seat and completely swamping us instantly.
Okay, this has gone long and I need to close for tonight and get some sleep. I'll finish the story tomorrow, and go on to tell you the recent incidence of Dad being right, and the good information he gave me that I realized was going to become a new addition to my apex journey, perhaps one of the biggest.
Oh, the picture at the beginning of the post you ask? That is a picture of the mailbox at the end of my driveway - photographed from space! Tommorow, I will post another view of the same thing, from a little higher up. These images were taken from Google Earth, a free download which is just amazing if your computer graphics card is up to the chore. I've had a blast with it, using it to study Alaskan terrain, both new and familiar, to plan adventures and relive old ones. Like a Dad's advice, sometimes the best things in life ARE free.