Stuck on a Ledge in Rapids, and Other Places I’d Rather Not Be

For all the rhapsodizing I do about the great outdoors, occasionally I wish I had taken up needlepoint, calligraphy or some other sedentary pursuit that would keep me out of harm’s way.

Such reflections typically manifest during inopportune moments, such as the time a grizzly bear tore after and damn near caught me outside Alaska’s Denali National Park, or when a shark circled the 8-foot rowboat a buddy I were rowing across Long Island Sound in the middle of the night, or when a blizzard pinned three of us climbers inside a two-man tent for days at 19,000 feet on Mt. Aconcagua in the Andes, or approaching Heartbreak Hill in the Boston Marathon.

Anyway, on a much less dramatic scale, I had one of those moments the other day while kayaking down a set of ledge rapids on Enfield’s Scantic River known as The Staircase.

Somehow I had gotten hung up on a “smoothie,” or submerged flat rock, just above a narrow chute through which I would have to squeeze before plunging over a 2-foot drop.

Aware of my predicament, a group of paddlers spun around in an eddy 50 yards downstream to prepare to fish me out of the icy water if I happened to flip.

Among them was my buddy Phil Warner, one of New England’s top paddlers and rescue instructors, who once helped me back in my boat when I turtled on the ocean side of Fishers Island. Thus, I felt reasonably confident I wouldn’t be visiting Davy Jones’s Locker – especially since I was wearing a life jacket and helmet – but Phil had mentioned that just a week before he had to come to the aid of one paddler on the Scantic who had overturned, smashed into the rocks and broke his nose.

Having fractured my nozzle on two separate non-nautical occasions I had no desire to go for a trifecta. Plus, it’s kind of embarrassing to go over in front of a crowd.

So I scooched forward, bouncing the kayak up and down and rocking from side to side. Freeing yourself from a rock in rapids requires a leap of faith, which came at the instant the plastic hull broke free and I shot forward.

I could see Phil wildly swinging his arm, directing me to aim toward the center of the river, away from boulders that jutted directly ahead. I jabbed my right paddle into the boiling current in a low brace, the kayak dutifully pivoted, and I skittered past the rocks, plowed through a short standing wave and squirted out like a watermelon seed.

“Nicely done,” one of the paddlers remarked when I caught up to the pack.

“I really didn’t feel like swimming today,” I replied.

The Staircase is the final challenge in the 5-mile Scantic Spring Splash Canoe and Kayak Race, scheduled for Saturday, March 30.

The first hurdle at about the 2-mile mark is a tortuous portage around a 12-foot dam, forcing you to lug your boat up and down a steep detour known as Heart Attack Hill, and then relaunching just above the hairiest drop, Stocker’s Rapids.

Tim Nutt of Vernon, a top competitor who helped organize last week’s practice run for Saturday’s race, gave a detailed tutorial on successfully navigating Stocker’s, culminating in a seemingly effortless plunge through a roiling gap followed by lightning-quick strokes to avoid two menacing boulders.

After watching Tim and Phil smoothly pass through Stocker’s I uncharacteristically decided discretion would be the better part of valor and joined a handful of paddlers on a portage around the rapids, still thinking about my nose.

Most of the other paddlers who dared to tackle Stocker’s the other day stayed upright, but a few Maytagged in the churn and wound up shivering on shore while they emptied their boats. At least nobody wound up in the emergency room.

After Stocker’s paddlers must contend with Chimney Rapids and finally, the dreaded Staircase, only a hundred yards or so from the finish, where crowds typically stand on a bridge like NASCAR spectators, hoping to witness some carnage.

You can watch YouTube videos of past races in which wild cheers erupt whenever someone flips.

I hope I don’t give onlookers something to celebrate this Saturday.

The Scantic River Watershed Association, sponsors of the 22nd edition of the Scantic Spring Splash Canoe and Kayak Race, will hold registration from 9 to 11 a.m. at the Powder Mill Barn on South Maple Street. The registration fee is $20 per participant but is reduced to $18 for those who donate a non-perishable food item to the Enfield Food Shelf.

The race starts at Quality Avenue in Somers. Volunteers restrict parking so plan on a quick boat drop and then drive your car to the end and take a free bus shuttle back to the start.

Five novice classes start first at 11:30 a.m. The 13 racing classes follow at noon. There is a class for everybody regardless of skill level – even those of us who decide to portage Stocker’s and get hung up on The Staircase.

 

 

Reader Comments

MORE BLOGS

Brace Yourself For The New Year’s Day Run-Swim

When those uninitiated in the longstanding New Year’s Day tradition of running from Mystic to Fishers Island Sound and leaping into the icy water ask, "How can you stand it? Doesn’t it hurt?" we stoic veterans...

Two's Company, Three Hundred's A Crowd – On The Trail Or On A Sidewalk

While kayaking the 341-mile Erie Canal from Buffalo to Albany a few years ago I spotted another paddler a mile or so away headed in my direction. Having encountered only one or two other kayaks nearly a week into what turned out to be an...

Wouldn't It Be Wonderful To Hibernate?

When I pried a rock up with a mattock the other day, rushing to finish a small retaining wall before the ground froze, I inadvertently disturbed a hibernating spotted salamander’s winter home.

Happy Days Are Here Again: Cheap Fuel And Gas-Guzzlers!

Isn’t life great?! Gas is so cheap now I can get rid of my puny, poky, fuel-efficient econobox and get behind the wheel of an auto with plenty of ponies under the hood that any American would be proud to drive, just like the good...

Siri To The Rescue!

"Siri, how much farther to the summit?"

A-hunting We Will Go

Blam! Blam! Blam!

Urban Excursions: Finding Adventure In The Big City

A brisk autumn breeze scattered crimson maple leaves that fluttered from trees lining a pond glittering in the morning sun as my friend Bob Graham and I loped along a narrow path the other morning.

My Friend The Log Splitter: Leaf Blowers Notwithstanding, Not All Machines Are Evil

After my overwhelming victory last year in a rake vs. leafblower contest I hoped I’d heard the last of those infernal, noisy, polluting contraptions — but while out for a run the other day, savoring the fall foliage, a familiar whine as...

Welcome To Steve's Lumberjack Camp

Good morning! I hope you all had a good night’s sleep, enjoyed the griddle cakes and are eager to work off those calories.

At Nayaug Canoe And Kayak Race, A Win Is A Win Is A Win — Sort Of

Race starts are notoriously adventurous — jackrabbits at the line itching to shove and elbow their way into the lead; clueless slowpokes poised for pileups; nerve-jangled competitors, fueled by surging adrenaline, chattering...

Rocks In My Head, Part 37,482

Descending New Hampshire’s Mount Washington in a blizzard some time ago, a friend and I briefly strayed from the ice-encrusted Lion Head Trail – not all that surprising considering wind-whipped snow reduced our visibility to...

Hey, Unless Your Head Is Made Of Cement, Wear A Bike Helmet!

Last Saturday was glorious, perhaps the last sunny, warm day of the season, so a couple friends and I set out for a 50-plus-mile ride on Rhode Island’s magnificent East Bay Bike Path, one of my favorite places to pedal.

How to freeze your - - - off in four easy steps

I know you’ll find this rather shocking, but all those white things in the new picture of me aren’t really snowflakes – they’re feathers from an old pillow, which we thought would be a clever way to illustrate a...

Hey, Unless Your Head Is Made Of Cement, Wear A Bike Helmet!

Last Saturday was glorious, perhaps the last sunny, warm day of the season, so a couple friends and I set out for a 50-plus-mile ride on Rhode Island’s magnificent East Bay Bike Path, one of my favorite places to pedal.