60% chance of rain all day, cloudy with a high of 64. Water temperature 56 degrees, average water height 3.78 feet, light wind.
Pond Eddy, New York. Canoe Livery Summer Job
Today at 10 a.m. we were supposed to send out a large group of 8 rafts, approximately 40 people. The reservation was made under what I assumed was a high school group. I was dead wrong. Up comes a bus of little people maybe around the ages of 12 perhaps 13. the only people on the crew are Annie, Chris, and I so we start the rounds getting everyone paddles and life jackets. I'm in the middle of the group pretty much surveying to make sure everyone has a jacket and its properly on when the boss calls me over with a grin on his face and a glint in his eye, always means trouble.
This particular group registered over a year ago and paid for 2 river guides but that was never entered into the computer so no river guides had been lined up. He then proceeds to ask me to go as a guide. My immediate answer was no I can't. I'm not a lifeguard. The leader of their group pipes up and says he has all the necessary lifeguards, he just needs a few guides. I took a quick look at the little kids and I just couldn't say no. Annie also volunteered to go.
We now have 8 rafts filled with little kids in rafts and Annie and I in two kayaks. The leaders have a quick speech about the proper form for paddling and then the kids launch. Almost all of them immediately smash into the makeshift stone dam and get stuck hard. I try and direct them to power over or push off but they are just too weak to fight the current and the colossal weight of the rafts. I let out a sigh, scanned the waters edge and stepped straight off into the water.
Near the dam the water level is well over my knees and moving decently fast enough to make me hesitate just a bit but after a few minutes out in the water I was able to adjust and counter the current. The first boat that got stuck was helmed by an older woman who just wanted me to push them over the dam, so I did and moved on. The next boat a little further out was jammed broadside and pinned really well. I reassured them it wasn't a big deal, grabbed hold of the raft and started to tug. Immediately it started to rain and did not slack for a moment during the entire 2-3 hour ordeal. Immediately I was battling the current really hard having now increased the surface area I'm dealing with by quite a bit, referring to the boat. This time I figured I would have to walk them out to the channel, only problem with that is its a good 40 yards out from where I am. That was a massive battle that left me really tired. Too bad though I had other boats to deal with.
All in all I believe there were 3 more after that one that I had to drag and the one I sent over the dam I had to drag out because they fell into extremely shallow waters. By the time I got the last one out I could feel my temperature dropping and my toes had already started to send me alarmingly sharp pain signals and my legs were not as responsive as I would have liked. To be honest they felt like stones. On the other hand my hands had not started to hurt so I figured I was in decent shape and very far behind the group. By the time I launched the head boat was almost out of sight so I really had to paddle hard to get to the front of the column.
I was supposed to be flanking and Annie was the sweeper making sure nobody fell behind. I didn't make it up the column for quite some time. In fact I encountered a group that had run aground in the middle of the first stage of rapids. They were jammed on a big rock on the right hand side and I was on the left. The river totally overpowered me when I tried to cross the rapids diagonally, so I tail spun into the rapids facing upstream to try and get to them and I flipped. I lost everything and I was immediately soaked from head to toe. I saw my first aid kit and trail mix packages float away while I scrambled to try and hold my sinking kayak and paddle together and get to these kids. I failed miserably and ended up having to swim over to the side of the river and dump out my kayak.
The entire convoy heads past me except for Annie and another raft that is stuck hard in the middle of the river. Annie struggles hard but eventually works it free. By the time I get back into the water and head upstream to meet her she's back in her kayak and rather soaked. I paddle hard to try and meet up with the convoy again which is all spread apart but it takes quite some time. By this time the cold has crept into my hands and up my legs, causing a dull pain in my hands whenever I move and an ache in my right leg. That I could ignore though, I was starting to get worried about these little kids. I spotted a few without rain gear on and by now it was raining hard. I made it to the front of the column by the time we hit the pond Eddy Bridge and we stopped the column to regroup. While I was playing watchdog I overheard one of the kids ask this little guy if he was cold. He wasn't wearing any coat just a black t-shirt so I expected a resounding yes. Instead I heard "not anymore". Alarms immediately starting going off in my head like a fireworks show. Immediately I sought out an adult leader and notified him of my concerns for the kid and he "took care of it".
I convinced the head man to stop at staircase for lunch and during our quick stop under the bridge one of the boats got stuck again. I attempted to regain control and push them out but it didn't work, one of the other rafts had to push them out. At this point Annie and I switched places and I'm glad she did. I was worried about her, as I usually am about anyone under my care. The rain picked up considerably at this point in the trip and I stayed out in it far too long. The last boat took forever to make it to the end point. The blonde could not teach these kids how to paddle in sync. They spun in circles constantly to the point where I found myself backpedaling hard just to keep them ahead of me. The blonde was extremely upset about it as was I, but unlike me she could not keep the edge out of her voice.
