Thursday, June 16, 2011

"We Took it to Swain's..."

Those words uttered in a thick New England accent over a decade ago still play out loud and clear each time I pass by Swain’s Lock on the C&O Canal. Today I began a ride from there heading northbound and I thought of the night I heard that phrase which happened to be my inaugural dinking expedition on the Potomac River. “Dinking,” is the name that was given to sketchy white water boating; the tern coined as the first trip was in row boat borrowed from a friend’s girlfriend’s house which she called the dink and taken down a swollen Rock Creek after a big snow thaw. We pulled up to Seneca creek at around mid night and began to unload our equipment. We greeted a couple of fishermen who inquired what we were up on that fine evening and Phil said “We are going out boating.” Where is your boat?” one of the fishermen asked. No reply was given other than showing an aluminum case which a couple of us were carrying. “I gotta see this,” one of the fishermen said as everyone gathered around. Phil pulled the rip cord on the 3’x3’ case which blew open and inflated a 12’ long raft which had lights that lined the underside. This case was the life raft which I had aquired from an airplane boneyard which is another story.

Four of us piled in the raft with Tad floating solo in an inflatable canoe. As we paddled off, one of the fishermen shouted “Watch out for the alligator!” Whatever, alligators don’t life this far north. Tad paddled off on his own in his nimble little boat as we fired roman candles and bottle rockets at him. We paddled down stream and I could hear the roar of rapids in the distance which made me nervous as I have always had a great deal of respect for the water. As we paddled, debris floated from upstream. I noticed a large log floating quite close to our raft which seemed to somehow be floating faster than the boat we were paddling. As it floated in behind the boat, I noticed 2 eyes at the front of the 6’ log and realized there really was an alligator. “Alligator!” I yelled as I tried to light bottle rockets to fire at it. My hands shook to much and Phil jumped in and grabbed them out of my hand, managing to get one lit. It shot into the water and exploded. A couple more and the gator finally turned away.

We paddled swiftly toward the rapids knowing we would safe from the gator on the other side. I was walking that line somewhere between exctiement and panic as we approached the rapids, but the sound was decieving as we actually had to walk the boat through the shallow water to the other side. Now we were able to move at a decent pace with little effort as the current was moving and we sat back enjoying the ride. Tad complained that his boat was losing air but Phil insisted he stay with the canoe, in part because none of cared to much for the guy and also it happened to be Phil’s boat. As we floated, a group of beavers filed in behind us, but we were out of fireworks. We paddled strong to try and out run the curious creatures which could easily puncture our craft which and entered another set of rapids which put some distance between us and the beavers. My back was sore from the heavy paddling and once things calmed down a bit, I realized that it wasn’t the paddling that was making my back sore, it was the fact that a 200lb guy named Abe was sitting on it as he cowered in fear from the beavers. “Abe! What the fuck are you doing!” I shouted. It was so easy to blast the guy, phil and myself exploiting every opportunity to do so. Phil and the rest chuckled as Abe became aware of what he was doing, and sat in quiet embarrasment.

Our original plan was to leave a car at Pennyfield Lock, but on the way out to drop the car, Pete and I modified the plan a bit and took the car to Swain’s, the last get out before Great Falls. We didn’t put much thought into this other than we wanted to make a longer trip out it. We didn’t leave anything to signal us of our pull out point or anything. Moving onward, the water began to slow as did our progress. Fish began to jump and throw themselves in the boat. finally it all made sense. These creatures all came to investigate the strange lighted object that floated in the water. We floated and paddled for hours and began to worry about the falls. had we passed Swain’s Lock already? A trip over the falls would be certain death for us all. Tad had a fit at some point smashing his paddle in frustrastion on the water as the boat continued to lose air. During his tantrum he hit his knee with the paddle and was leaking blood. We pretended none of this ever happened. We worked ourselves into a panic about the falls and eventually pulled out and found ourselves in the middle of a wetland shin deep in mud. Boats were abandoned. We didn’t know where on the river we were. We struggled through the quagmire for some time and we all were low on energy as the sky began to turn purple as the first signs of morning began to show themselves. There is something about still being out as the sun come up that puts me in a panic, as if I will never sleep again if morning comes and I am still out. This feeling of doom that came with the sunrise was only deepened by the fact that I lived with my parents at the time and I felt guilt each time I was caught coming in as they began their days. Eventually, we found a path which led us to the canal and and an hours hike back to the vehicles muddied, exhausted and headed for home.

Many a turleout there...

Birds too...

The Monocacy Aquaduct has been getting some love...

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