This happened six years ago today! And remains one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. When the chips are well and truly down, that’s when you find out what you (and your dog) are capable of! Anyway, my mama was talking about this with my aunt the other day and asked if I’d written about it (which, of course, I had). So here it is, enjoy!
This past Sunday, I decided to go kayaking at Lucky Peak Reservoir and since no one wanted to go with me, my ever faithful Why?lee was conscripted into service as first mate. As always, I checked the weather on my phone several times prior to putting in and it was supposed to be 88 degrees with partial clouds, then a storm at 9pm. Others must have seen the same report I did, because there were lots of people still putting their (motor) boats in when I arrived. There were clouds, and it rained for a moment, but the sun was shining brightly and it looked to be a lovely afternoon.
Here is a photo taken right when we pulled up on a little beach about 200 yards or so from Turner Gulch:
But, as promising as things looked when I first arrived, the clouds behind me were darkening up fairly quickly and after only five minutes on the beach, I made the decision to pack up and paddle back before things got worse. I screwed the cap back on my coke, rolled up my chips and put them into the back hatch of my kayak. Then I turned to get my life-jacket (which I had been sitting on) and my dog (whom I had been sitting with). While my dog was still there, my life jacket had blown away. Not good.
I found it hung up in some sage brush and trekked after it only to turn around when I felt a strong gust of wind and see my kayak (which was half in the water, half out) blown completely out of the water and dropped onto the beach. Now, my little kayak is only about 10’6″ inches long but it still weighs in at a solid 45 lbs. Not good.
I took a moment to put the life jacket on and tighten the straps while thinking over my options. Obviously, the weather app on my phone LIED to me and the question became, do I make a break for the dock where I put in or do I try and wait it out? Had it been earlier in the day, had I not known it was going to be worse in another hour, and had I not really, really thought I could make it, I might have tried to wait it out. But as things stood, it seemed to me I had a good chance to make the boat ramps before things got out of hand, so I went for it.
I put in and paddled about ten yards off the shore before another gust of wind literally blew me all the way back to the beach. I gave it a moment, the wind died down and we struck out yet again. This time, I made it much further before another gust came through and spun the boat in a couple of 360’s all while continuing to push us back toward the shore we’d just left. I tried to stop the spinning using my paddle and the wind tried to rip it out of my hands. Water was coming in over the front of the boat, it started raining again, only this time the stinging your face kind of rain, and in the midst of that terrifying chaos I went into survival mode.
Everyone was trying to get off the water asap, yet another indicator to me that I was not the only one caught off-guard by the sudden arrival of gale-force winds. I no longer expected to be able to paddle all the way back to the dock, instead, my plan morphed into getting the attention of one of the motor boats passing me and hitch a ride for Why?lee and myself. I was confident that if we could just keep from tipping, and flag someone down, we’d be fine.
However, after three boats passed us by as I frantically waved my arms and paddle in the air while screaming “HELP!” my confidence in my plan began to slip. The wind wasn’t letting up, my kayak had three inches of water in the bottom just from waves breaking over the front and we were as far away from the shore we left as we were from the shore we needed. A wonderful calm came over me, I stopped feeling tired, cold and scared and resumed paddling for our lives.
I felt like a paper doll in a paper boat trying to paddle in a storm drain. I could feel my incredible, amazing, wonderful Why?lee (who was sitting between my knees, facing forward into the wind and completely unable to lay down due to lack of space) shifting his weight to prevent us from tipping. Every time a gust hit, he would lower his head over the bow of the kayak and brace himself. I am confident that had I had Orion with me instead of Why?lee, we would have been in the water, boat and paddle gone, swimming for our lives.
When I was nearly halfway there, I saw a boat coming back in my direction from the boat ramps and thought it was coming for me, but as he got closer, he wasn’t slowing down so I screamed “HELP!” and waved my arms. He cut the boat engine, lifted the hood of his poncho and looked around. When he saw me, I yelled, “Can you help me?” And he yelled back that he was going out to get the rest of his family, but promised he would come for us after he picked them up.
This was both wonderful and awful news, but it gave me hope and as he pulled away, I went right back to paddle, paddle, lean in and wait it out, paddle, paddle, lean in and wait it out. After what seemed like an hour, but was probably closer to seven or eight minutes, I heard something behind me, and when I turned to look, the boat was back, now with three men and two women on board. One of the guys smiled at me and said, “Ready for a break?”
Sweeter words were never spoken.
They hauled me into their boat, which had pretty tall sides and no easy way in from the water, then they looked at Why?lee and said, “Um, we can just tow him and the boat the rest of the way.” I could appreciate their fear, Why?lee looks like a wolf and they didn’t know him, but no, no we can’t do that I thought, my dog is with me, he didn’t have a life jacket and I was no longer in the boat to hold him tight with my knees and make sure he didn’t fall out.
All of this ran through my mind in a matter of seconds as I grabbed one of the rope handles on the lip of the boat and leaned down, gripping his harness with only my right hand and hauling him into the boat by myself. Looking back, adrenaline is a powerful thing because I cannot imagine how I lifted all 85 or so pounds (more than half my own body weight) of dog roughly four feet with one arm while leaning over the side of a boat. But there you have it.
So Why?lee and I sat on the floor while our rescuers held the kayak on the side and we motored the rest of the way to the dock. I hopped out, they helped me haul Why?lee out and then set my kayak on the dock. I ran it up to the end, right where the pavement begins and just headed for my truck before remembering my keys were still in the kayak. When I turned to go get them, Why?lee just sat down and looked at me with his ears laid back and an “OH HELL NO” expression on his face. I laughed, a little hysterically, and drug him back to get the keys. I am fairly certain it will take an act of God to get him in a kayak ever again.
Here is a photo I snapped just before we got in the truck:
After taking a minute to chill out, I pulled down to the boat ramp and before I could even get out, my rescuers were loading up the kayak for me. Yet another blessing, as my arms were still trembling and generally useless. Once I had it tied down I started to head home but quickly pulled over, shaky and just not focused enough to feel safe driving. I got out, grabbed my coke and chips out of the boat, got back in and took this photo of the water we’d just been on (Note: Why?lee would not look at me for the photo, even though I offered him a honey BBQ Frito):
Then I saw I had a text. It was from my dad and said, “Get home now. It’s too scary out.”
I text him back, “You have no idea . . .”
Why?lee wasn’t speaking to or looking at me all the way home. We were both in a bit of shock, I think. But once we were home safe, I made him a very special dinner which included an entire can of tuna fish. He earned it and I’m not above bribing my dog for his forgiveness. : )
I also included each one of my rescuers in my prayers because no one has to stop. No one has to do anything, but some people do and because they did, I never had to find out if I was strong enough to make that last hundred yards on my own.
The storm raged all night with gusting winds, lightning and thunder. And after my hot shower, I went to bed glad I had decided to go for it and wasn’t still huddled on the beach with Why?lee praying for the storm to pass.
When I woke up the next day, I was covered in bruises and felt like I’d drank a fifth of vodka by myself and been hit by a Mack truck. But I was also safe in my warm bed next to my also safe Why?lee bear, listening to my coffee make itself, and feeling pretty good about being alive.
So I suppose Lucky Peak Reservoir can still be considered lucky, indeed. : )