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Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Great Pre-Thanksgiving Canoe Trip

I haven't posted to the blog in quite a while.  I suspect that will be changing in the next couple of months.  I have been working on a project that is very important but that has taken me away from my writing.  In the mean time, I think something I wrote a while back has value.  So, here 'tis.

The Great Pre-Thanksgiving Canoe Trip

            22 November 2010

If I had known how it was going to turn out, I would have done it on purpose. 

A week before Thanksgiving 2010, my son and I got together at the arguably early hour of 8:00 AM to leave on a mini-adventure--a trip down Augusta's Savannah River rapids.  The old canoe hadn't been put to use in almost two years and it was, for the most part, rarin' to go. 

We both felt the need for a mental health day off (a sentiment apparently echoed by our patient spouses who uncharacteristically voiced no opposition) and, as we placed the Old Town on my aged Honda, we both breathed a sigh of pleased anticipation.   We got off in good time carrying with us my new Kodak, his new GAP jacket, and his mother's well prepared lunch.  Our first stop was North Augusta's public boat ramp, our intended destination.  The ramp was just as I remembered it from my last visit several years ago.  North Augusta has maintained this asset well.  Here we left Stash's aged Honda.  We continued together in my aged Honda, heading for the Savannah Rapids Pavilion and its adjacent Columbia County Park.  Recent improvements at the park include a bridge over the Augusta canal and a set of steps to the edge of the Savannah River.  Anyone who might have tried launching a canoe in the river from this point in the past would appreciate this new addition immensely. 

In any case, we launched the Old Town with minimal difficulty and began our trip to North Augusta.  I am guessing this was about 9:30 (will take "ship's log 101" the next time it's offered at Augusta State.)  We passed through a number of rocky areas, adding a few new scrapes to the bottom of the Old Town, and continued until we reached a relatively deep stretch approaching I-20.  We noticed a number of ducks, at least one Great Blue Herron, a spattering of Anhinga and flock upon flock of Canada Geese.  About the time we reached that deep stretch, I commented on the lack of turtles, thinking it was a bit too early, and too warm, for them to begin the annual hibernation-like existence they usually resort to during our not too cold, but cold enough, winters.  Mother Nature, it seems, was listening in on my conversation and, virtually as the sentence about the lack of turtles had rolled past my tongue, a pair of bread plate sized turtles appeared not ten feet from our starboard bow.  Other turtles soon joined them on the surface, mostly as pairs, and I decided probably they were either practicing their life-saving moves or they had other things on their minds. 

As we approached the interstate, conversation became difficult.  It's interesting how four lanes of interstate traffic, all trying to get from one state to the other in the least amount of time, spews forth a din to blight the wilderness.  No serenity here, I'm afraid.  No real problem, though, as we continued our paddling till we reached another stretch of rock on the downstream side of the interstate and returned to hunting passages.  Interestingly enough, since standing in a canoe is not a viable technique, I've decided the next time I buy a canoe I will investigate the possibility of investing in a periscope option.  While it will probably look a bit weird, it sure would help to find the passages through those low-lying rock walls that cordon off sections of the river at this point.

About a half mile downstream from the interstate, on the Georgia side of the river and just beyond a bend, we spotted a number of picnic tables, a portapotty, and a reasonable landing spot.  It was a little after 12:00 and wife's lunch began to beckon.  We put in, wondering who had placed this park on the edge of our watery passageway.  We seated ourselves at the first available table (the maitre d' was no where in sight) and began to eat.  We had sausage-and-cheese balls for an appetizer and continued on with ham, egg and cheese sandwiches on toasted whole wheat bread.  G2 Gatoraide was our libation.  thinking back, I'd have to say this is where we probably slipped up--we neglected to spill the required sip to the gods prior to consuming our drinks. 

