Every time someone speaks of rain they gain my attention. Every time the drops start to fall, I can do nothing but turn to the sky. So when the remnants of Hurricane Charlie passed through Central Maine I could do little to control my ever increasing energy, for steady rain brings creeks. Rising creeks mean a much needed interruption in the monotony of daily Kennebec runs, and a chance for a handful of local boaters to push themselves, reclaiming the love for boating that draws us all to the waters.
An almost typical Sunday unfolded with my chasing of some North American rubber down the Kennebec, some basic editing, a bit of river lunch, and a gathering of folks proclaiming their victory over such rapids as big mamma and magic falls. What was atypical however was the Red Bull rush raging within me as I frantically called and looked for people to run Austin Stream with me. My list began and ended with Austin since Moxie was to low, Cold stream was too long, and Gulf Hagas was just simply too far away and rumor had it that it was running 18 inches above the concrete, which would make it just a bit too much.
After a bit of searching I convinced Tyler from North American to join me, who upon seeing the short stretch of river falling with a gradient of 390 ft. per mile through its tight gorge decided to provide safety for me from the shore instead. Jill also joined us initially to videotape, but ultimately to hold my hand.
As we approached the river located on the outskirts of Bingham I found myself to be particularly jittery and quite talkative. I remember thinking that I was excited, yet also very nervous and began to wonder how other creek boaters act before a big run, and how nice it would be if I was silent and reflective, rather then boisterous and thoughtless. I kept talking all the way to the put in, where I have hesitantly found myself two times before over the past year. My chattering subsided as my mouth was dry, and besides there was no one left to talk with as I was now alone.
The first three rapids of Austin Stream are simply wonderful, they are tight, technical, lose plenty of elevation and are fairly straightforward and safe. There seems to be a simple correlation between skill and success rate, simply meaning that I feel very comfortable through the rapids, experiencing intense pleasure, without any true fear.
However, the final drop at Austin is very much unlike the first three. It is described in “Steep Creeks of New England” as a portage that is occasionally run at high water. For me, the final drop has historically always been run at all levels, except extremely low, and today would prove to be no different. The drop is best described as a 20 ft. vertical fall that lands into a small, boulder choked pool of various depth. Having swam in the pool I knew that there were spots throughout that were no deeper then six inches, and others that were many feet. A run down any one of the lines is quite like rolling dice, for just as I had two successful runs over it before, I knew this third time could easily be tragic.
As expected I passed without event through the first three rapids and found myself in the eddy above the final drop. It is not my style to spend a great deal of time contemplating a drop, and so with a few choice words and a little bit of scouting I realized that there was no way I could live with myself if I walked. As a paddled for the edge I visualized the movements in my head and saw the last left handed paddle stroke that I would use to push myself out past the falling wall of water and safely into the pool below. Yet, fear made me hesitate and actually stop so that dreams of love for a girl and for a stable future could fester within my mind. I cleared my head, retraced my strokes, threw that final left-handed blade as I had rehearsed a hundred times before and disappeared over the rust tinted edge.
Moments later I found myself confused and disoriented as I struggled to swim for the security of Tyler’s outstretched hand. As we made contact and I was pulled to safety I realized that I was in a great deal of pain and agony, yet lucky to have been thrown from the boat when I hit bottom, yet suffer the same pinned fate just a few yards downstream that my boat and paddle endured as they rested underneath an old blow down.
Several hours later in the emergency room, and a multitude of blood tests, x-rays, cat scans, and an IV-drip of saline and morphine, I was set free with a series of bumps and bruises, torn cartilage between my ribs, and a bottle of percocets for the pain. Overall, I consider myself to be extremely lucky as I was able to walk away from the accident and will be up and paddling again within the doctors recommended time of 2-4 weeks.
Many people with whom I have spoken with since the accident, people who exist outside of the boating world, or outside of the world of extreme sports have a hard time understanding. It is not the run down Austin Stream that they can’t relate with, it is the simple desire to do it again that is not understood. I myself have a difficult time understanding it, and dealing with the fear that comes from knowing that I will be running that same line again in the not-too-distant future. It makes me wonder why some of us feel the need to put ourselves into dangerous situations. I can only say that these are the only times I exist for, that everything else is a step to the next adrenaline rush and that I live my life one creek to the next with everything but love, being nearly unnoticeable filler within.
For the sake of my family, friends, and potentially fulfilling life, I wish that the Kennebec in all its magnificent monotony could continue to deliver the same high, time and time again. So if you are just learning to paddle and you are terrified of the thought of a run down the upper gorge at 4800 cfs, I want you to be thankful because you are truly a blessed person.
I want to thank Jill and Tyler from North American for getting me and my equipment safely off the river. I also want to thank them for bringing me to the hospital and staying with me for hours as the doctors made certain I didn’t rupture any internal organs. Thank you, you are my heros!
Email nick [at] noumbrella [dot] com with your questions, comments and concerns.
Design and Content © 2002 to 2006 No Umbrella