I’m a member of the Louisville Ski Club. My volleyball league is part of that. Yesterday was the annual canoe trip.
I had last been in a canoe in April 2010 on my North Carolina vacation. It was on the New River near Boone, NC, and was pretty sedate. The biggest hazards were minor rapids over rocky shallow spots. We kept the canoe upright and it was fun, possibly even a bit boring.
Yesterday’s trip was a 12-mile trip on Elkhorn Creek near Frankfort KY. This trip has been scheduled for months, and with the drought we were wondering if the creek would be passable. The recent rains over the last few weeks solved that. The creek was fairly high and running swiftly.
The trip was from Canoe Kentucky. They had a macaw with quite a personality.
You lookin’ at me?
I had brought a ziplock bag with me to keep my phone and other stuff in. It worked well enough last time, and I didn’t plan on getting wet. The store sold small waterproof boxes. One that would fit my phone was $12. That turned out to be a wise investment.
They bused us six miles upstream, so the halfway point would be back at Canoe Kentucky. This allows a 12-mile ride on Elkhorn Creek without having to worry about the dam in Frankfort, or where the creek ends at the Kentucky River.
Neither Robin or I are expert canoeists. She’s been out more than me, so she was captain, at the rear of the boat.
Canoes on Elkhorn Creek
There were 22 of us on the trip from the Ski Club. I think it was ten canoes and two kayaks.
Once the water got rough, my phone was safely locked in the box, and I didn’t take more pictures until after the trip.
This was the couple we car-pooled with.
The water got rough where the creek got very shallow and rocky. I’m not entirely sure how, but we ended up sideways and I fell out of the canoe. The safety video tells you to fall upstream so the canoe doesn’t run you over. I don’t know how they plan such things. I, of course, was downstream from the canoe.
It was shallow water, but the current was strong. I was unable to stand, and the canoe (with Robin still in it) was attempting to go over me. The water was too shallow for that. I grabbed the canoe, which had the unintended consequence of dumping Robin into the water with me.
The much lighter canoe then passed over us. It, our paddles, cooler, drinks, snacks, and Robin’s life-vest continued downstream without us. I was wearing my life vest, but the water was quite shallow. We were able to stand up in the mid-calf deep water, but walking to shore wasn’t feasible. I was already hurting from the rocks I had bounced against.
Robin insisted we float downstream. I balked. She took off without me and seemed to have no issues catching up with the group ahead that was gathering our stuff.
I allowed myself to float. The rocks were painful, but only continued for a dozen feet for so before I was in deeper water.
The current didn’t quite take me the same direction as Robin. She ended up on the right bank where others were. The water wasn’t deep there. I ended up heading toward the left bank, which was much deeper and had a large bushy tree hanging into the water. It was dense enough to be impassible, and probably continued to far into the water to go under it.
As I approached the tree, I grabbed for a larger branch to support the force of the current. I didn’t want to get pushed into the tree. It was covered in thorns. I was trying to figure out how to get myself out of the predicament, when a more skilled guy on a kayak made his way over and had me grab the front of his kayak, and he pulled me away from the tree and to shallower water.
Now we re-grouped. We had retained most of our canned beverages. The fried chicken was still sealed in it’s container. Our phones were dry in their boxes. Nothing was lost other than some of the beverages and all of our ice. We were both beat up and had sore spots, but nothing major was bleeding. We continued on.
There were many islands in the creek. These narrower spots caused greater flow and issues with trees at the edge. We had a number of close-calls and a few collisions.
We eventually made it to the halfway point, where I ran back to the car to grab our chips that were forgotten the first time.
Some of our crew, back at Canoe Kentucky – the halfway point
We continued on. I was half tempted to sit out the rest of the trip, but that would have left Robin without a canoe partner.
Some more in our group – turned around backwards – oops
At some point we dumped a second time. I don’t remember the details. It was deep enough that I didn’t hit rocks. We had our cooler bungied in this time, and lost nothing.