By the time we finally got to the end point the kids were all gathered under some trees in the auxiliary lot eating lunch. I saw Annie on the edge of the beach with a rope going off into the water. I walk over to her and discover a group had overshot by a lot and were almost around the bend before they could pull it to shore. I took the ropes from her and took off through the water. At this point the pain in my lower legs was more than dull, it was sharp and constant. My leg muscles had pulled taut and were more like granite than legs. I tried to pick up the pace to make sure these kids were ok but I discovered I couldn't. Definitely should have roused some emotion but it didn't matter at the time. There were kids out there and they could be hurt. I slogged down to the edge about 50 yards or more down the river in the freezing cold. To my utter relief everyone was ok but very tired. I gave them a helping hand and got them moving. Once they jumped out and headed upriver towards the beach, I got to the laborious task of hauling the raft upstream. It was harder than it should have been. I tried to keep an eye on the people on shore but after a time it became too difficult to pick my way through the rocky waters and keep an eye on them. I tripped frequently. By the time I finally gathered everyone together in one place, the leaders of this expedition decided to call it quits to my utter relief. You would think that would be the end of my fabulous tale but of course it isn't.
part two short version: first contact- out of the water
The group wanted to bail and we sat halfway through our journey at Staircase base. Of course we had no keys to access the shack which had the only phone. I scanned the kids and adults quickly, they weren't in as bad a condition as I expected, but definitely not in great shape. I was out of options at this point so I decided to head out to the Pond Eddy bridge on foot, hoping the local restaurant would let me use their phone to call for help. Annie wrote down some numbers for me and I took off at a slow run that quickly turned into a shamble, and then into a pained limp. My legs were not responding anywhere near their normal level. I was well beyond that and my feet where just one pulsing source of pain. About six cars past and I was perhaps a third of the way to the Mill Brook Inn and the Pond Eddy bridge when a silver truck pulls up. Ironically I just realized it was a Dodge Dakota but at the time I was so surprised someone came to my aid that it never clicked. Anyway this guy offered me a ride. I quickly explained my situation and we got to talking a little bit. He's an older gentleman from Shohola and that's about all I got before we arrived. I knocked on the front door of the Inn and this grizzled old man opens the door to the bar. I ask him politely if I could use the phone and he immediately bites of a scathing "no". I push the issue quickly and explain the situation and he finally caved and gave me the phone. I called Matamoras, Pond Eddy, and my boss's personal phone and nobody answered. Matamoras was closed and my boss was sitting in the parking lot with his phone off. Great, I hand the phone back to the grouchy innkeeper and thank him kindly for his hospitality.
The older gentleman stayed with me waiting to see if I had an answer. My exact words were "not a single person in this company answered my phone call" he laughed and asked what was next, bless his soul. I apologized for imposing on him further and asked if he could take me to my car at the Pond Eddy base. At this point I realized if the boss had left, the base would be closed, but I had to try. After all, those little kids were freezing out there. The old man pulls in and I thank him kindly for his help.
I step out to the base. I immediately try the first and second doors and they are both locked. At this point I'm like "...fuck" but then I tried the sliding wooden window and it was open. Finally a small amount of luck on this horrifying trip. I ran out and give the guy a thumbs up to say I'm back in business and I shout out thank you and wave but I keep it brief, I have kids to keep safe. I vault myself through the window, heading straight to the phone and immediately call Barryville, which I didn't have memorized or written down, only to discover Barryville has no staff on today. The only staffed bases are Pond Eddy and River Beach, a campground several miles down the road because it's a campground.
Now I have to call the general manager at River Beach and get him to do something. I'm afraid I was a bit tart with him. I didn't think he would take things seriously enough and get the job done, I'm sure I'll be paying for that later. Regardless, now I had access to my car and I had notified my boss of the necessary info to get things done. I raced back to staircase to inform the crew of the good news. The kids had huddled together for warmth and Annie stood alone out near the street still trying to flag down someone to help. I felt absolutely terrible. When I pulled up she gave me the strangest look, as soon as I opened the door she goes "Found yourself a good samaritan huh?" "Hell yeah I did" I shouted back, and that was that.
The boss was on his way and while we were waiting, our redhead friend Katie showed up who started talking to Annie about pretty much everything. I went and approached the leader of the crew, who I think his name might have been named Dennis but not sure, and offered the keys to my car so he could put a few of the little guys in some semblance of warmth. He declined which I thought was odd but I was somewhat grateful, selfish of me to be slightly worried about wet seats. My boss shows up and dashes all hopes for the little guys. He says he can't take them but they can call the bus company to pick them up from here. That's a big step forward. While they wait for the buses, the boss man and I pull up all the boats and throw them on a little trailer. My legs have finally unwound but my hands hurt pretty badly now. By the time we finish, the bus arrives. I shake the hands of the adult leaders and high five the women. Off they went leaving me freezing cold and feeling thoroughly disrespected for my efforts. This was the end of my first season on the job.