Survival Instincts: When the Unexpected Happens

March, 2001

Spring flooding on the Hatchie. Water temperature I’m guessing around 45 degrees. At the other end of a spillover like the one pictured above, the flow was narrowed to a fast moving pipe of water shooting into the main channel. I had played there briefly the week before, when the flow was wider. This time it was barely as wide as my boat, and more concentrated. I paddled directly into it, thinking to turn quickly and shoot out. I began to turn, and in the blink of an eye, I was under the boat. I was not wearing my PFD. I don’t remember thinking about how cold the water felt, only that I must get out of it quickly, and that I must grab onto the boat. It was very slippery. I clutched a tree branch in one hand and the boat with the other, clawing at it to keep it from sliding away from me. I finally had to let go of the branch and lunge across the boat, so that I could right it.

I climbed back into the boat and foolishly grabbed at another branch as I slid by, thinking to steady myself, and went over again! This time when I came up I was in a panic and breathing very rapidly, gasping in fact. I was drifting downstream, across the upside down boat, and I had lost my paddle. I remember thinking very briefly, “this is how people die.” Then I very slowly and carefully got the boat turned over, climbed into it, and pulled out a scupper plug. I thought for a moment that I would float along after my paddle and regain it, and then leave the river at a spot of my choosing. Instead I drifted into a tangle of bushes on the shore and decided to get out while I still could.

I climbed the bank and pulled up the boat and took stock. I had lost my camera which had been in my lap. My glasses case was still in the seat pouch, but my glasses were gone. By some miracle, my cell phone in it’s plastic sandwich bag was still there, and it was dry and functional. My food and water were secure. I had a dry bag with a spray jacket in it, and I proceeded to take off my soaked sweatshirt and put on the spray jacket. I had been wearing the spray pants over neoprene shorts, so my lower body was not that cold. I found I was next to a hunting road, and so I took a bottle of water from my cooler and hiked out to the road and called for a pickup.

I spent the rest of the day in quiet reflection.

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This page refers to kayaking on the Hatchie River in Tennessee, or to Hatchie River kayaking.