Big water on the Dead River, those words donít mean much to a first year, but all I knew was that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach had to have some validity. The looming gray clouds didnít help much, nor did Peteís angry mumblings when he realized that several other rent-a-guides and I were all running our very first commercial trip. We tried to act like we knew the routine, but we were obviously just the amusement, or so it felt.
The day was foreboding for us all, but perhaps a little more for Emily and I, who had trained with Unicorn on the Penobscot, and had never seen the Dead at all, but these are the times you have to stand up and just do it, right? Well, thatís what I told myself all morning, and when we finally got to put-in after the sinuous, bumpy, bus trip I had almost convinced myself that I was going to be alright, Ha. So here I am working for North American, on the Dead, at high water, in a Riken (First-year thought: "Whoís ever heard of a Riken!") and the first question of the day is: "Which end is the front?" I had only been on AIREís and did not notice the striking symmetry of the Riken, so of course my response was "Pete, which end is the front?" and so it begins.
Luckily, my boat was a rugged crew of Navy personnel or I think they would have all been aquaphobes Ďtil the end of time because from here, the story gets really ugly.
I made it into driftwood eddy and was ecstatic that I hadnít dumped anyone yet, but has anyone ever noticed how many holes there are on the Dead River? Haydenís finally comes and then Emily falls out, (Yeah it wasnít me!) she swims to her boat and is fine, all the seasoned guides laugh at the first-year fools and run safety for her. Acting cool, I tell my crew the logistics of being "guide popped" to explain why Emily was ejected over the side of her raft and give myself time to relax.
Then it was my turn. Soon after she was back into her boat and we were on our way I found myself swimming in a nice little hydraulic. The swim wasnít too bad except while I was holding on to the side of my boat waiting for rescue I felt my flip line and carabineer slowly inch their way down and off my waist; no matter how wide I spread my legs it still inched, slid, and slipped on down and off my feet into the raging current. One casualty, but on the whole, I didnít feel too bad. I recovered, a little shaken from my first commercial swim, and went on my way.
Our boat hadnít gone too much further and I was in the water again, it just happened, I really had no idea how it happened, but I was under the boat. Realizing my situation, I inched my way out from under the boat and one strong Navy woman heaved me back in. This time they had swum too, some had gotten back into the boat and some were still AWOL. I quickly hauled them back in and pushed on (I must admit, my ego was starting to fail me).
It happened once more before the dreaded BIG POPLAR FALLS, and by this time I was not happy. I had been warned to stay way right in Poplar, but I was freaking out, and just decided that following the boat in front of me would be the best strategy. It was all going well while I followed this awesome wave train and I was feeling a little better.
I guess this was when I missed the boat in front of me take a sharp right. All of a sudden, I was in a giant watery hell (of course, I was swimming along with half my boat) and I got re-circulated, only once, but damn. Fry-o-later, Unemployment Hole, Big Poppa, I donít care what you call it: I was shaken, confused, disoriented, frustrated, cold, wet, and angry. My crew had pretty much figured out that this was my first commercial trip and couldnít believe I had made it through training. When we finally got to calm water all I could think of was "Maybe Iím not cut out for this?" but I am from Ohio and I couldnít just go back home. I just wanted to curl up in a hole. We made it back to base and I sucked it up through the slide show where all of the experienced guides laughed and joked about my horrible day, not that I can blame them now. As we cleaned up and finished the duties for the day I noticed that I was missing my river knife, "Great" I thought "I only get paid $60 dollars for today and I lost a $50 knife, a total of $10 profit." I am a nerd like that.
As I assessed the full and complete damages of the day, it was humiliating and humbling, I swam four times, lost my knife, flip line, carabineer, broke my nalgene bottle, vest and ego. Let me tell you, guiding donít get much worse than that; but what a story to tell over a beer.
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