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Weekend Waves MAG
After my first day at school I was talking to my parents about my new schedule. After they drilled me on how hard I was going to have to work this year, my dad asked if I wanted to kayak the Hudson River in upstate New York that weekend. I wasn’t sure, because there was a football game and I had just returned from a trip on the Salmon River out West, but I decided to go.
Early Saturday, my cousin Sky picked me up and we went to Pocono Whitewater (the outfitter where I work) to load our boats. It was a long five-hour drive, but we eventually got there. Then, we loaded our kayaks onto a beat-up truck that also carried many rafts and waited for the others to arrive. On our way, the bus stopped at the dam that controlled the river’s water levels, and we all got out for a look. It hadn’t opened to release the water we would float on, but it would any minute. A small group of us walked downstream to watch the water level. In a span of five minutes, the water rose five feet; I couldn’t help but feel intimidated by its unstoppable force, but with my new confidence from my trip down the Salmon River, I stored away my anxiety and headed to the put-in.
I listened to the briefing that was similar to when I went down the Hudson at age 12. I had forgotten, though, that the trip began with a two-mile section down the smaller Indian River. This was easily underestimated because, unlike the Hudson, the Indian is a nonstop, class-three rapid without any breaks between the large drops.
Soon I was in my boat, and I pulled off a roll to get used to my tight position in the small vessel. We waited for the rafts to get out ahead, and then I plunged into the large waves that I wasn’t really comfortable in. I worked hard to stay away from the rafts, but I still had to keep up enough speed to break through some of the large hydraulics that dotted the narrow river like bomb craters. Several times I barely saved myself from flipping, as I was sucked in backwards by the waves. Three of the kayakers behind us flipped, and had to swim to shore to empty their boats.
Although it seemed like forever to get off the Indian River, it was really only 20 minutes before our train of kayaks emerged onto the Hudson River. Graciously, the Hudson flattened out to give us time to recuperate from our frantic run. The following rapids were easy to traverse, but I knew not to get too complacent because some of the largest rapids lay ahead.
We stopped for lunch at a small embankment that looked across the river at a rock wall called the Blue Ledge. I remembered this section and the large rapid downstream called the Narrows that flaunts the largest waves on the river. When I had rafted the Hudson at 12 with my dad and brother, I had bent the metal oar-frame on the raft when we hit this rapid. Needless to say, I felt very intimidated by the stories that the guides told about what had happened to those who ran the wrong side.
Feeling good after lunch, I knew I could run this and make it through. All I had to do was keep to the right, and I would miss the large hole that turned the left side of the river into a virtual death trap. At the top of the rapid, I looked down to see the large waves breaking and felt the same bad feeling I’d often had on the Salmon River. The current quickly pulled me into the headwaters of the short but crushing rapid, and I paddled my heart out to keep upright. Soon I was in the slack water of the giant liquid monster, counting my blessings.
I knew not to celebrate too quickly because downstream was the Soup Strainer. This didn’t have the same size waves as the Narrows but it had the largest hydraulics. I decided I was tired of following the others, so I paddled to get ahead of my dad. Soon I was 50 yards in front and could hear the raging Soup Strainer. The current was strong, so I picked the line I would take around the rocks and punched into the dicey waters. This rapid was much longer than the Narrows, but I did okay. At one point I hit a large hydraulic slightly sideways and almost paid dearly, but I managed to right myself and continue.
I had made it through the two largest rapids relatively unscathed, but there was still a big one left. My dad had told me that it wasn’t really a rapid but a large hydraulic that ran across the river. It didn’t look too bad, but turned out to be a good run. This time I followed my dad and we found a nice large one to hit. I knew this was going to be the last large wave, so I made the most of it. I paddled through without a problem and soon the takeout was in sight.
Once again I had accomplished something I didn’t think possible: kayaking a class-four river. Good memories flash through my mind when I think about boating those rivers: the happiness I felt when I successfully floated upright through the rapids, matched only by the sadness when it was time to leave, and the excitement of being in the middle of a large rapid, tossed around like the river’s toy.
Now I can guide customers down the Lehigh River with new confidence. I’m also looking forward to kayaking bigger and better rapids, and having just as much fun doing it.