Around 12:30, all fed and refreshed, we noticed what looked like an information station a bit uphill.  A minute later, our benefactors became known.  It seems some public agency, the county, or perhaps the canal authority (I really do need that ship's log course) decided the spot we found was a good place for a mini-park, one that could serve not only those who might arrive by canoe but also those joggers and bicyclists traveling between the Riverwalk downtown and the Savannah Rapids Pavilion on the trail provided, I suspect, for maintenance of the Augusta Canal.  Some of those very people began to arrive at that point and we decided we'd leave the park to them for their sole enjoyment, that being what we had had as we ate our luncheon. 

An hour later we were cold, wet, disgusted and our canoe and belongings were headed downstream at warp speed, or so it seemed.  We had just passed by the City of Augusta's raw water pumping station and had continued downstream for about 1000 feet when, all of a sudden, we were in the water.  Neither of us knew why we tipped over, we just did.  In retrospect, I suspect lagging physical fitness was a factor.  I say this because both of us had difficulty folding our legs to sit on the floor of the canoe, and we decided to sit on the seats--and be real careful.  Hah!  The only thing I can think of was both of us shifted a bit to port at the same time and, before we knew it, over we went.  Luckily, we knew what to do when we hit the water, though, in our haste to get out of that 60 degree water (we were sure it was 50 degrees,) Stash stepped in a hole and bruised his shin on a river rock.  We were less than 30 feet from the Georgia bank and soon were resting at the river's edge.   We really were quite fortunate.  We had gone to the Georgia side of the river to look at the water pump station (we weren't exactly sure what it was.)  Had we turned over in the middle of the river, we would have had to make our way several hundred yards in either direction to get to dry land.  I guess one lesson learned would be:  stay near one bank, or the other while making this trip.

Following a few minutes' heavy breathing, we began to climb the 20 feet or so of steep slope next to the river and found a path leading upstream toward the pump station.  A couple hundred feet later, we saw an opening in the trees twenty feet or so to our left and we went to it.  It was a railroad track.  We followed the track all the way back to the pumping station and, ignoring signs telling us where to go, we went to what was obviously an office.  A City employee listened to our tale of woe and directed us to his supervisor.  The operations supervisor was sympathetic and immediately put us in contact with the county sheriff's office. 

I reported our mishap and the dispatcher was about to send a deputy to take our statement and deliver us to the county line (apparently as close as they could legally go to either of our cars) when Stash told me we had an offer that would get us back to Savannah Rapids Pavilion.  I thanked the dispatcher, and we left.  It was our good fortune that this "Good Samaritan" made the offer when she did and was able to assist us.  We got back to my Honda and found its key had not been adversely affected by the river water.  It cranked at once, as it always does.  Good car!  Guess I should drop that "aged" bit.  We drove to the North Augusta boat ramp, looked upstream and saw what we expected--beautiful scenery, but no canoe.  By 3:30 we were home, in Aiken.

After Stash and I told our stories to his mother, I got back to the problem at hand.  My Nokia had allowed me one call after it received its dunking and promptly ceased further operations.  Of course that one call was to my wife.  I took it apart and dried it.  It started right back, like the trooper it is, and has worked fine ever since.  I then used it to call 1) Richland County Law Enforcement where I left a message to be sure my problem was on the record.  2)  The Aiken County Sheriff's department, who promptly redirected me to the City of North Augusta Police, who I then called and left a detailed account of my problem.  3)  The Georgia Department of Natural Resources whose officer promptly called me back and learned about my problem.  4)  The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources whose officer, like his counterpart in Georgia, promptly returned my call and took down my information.  Both of the DNR officers pointed out that hunting was scheduled to begin on Saturday and it would be best, if I wished, to search for my canoe before that time.  This was good news for me to have as sportsmen are generally people you can count on.  It was bad news for the Canadians and the ducks, though.  5)  Augusta Riverwalk Marina, where I talked with a Mr. Christian who promised to let me know if any of his customers found the boat and who also provided me with a number to contact a Dr. Carl with the River Keepers, an organization I was unaware of.  5)  Dr. Carl, formerly of the River Keepers, discussed my problem with me and gave me a current number for the River Keeper organization, which I called and talked with "Andy," who promised to do what he could and gave me a number for a "Steve" with the dive organization that works problems in the river.  Since my Old Town has a double hull with enclosed flotation (it can't sink,) I didn't bother to call him.

