I suffer from complacent river mind time to time and that is exactly what this tale is about. Complacent river mind does not usually get me into too much trouble because it happens most often on rivers I am comfortable on. I may start to enjoy the scenery too much or start to think about something non-river related. This type of mindset is not the best place to be when you are in the outdoors. Although one does not need Zen concentration while boating, it does help to have some focus. If asked which waterway I am most comfortable on, I would have to say the Slippery Rock. I live under an hour’s drive and it is where I frequent the most, especially during the colder months. I enjoy the Slip at all levels. There is always some way to get your much needed fix there. It does not have the best play nor the biggest drops, but it is has some water that flows over rocks and that is enough for many.
A steady Friday night rain brought the Slip up to a nice level for some late October Saturday morning boating. Meeting at Harris Bridge is pretty standard when the Slip is over 1,000 CFS because the best play can be found on the lower section at this level and higher. Plus, the upper sections always feel like such a flush. On this particular Saturday morning, the Slip was around 4 feet at the mill. I still do not understand the mill correlation to the NASA, FEMA, UPMC, NAMBLA, USGS or whatever acronym we use to correlate flow to a stick in the mud, but anyway it was around 2500 CFS and rising.
The other people present with me on this particular day were Paul Eisner and Don Bolger, both TRPC members. They are my usual boating comrades. The day was pretty typical in that we played some and got blown down the river at a little faster pace than usual. What made this day unique was what happened on the third drop of Triple Drop. All three of us ran the right line at the second drop, which goes over some boulders and dumps into a frothy hole. It was so much fun that I walked back up and went down again. At this point, Don is ahead of us waiting, and Paul is near me on eddy left preparing to run the final drop, well it is not much of a drop at this level, more like the river is pretty much plumb with the usually exposed boulders. Anyway, I was not really preparing to run the third drop; I was more in a happy place, mentally curled up in a fetal position sucking my thumb. This happened because I had become complacent on the Slip and neglected to focus. I really did not even paddle; it was more like a drifting motion as I neared the final piece of Triple Drop. I then snapped out of my coma to realize that I was way too far river right and dropping into the hole. I watched with envy as Paul went down the standard line. I knew right away that I was going to be hurting. I was envious of Paul because he was not entering the hole I was, plus, he was going to get to stay in his boat on a cold day. Let me tell you a little bit about this hole since I got to know it intimately. Many of you know which hole I am talking about at this level. It has a toilet bowl flushing motion, and it is steep, deep, cold, and occupying a space of 5 feet between two boulders. The first boulder is under water at this level and is the cause of the hole, while the second monolith is against the right bank. The second rock serves the purpose of sending more water into the hole. This happens because the flow that makes it through and around the hole on river right ricochets off the big rock and dumps back into the hole. Now back to the incident. As I dropped into the hole I fought it for a brief time in a side surf but the hole was too steep. I then went into a perpetual roll that would not stop; most call this a window shade. This window shade was extra special because with each rotation I had the pleasure of smashing my head off a rock or numerous rocks, lost count after awhile. I thought that it was time for something new, so I pulled the skirt and exited my boat. We then began the recirculation process together. When I say we, I mean my boat and I. I rolled up into a tight ball, but that did not do much except scare the bejesus out of me and propelled my body further into a black, cold, and turbulent place only frequented by serious melt down artists. I then tried to flop around like a wet rag, but that did not work so I went back to the tight ball thingy. Still there was no escaping. At this point I was pretty tired and needed to breathe. I shimmied up on the hull of my boat so that my front half was on the boat and my lower half was still in the water as we side surfed in the hole. This allowed me to get some composure and catch my breath. This was a nice place to visit, but I would not want to live on the hull of my boat for any extended period of time. I did not see a way out of the hole and I was not going to try the ball thing again. I could feel a rock that was nearby and although I could not stand on it, I could push off. In one quick motion, I pushed off of the rock and hurled my boat out into the green water rushing by. The water caught enough of my boat that it pulled us out of the hole. I then began the process of swimming to a nearby shore. (Side note, the IR splash pants are really great for swimming in, although I would not want to swim in them for fun, they did not leak during my trashing.) At this point I had no gear; it was a complete yard sale. Don started a hot pursuit after my boat, which he eventually caught a few hundred feet below Eckert Bridge. During my visit in the hole, Paul was making his way up the shore with a throw rope, but I flushed before he got there. Either Paul is really slow or I was not in the hole as long as I think. My paddle was nowhere to be seen after I swam. Luckily, Paul found it about a quarter mile downstream sitting on a rock. At least something went right at this point. We rounded up the gear and finished the day on the Lower Slip without further screw-ups from me.
The point of this tale is that I was a victim of being overly comfortable with a familiar river. I should not have gone into that hole, or at least, I should have had the presence of mind to actually make an attempt to punch it. I drifted into the hole like a limp leaf. It was a scary experience and I have learned from it, I think. Awareness is really important in everything we do, but it is more so in outdoor adventures. I do not believe the situation was terminal, but I guess that will never be known considering I am writing this. It was serious enough to make me think, and that is saying a lot. Be careful out there.