We approached a narrow spot. There were too many canoes bunched up. We backed off to let the group in front go first. They had a few issues, but made it through. We did not. We ran directly into a tree at the water’s edge. It was a hard impact and I slid off the seat on to the bottom of the canoe. The front of the canoe went downward and we took in a bunch of water, swamping us, but we didn’t tip. We managed to paddle (half sunk) to the other shore to empty out. Before we got out of the canoe, another group came through and collided. Multiple canoes hit us, but we were in very shallow water. Once the group was past, we dumped the water and continued. Somewhere in that mess I lost my towel, which was already soaking wet. No big loss.
We came across another rough spot and tangled with a tree. Me managed to lose one of our paddles. We didn’t dump however. Another couple of guys in our group (Dave and Pat) dumped and lost a paddle and a cooler. We were fighting to regain control at the time, and continued our way downstream a bit. We eventually got to shore where our paddle was returned to us. I had Dave and Pat’s lost paddle. We also grabbed their cooler.
We kept waiting for them to come downstream, but there was no sign of them. I eventually walked upstream (luckily it was an easy climb up to a road in that spot) and found them.
Pat had lost his glasses. Their canoe was trapped under a log. The current was strong and I really didn’t think we’d get the canoe out. The three of us were able to get the canoe free, which then led to us trying to control a sunken canoe in fast current. We managed, and I gave them their missing paddle. I walked back to our landing spot and we continued on.
It was pretty calm after that. Our take-out spot was right after the US127 bridge. We stopped just before the bridge where there was a nice place to eat and swim. We talked with others in the group and enjoyed our snack.
After a bit, it was time to go. Robin and I got back in the canoe and headed downstream. The water was deep here. It seemed the current was faster than it should have been. We could see the take-out spot. I complained that “of course the take out is in heavy current”. I had barely gotten that complaint out when, for no apparent reason, the canoe flipped, dumping us both in the water.
Robin wasn’t wearing her life vest (again). I was wearing mine, but apparently it wasn’t tight enough, as it moved upward on me, cutting of my vision. She struggled because her footwear – crocs (poor choice) slid up on her ankles, making it difficult to swim. She was some distance from the canoe. I was holding on to it. Her life vest was right there in front of me. I intended to throw it to her, but she had fastened it to the cooler, and I couldn’t get it free.
I saw one of my sandals floating (also a poor choice of footwear), and I threw it in the half-swamped canoe. Robin was making progress toward the canoe. We were both trying to get to the left bank, as that’s where the take-out was.
She reached the canoe, and we both swam toward shore, speeding up our glacial progress. Amazingly, we made it to the take-out before getting carried downstream.
Robin lost her towel and a visor she had been wearing. I (amazingly) still had both sandals. We still had our phones and keys, and they were dry.
We were both grumpy and glad to be done with the trip. Canoeing with someone can be stressful, much like tandem bike riding.
It also turned out to be more dangerous than I thought it would be. On an average bike ride, I don’t crash, fall over, or collide with stationary objects. We flipped three times and swamped the canoe once. We collided with trees, other canoes, and one kayak (but the kayak wasn’t stationary, and it was her fault).
The two guys with the stuck canoe really scared me. If that had been a person rather than a canoe, they would have died. There really was no way out.
As far as the flip right at the end… The other canoeists complained about the current there, and one even said they almost flipped. It looked calm, but there must be monsters (trolls?) under that bridge the get enjoyment from rolling canoes over.
I think my future paddling adventures will be on calmer water until I learn more.
We survived it – bus ride back
Once I was home, I went to bed early and slept for 13 hours. Canoeing didn’t seem strenuous. I think the stress did me in as much as anything else.
This morning I woke up quite sore. I have a banged and scraped knee. My right hand at the base of the thumb has a deep, painful bruise. I have a scraped ankle, sore spots on my feet, and a scrape on my ass.
I’m still better off than Robin. She has at least as many bumps and scrapes as I do. She also hurt her finger. It may be broken. It was quite swollen today. I helped her cut a ring off that was constricting the swollen finger. She hated to lose the ring, but it’s better than losing a finger.
I think Robin and I learned things about each other too. Neither of us behaved that well to each other under stress. Does that mean we avoid canoeing together? Do we work on technique? I don’t know. I’ll have to discuss it with her once she’s willing.