Having notified everyone I thought might be able to help, I moved on to other things.  Wondering how much Google Earth might be able to tell me about my boat's possible whereabouts, I checked it out.  Vewy intewesting, as Elmer Fudd might have said.  Not only was I able to look at the stretch of water I had been navigating, and determine its "as the crow flies" distance to be around 7 miles, I was able to zoom in to the very place I thought I had lost the boat and observe the individual rocks I had been avoiding at the time.  Had we not plopped ourselves into the water where we did, we would have had a little more than a mile to go (again, "as the crow flies") to reach our destination.  Of course, part of that distance remained rife with rocks and the actual distance we would have had to paddle may have been double that direct over the top distance.  In any case, it appeared my canoe had a good chance of finding itself a berth in the rocks before it reached that long, narrow pond that is the Augusta-North Augusta riverfront. 

Friday I had things that couldn't be put off and there was no way to consider getting back to the water.  Had I not had other obligations, my plan would have been to find that one-man life raft I bought years ago as I learned the art of snorkeling in the waters of the Aegean Sea between Istanbul and Karamursel Turkey.  I would have had no problem riding that raft over the rocks from the Augusta Pump station area down to the ponded portion of the river.  Surely I could have located the canoe.  Fortunately (since the raft is buried under several tons of my other possessions of yesteryear in a local storage building) I didn't have to try out that plan.  Instead, around 4:00 PM on Friday I received a call from the North Augusta Police.  Someone had called them and said they had found a canoe and had left it tied to the dock at the North Augusta Boat Launch area.  It seems another "Good Samaritan" had enabled my canoe to finish the trip I had planned for it totally without my presence.  Sometimes, God truly does work wonders.

I called Stash and jumped into my trusted steed, planning to meet up with him at the boat launch area.  Stash made arrangements with Grandma for the unplanned children management services and he followed on.  When I got to the boat launch area I saw two men talking by the dock.  I approached them and I explained what had happened.  The canoe and all our other possessions was right there, attached to the dock, looking for all practical purposes just like it looked (excepting for its having taken on about fifty gallons of water) when I experienced my unplanned disembarkation.  About that time, as one of the men left, Stash arrived.  The other man stayed and helped me move the boat around the dock and onto the boat launch area's concrete approach way.  I thanked him and we made our introductions.  Remember that diver I didn't call?  Well, now I know him, too.  Stash (i.e., Stephen Ashley) and I had fun with our new friend doing an updated version of an old MASH routine.  Instead of "Doctor, Doctor.  Doctor, Doctor...Doctor...." our routine was "Steve, Steve.  Steve, Steve...Steve...."  Of course I told him (and showed him the notation on the 3x5 card in my pocket) I already had his number, and explained how I came to have it.  He gave me another number, just in case, though--his cell number.  Small world!

Oh well, as I stated at the beginning, If I had known how it was going to turn out, I would have done it on purpose-- i.e., tip over the canoe.  Lacking that mishap, Stash and I would have missed out on the opportunity to meet quite a few of our area's good people, starting with a couple of the City's water treatment plant operators, continuing with a couple of unheralded "Good Samaritans," and ending with a number of public servants and volunteers I met first on the phone and one, finally, in person at the boat launch area.  Even more important was the opportunity Stash and I had to experience one another in a way we never had before.  Adversity provides opportunities for growth and understanding.  I know and have more reason to admire my son today than I would have otherwise, had our trip gone according to plan. 

Service, it's said, provides its own rewards.  I believe this is true.  Still, I hope somewhere, sometime, I might have the opportunity to meet each of my many benefactors of those several days in November to thank them personally for their faithful service to me and to other members of the public in our CSRA community.  That much, at the very least, they truly deserve.

Stephen V. Geddes

Aiken  SC