Off the Map Week 7: Without a paddle

I could tell within the first ten seconds that this was the most ludicrous scheme I’d thought of in a while. For one thing, the water was already freezing my feet. Secondly, Warm Springs Creek was barely contained by its banks. The stream had been raging a month ago, and despite expectations, it had yet to give up its violent tendencies and settle down for the summer. Thirdly, I had only a small inner tube and a paddle to help me float four miles down to the city of Anaconda. This would be no lazy tubing experience, cooler of alcoholic beverages in tow. This could be my death.

Still, I had to try. I sat back in the tube and was instantly seized by the raucous current and launched downstream. This far up the valley, the creek was choked by willows, which grew in dense thickets on both sides. They stretched their woody claws out towards me, and I immediately had to start flailing with the wooden paddle, aiming for the narrow opening in the middle that lay outside their grasp.

To my dismay, the paddle only served to spin me about. I was helpless to curb my momentum, which took me straight into the overhanging willow branches on the right side. The current passed beneath them without difficulty, but I was swatted most brutally by the protruding limbs.  I fought back with the paddle, and in the midst of this frantic melee, my sunglasses were torn from my head. Turning away from my foe, I grabbed at where they had splashed into the water. Miraculously my fingers found them. But the creek had been waiting for me to take my free hand away from the inner tube, and a wave generated by a submerged boulder flung me from my seat and into the water.

Now I was in for it. The tube was still close enough for me to snatch at it, and somehow my glasses had ended up back on my head, but the wooden paddle was swiftly bobbing its way downstream, and I feared it would soon be lost. I strongly considered surrendering my neighbor’s paddle to the river gods and striking for shore. A new paddle would be less expensive than my medical bills, should I decide to continue with this folly.

Ultimately, I realized that the current was so strong that reaching a cove on either riverbank would be nearly impossible without an oar to propel me there. My body was being quickly borne downstream towards more rapids, so I slipped back onto the tube to gain a modicum of protection. The paddle rode the choppy surface of the creek not ten feet in front of me. Cursing my predicament, I gritted my teeth and dipped my hands into the chilly water. The chase was on.

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