Wild canoeing adventures

While in Washington, we planned a canoe trip on the Yakima River – the section between Prosser and Benton City, for those locals who might want to keep track. This is not a section any part of my family has ever canoed, despite living in the area for the past 30 years. We read a description online, but the river was flowing somewhat higher than it had been in the description, so we were thinking the rapids wouldn’t be quite so exciting as described. The Yakima is pretty tame, the river rising minimally generally covers up the rocks and reduces the rapids. Ken and I also drove the roads along both sides of the river – you can’t see the river the whole way, but the rapids we did see looked fun, but definitely not insurmountable.

The next day we set off with nine people, four canoes, and five cars, two of which we dropped at the take-out. Here’s the two-canoes-on-one-minivan method.
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Of the nine people, three of them had minimal canoeing experience, most of it on flat water. Am I foreshadowing too much here?

We hopped into some pretty quick water in Prosser, which soon developed into a couple of fun rapids, just big enough to bump the boat around and put a few drops of water into our boat. Ken’s sister and brother-in law were having problems with their canoe filling with water, so our canoe stopped to help them tip it out and have them switch positions to get the heavier person in the back. By this time my parent’s canoe and my sister and her husband were out of sight around the next bend, so we got back in and started trying to catch up. After that bend, which was to the right, if I remember correctly, there was in short order another rapid which continued around a bend to the left, so we couldn’t really see most of the rapid. About halfway around the bend it became evident that this was a different sort of a rapid. Out of the corner of my eye I also spotted some fishermen on the right bank, watching. How embarrassing would it be to flip in front of them?

Our canoe, which was a massive, ship-like thing, had three of us in it, and we were doing ok. But then we saw Ken’s sister’s canoe flip over ahead of us, and we tried to help them out and ran into a big wave, which filled our canoe with ankle deep water and made it nearly impossible to maneuver. We almost went over, but somehow managed to stay upright. At this point, we confirmed that the canoe’s occupants had made it to the shore, and I noticed that the “fishermen” on the right bank were in fact my parents and sister and brother-in-law, who had flipped minutes before us and managed to get to the bank.

Everyone survived. Good. But there was still a canoe floating down the river! We labored over to the shore and dumped out the majority of the water, then hopped back in and sprinted down river to grab the escaping canoe. We then had the enjoyable task of pulling it back upriver and getting it upright again.

The next problem was in avoiding hypothermia. There are some skinny people in our families (not Ken or I, alas… But it’s an advantage in a hypothermia situation!) We stripped as many clothes as were decent off of the skinniest people and put them into our dry clothes.

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At this point, certain members of the group were not interested in continuing down the river, since we didn’t know what lay ahead, and it wasn’t warm. So, we ate some lunch, which was only minimally soggy, and came up with a plan. Because we are notoriously slow at making plans, my brother-in-law just left to walk back to the cars (presumably about 3 miles upriver) without waiting for anyone.

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Eventually we decided that three people should go back, because there were three cars at the start, and drive the cars down to the end. My mom and sister headed up the bank in search of my brother-in-law and the vehicles. The rest of us took off down the river, towing one of the canoes.

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The rest of the trip was relatively uneventful. There were a few rapids, but nothing all that exciting.
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About halfway down the remaining stretch of river, we stopped and gave my sister a call to see how thing were going. She and mom had gotten back to the cars without finding her husband. He didn’t have a cell phone, and nobody knew where he had gone. Was he at one of the multiple wineries along the way, or was he laying under a sagebrush, too cold to go on?

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Happily, they found him at a winery, eating bacon wrapped shrimp. The rest of us had a nice ride down the river, although the wind came up on the last, slow section and made it a bit difficult.

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I was really worried that we would put Ken’s siblings off of canoeing forever, since we dumped them in the drink and almost froze them to death. It didn’t seem to phase them though, I think they’ll trust us to take them canoeing again someday.



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June 2014
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