It Started off like any normal Saturday for us, we drank our morning coffee and put our heads together on finalizing our itinerary for the weekend that was upon us. I love the outdoors and escape into it any chance I get! This particular weekend My husband and I had plans to do a moonlight paddle with a handful of friends from my work. The night was planned around the moon phase...we were expecting a full moon to light the way.
A few things to keep in mind, I am a beginner paddler as is my husband. We decided to purchase some kayaks as the heat of the Arizona weather was approaching. We bought a twelve foot sit on top tandem kayak for my husband and I and a couple youth size for our children. (you know the whole Costco deal...Go in for toilet paper come out with a few kayaks.) Before this river trip we had only been on the lake a few times and never down any sort of river.
The river we were going to spend the next few hours on is a popular tubing destination for Arizona Valley residents. My husband and I had been tubing on this stretch of the river maybe a month prior, and knew there wasn't anything too crazy that we wouldn't be able to handle. We checked into a nearby hotel, grabbed our gear and took off to the river. The plan was to meet our group at 7pm (we got lost and finally found everyone around 7:30). Carried the kayak to the river's edge, applied bug repellent, and pushed off into the water by 8pm.
There were about 15 of us in our group and several other large groups enjoying the river on this night. The night started out great, everyone was stoked to be on the water. Each person had their headlamp on and safety glow stick connected to their PFD...except for my husband and I. I would say this was our first mistake! Because we got their late we rushed...never rush safety!
We paddled/floated down the lower salt river, everyone taking pictures and awwing at the full moon rising over in the horizon. We came across our first set of rapids, I will admit I was nervous. I had never been over any sort of rapid in a kayak before...big or small. Our giant sized party barge of a kayak floated right over the rapids like a champ putting my mind at ease. As the moon continued to rise the darker it got! We were currently in the middle of monsoon season here in Arizona and the cloud cover did a great job of hiding our moonlight.
We are now about an hour into our 3 hour paddle. It is dark! The headlamps were not doing us much good other than seeing all the tiny bugs we were probably filling our bellies with. We hear the water's rumble and voices saying, "stay to the left...STAY TO THE LEFT!" So to the left we went! The force of the water pulled our kayak too far to the left and into a tree growing on the river's bank. We attempted to duck out of the way of the branches to no avail. A branch probably 6 inches in diameter caught my forehead and then slid down onto my neck. At this time my husband falls out of the boat and is holding on to the front trying to pull us out of the trees. I panic trying to get the tree branches from cutting my neck and drop my paddle into the running river.
I am now up shit creek without my damn paddle...literally! I'm now holding onto this branch as my last lifeline (mind you the water is only a few feet deep in most of the river, some parts only inches) I'm afraid to let go until I know my husband is safe back in the boat, and he is telling me he can't get back in. The water was too strong. Everyone is telling me to just let go and I'm screaming back, "I don't have a paddle!" My husband is able to get his paddle to me and he lets go of the kayak and starts drifting away without a glow stick and no way for me to find him. I let go of the tree and hit a few more branches on the way out trying to paddle this giant kayak all alone and scared. I keep yelling to my husband, "where are you? Are you ok? I'm scared!" I finally see him floating down the river and he grabs on and is able to pull himself back into the kayak. I am quite shaken at this point!
WE get over to the shore where everyone is waiting to do a head count. we have two people up stream missing, as they were looking for my paddle and my husband. A good 20 minutes go by until everyone is accounted for and I make the decision to pull out at the next pick up location. This was enough fun for one night.
In conclusion In one hours time, we enjoyed the trip up until "the incident". We lost a paddle (which a friend and very experienced paddler found and returned to us), a go pro camera, one of my husbands shoes, and a little bit of pride.
With everything you do in life there is a lesson to be learned. Here is what I took away from my first night on a river.
1. Safety first! make sure you take the proper precautions. This situation would have been a lot less scary if my husband had a glow stick on his vest and was able to be seen by other paddlers.
2. Know your level of expertise. Are you a novice, beginner, or a master? If you feel like you are out of your league, then you probably are! We should have been down this stretch of the river in the daylight at least once before attempting it in the dark.
3. Be prepared. another thing that would have made this a lot less scary is if I were prepared! some folks have an extra paddle for "just in case moments" attached to their kayaks, or a paddle leash would have been ideal in this situation.
4. Don't panic and stay calm! All of my panicking did not help the situation and caused me to lose my ability to make the decisions I needed to make.
5. Always have plenty of water with you at all times, in case you are stuck up the creek without a paddle and have to wait to be picked up or rescued.
All in all is was a great night! It was beautiful and peaceful and we made great memories. My first order of business today...Buy a paddle leash!
Have a great day and GET OUTSIDE!!