Encounter with a drowning machine (+video)

Starting out on the Lycoming Creek. Nothing foreboding yet…

By the time I saw Josh’s kayak be thrown by the creek’s current into the saplings, downed trees and other woody debris, it was too late.

I was already doomed.

The Lycoming Creek, rushing through a slightly flooded S-turn, was already pushing my kayak nearly sideways straight toward my friend. I paddled like the demons of hell awaited me if I didn’t, trying desperately to steer the kayak away from Josh and the strainer material he was already stuck on. No one wants to go into strainers while boating on a river. The jumble of branches, logs and other debris are notorious for being drowning machines if you get trapped in them.

Why does this crap happen to us every time we go boating on a river?! I later thought. It was nearly four years ago to the day that we sank our canoe in the Awassee Rapids on Pine Creek.

But in the moment on Lycoming Creek, the only things I had time to think about were not being decapitated by a low-lying branch, and not ramming my kayak’s bow into Josh, which could’ve seriously injured him. My furious paddling worked in that regard; I was able to steer ahead of Josh and our kayak’s just side-swiped each other. But I had to drop my paddle to throw up my hands and stop myself from hitting that cross-branch.

Josh and I enjoying a lazy day paddling the river.

It worked. I caught myself and was able to stop the kayak from shooting directly into the middle of the strainer material. And then the creek rushed over the stern and poured into the seating area. I was screwed. I knew I was going into the creek. I tried to prevent myself from capsizing right there in the middle of the strainers, so I pushed off and was taken free of the branch, only to start hurtling straight toward a 2-foot-wide log coming right at my face. Holy shit! I thought.

I got my hands up in time to protect myself and push-off again. But this time, the already flooded and unmaneuverable kayak just capsized in the rushing creek. Luckily, I was now free of the strainer material and floating harmlessly in the creek’s main current toward a gravel beach. I grabbed the kayak, bobbing vertically in the river like a buoy, and began swimming to shore. My paddle floated away. Once on the beach I dragged the swamped kayak (now weighing easily 200 pounds) onto shore, and looked back upstream for Josh.

And I was horrified to see only his kayak, bobbing in the creek just as mine had. “JOSH! JOSH! JOSH!” I called out.

“I’m OK,” he shouted back from around the bend, just out of sight. “Just swimming.”

The last photo of a concrete waterfront patio and dock right before we entered the notorious S-turn of death.

I flood of relief swept through me as he collected his kayak and swam to shore. Standing there, assessing what we had lost and the terminal danger we had just narrowly avoided, we were both visibly shaking. The adrenaline was running over our nerves like electricity on a high-tension line, crackling and popping. We quickly retrieved our dry bags (Holy Shit! Everything was dry in them!) and chain-smoked like three cigarettes to calm ourselves.

“Dude, we could’ve died in that shit. People drown in strainers all the time,” I said. Josh just looked at me exasperated, “Fuck yeah, we could’ve.”

In the end, we lost very little. We found my paddle caught in a tree branch about 50 feet down river. Josh’s seat cushion we found several miles downstream, and as I mentioned, we lost nothing in our dry bags.

I did have to say good-bye to my treasured waterproof Samsung pocket camera. Samsung, I hate to tell you, but your waterproof camera was decidedly NOT waterproof. RIP. However, I was able to shoot enough photos and video before we capsized to produce a short video of our trip.

We retired to the bar to silence our trauma with copious quantities of India pale ale and rock-n-roll by a local band. Hopefully, the next time we go boating, it doesn’t involve unplanned swimming.

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