Monday, April 21, 2008

A Treasure Hunt for the Ages

     It all started with Val.  You know Val.  Well, if you don't know her you know the type.  Bubbly, outgoing, cute blond who thinks everyone likes her because she's a sweetheart.  Val had a boyfriend, and one sunny summer afternoon they decided to take a relaxing fishing trip down a local river, the Chocolay.  But something went terribly wrong, and they had to abandon their canoe with all of its contents and swim and walk their way out, emerging on a local highway.  Sort of like in the movie Without a Paddle but without all the pot farmers and weird backwoods mountain men.  Unless they met some of them along the way.  If they did Val never mentioned it.  Anyway, after telling us of her trip, she offered us a deal.  If we retrieved the canoe, we could have it and everything in it except for the cooler and its contents.  (And seeing as it was a fishing trip, there was probably a lot of beer and booze in there.)  So we would become the proud new owners of a canoe, the one paddle that was left unbroken, a couple of fishing poles, and all the tackle they had with them.  That's a pretty sweet deal; all we had to do was go in and fetch it.
     Little Jeffy went first, on a kind of recon mission.  We knew that Val and her boyfriend had put in on the river at Mangum Road and made their way downstream, so that's where Little Jeffy started.  He went downstream past one log jam, past two long jams, until the third one foiled him.  I arrived at the Mangum Road landing on my way home from work as he returned from his reconnaissance.  So we new know that the river was filled with logjams, and so we decided to make our way to treasure by land.
     So we set out one fine morning, the sky was blue and the wind was light.  David Nathaniel, Little Jeffy and myself, armed only with granola bars, bottles of water, hiking boots, and a machete.  We made our way along the riverbank, slashing through high grass and brush like we were explorers opening up Africa.  Except this was the middle of North America and we didn't have and idea what we were doing.  After fighting through the brush for a little ways we came to an abandoned railroad grade with the remains of a bridge that crossed the river.  This is where the first logjam was located.  We were on the right bank (the right side as you face downstream) and we knew from Little Jeffy's reconnaissance that a homeowner maintained the railroad grade on the left bank, and kept a canoe at the river's edge.  So we made a decision.  Sometimes in life you have to make decisions.  We decided to borrow this person's canoe, for the public good.  Just so long as the public is us.
     We recognized one problem right off the bat.  We didn't have any paddles.  So we decided to make our way by poling ourselves along, like we were gondoliers in Venice or something.  So we piled in, David Nathaniel and Little Jeffy at the stern and bow respectively, and myself in the middle lying below the gunwales like a sack of wet flower. And so we struggled along downstream, past logjam after logjam, getting thoroughly wet and muddy and very tired.  After a time we decided to turn around and make our way back.  We returned the canoe to where we found it and made our way along the groomed path, through the aforementioned homeowners front yard, down his driveway, and back to our cars.  It was not a successful attempt.  But we did glean valuable information as to how to go about our mission.
     The second attempt to rescue the canoe was made by David Nathaniel and Josh.  They used all of the knowledge that had been gained by our past experiences and decided that attacking the problem from the water was the best way to go.  So they reborrowed the canoe and made their way down the river.  There was no way they could have known what lie ahead.  
     After crossing several logjam obstacles, David Nathaniel and Josh discovered what was Val and her boyfriend's undoing.  Unbeknown to us, at one point the Chocolay River flows into a dense thicket.  At this point it also morphs from a medium-flow, small-sized river into dozens of tiny rivulets no more than 2 ft wide or 6 inches deep.  Dozens of them.  In interlocking paths.  From above it must look like capillaries in the human circulatory system.  And it's maddening.  If you know about geography or  hydrology you know that they all end up in the same place.  But their course in between is anyone's guess.  So you just have to pick one and hope for the best.  And that's what out two intrepid explorers did.  They used the machete to hack a path through the thicket along the river, at many times dragging the canoe across land.  And then they found what was on the other side of the thicket.  A swamp.
     The only problem with swamps along rivers is that there is often a lot of water.  And small bits of land.  And it all looks the same.  And generally in these swamps the river slows down enough, and spreads out enough that you can't tell where the main flow is going to follow it.  So after getting through the maze of the thicket, Dave and Josh faced the maze of the swamp.  
     The boys don't say a whole lot about their time in the swamp.  So we assume that it was uneventful.  But the swamp holds an important place in the story.  See, we know that Val and her boyfriend swam through the swamp, and exited from the water at the edge of the swamp.  So we know that the canoe must have been abandoned either in the swamp or somewhere upstream.  When David Nathaniel and Josh reached the swamp without finding Val's canoe they had failed in their mission.  All they had found was a lot of misery and a strange area of beat down grass along the riverbank.  No canoe.  No broken paddle.  No fishing poles.  No cooler.  No nothing.
     Even though they had failed to find the canoe, the river is like a hill.  There is no way out but down.  So our heroes continued down the river and out of the swamp into the wider section of river.  But despite being wider, this section of the river is plagues by fallen trees.  Every 50 feet or so.  For several miles.   About halfway through this hell the boys came to a large metal pipe sticking into the river and decided that they couldn't take it anymore.  They ended their trip along the river at the irrigation pipe for a local golf course.  They hauled the canoe out along the pipe, slipping and sliding onto dry land.  They caught a ride back to their truck, then came back bajaing across the golf course to retrieve the canoe.  Left tire tracks all over that golf course.  Fairways, greens, the whole nine yards.  And that was the end of their journey.
     But that wasn't the end of the search.  Little Jeffy and I decided that if they could make it that far in a canoe then we could do even better in our kayaks.  But our attempt was doomed from the start.  For one, we followed the same path that David Nathaniel and Josh had hacked out.  So if they didn't find the canoe we certainly weren't going to.  But we persevered and made it all the way to the mouth of the river.  It took us roughly 10 hours to go perhaps 6 miles.  Not a good speed record.  We would not have been successful as explorers.  In the end we sort of decided that the people who gave Val and her boyfriend a ride once they'd reached the highway had come back and retrieved the canoe and its contents.  And when we pressed Val for more details she got sheepish and the story changed.  We'd been had.  But it was all in good fun, and we ended up no worse for the wear.  And we did learn one thing.  If you are going to go on a leisurely Sunday fishing trip, don't go down the Chocolay.  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

1. We had neither granola bars, nor bottled water.
2. We were totally singing the refrain from Silver and Cold as we poled along - not an error per se, just an interesting aside. And maybe Day-O as well.
3. We totally didn't walk down his driveway to get back to the cars.
4. I think that the boys had a hatchet as well.
5. We would totally be successful as explorers, because we made it to the end of the river. We just suck as treasure hunters.
6. You've never thought that it was good fun, as you flip the "bird" at the Chocolay everytime you drive over it. Which is pretty much every day.

I should totally bring my kayak up in May and we should take the run again. To see if we could improve on the time it took. We could open up the doors of the World Unofficial Extreme Kayaking Championships. Or W.U.E.K.C. as it'll be known in some social circles.