By Vickie Bartley
Lazily fishing in an uninhabited area and breathing in the aromatic smells of Mother Nature is what a North Carolina couple decided to do for their retirement. Excitedly, visualizing post-work years as a time for paddling down a tranquil river, landing a fish, birding, and turtle watching created an allusion of mental relaxation. Yes, Don and Vickie were buying a kayak.
Faithfully practicing their paddling skills once a week at a nearby lake increased their confidence. However, actively kayaking gave them insight into additional needs for comfortability on the water. The joyful hours sitting in this water vessel provided a new meaning to “numb ass.” New seat cushions were a necessity.
Deciding they were experienced paddlers, they planned a boating trip on the Catawba River. So, packing their truck with the treasured kayaks and securely strapping them in place, the couple was ready to graduate from lake to river paddling.
Surprisingly, the boat launch at the Catawba River access was empty. Instead, the echoing noise of cars on the bridge by the boat dock resonated in the still air. Unloading the vehicle took little time, and soon Don and Vickie started their river paddling trip.
Paddling upstream took longer than expected. Fortunately, the entrance to the fishing spot was found even though it felt eerie, ducking under branches, avoiding cobwebs, and watching for hanging snakes from branches to enter into the clearing. Observing the scattering of herons standing on the water’s edge was worth the disturbing entryway.
It was time to start back down the river. Arriving at the launch in record time, Vickie anchored her boat a hundred yards away to continue fishing. Unexpectedly there was a jolt that knocked her kayak. Looking up, she watched her husband swiftly passing by. Thinking, “what in the world? He needs to be more careful of that.” Ramming another person’s kayak was hazardous.
Don had disappeared suddenly with the current increasing. Vickie yelled loudly as her heart pounded in her chest. Had he drowned? What was she going to do? Suddenly a voice calling her name echoed in the river chamber. The unkempt man standing there looked like he got pulled out of a mud puddle. Soaking wet clothes, hat missing, and what was once thick gray hair darkened by river grass.
Don explained how the turbulent water capsized him near the riverbank. Everything on the boat was gone. He was able to pull out from under the vessel to survive. Then the kayak disappeared down the river too.
Soulfully, Vickie sat anchored in the kayak, terrified to move as she watched groups of kayakers arriving at the launching area. The cluster of kayak toting paddlers told Don that they had “released the dam.” The group was there for “whitewater paddling.” Apparently, The USGS Current website listed information on North Carolina dam releases. So, fervently, these enthusiasts of all ages follow dam release schedules – “Dam paddlers.”
Vickie spent hours nestled in her kayak with water running rampage around it, but she refused to cry or cuss; she sat and waited for the unknown to happen. In the distance, the high-pitched intruding screams of sirens were blasting, then suddenly, a group of firefighters emerged purposely down the paved boat launch. They analyzed the preposterous situation before them while asking Don questions.
The firefighters decided to throw a rope from the bridge to pull Vickie up to the steel structure. This did not work. Thirty minutes later, a strong-looking firefighter wearing a harness waded over to the anchored kayak. A strap connected to his harness was maintained by the rescuers standing on the shore. Inevitably she was going into the icy water, and she did. Eventually, they were both slammed against the river wall. Atop the river bank stood the other firefighters waiting to assist in this rescue.
EMS examined Vickie and asked if she needed to go to the hospital. She refused, knowing there was no cure for stupidity. Neither kayak was ever found.
However, being prepared for their next adventure. Don and Vickie purchased new sit-on kayaks a couple weeks later, mutually agreeing that “Dam Paddling” would not be one of their future exploits.
Vickie Bartley is the Owner/Manager of Blissful22, an Online Retailer
Her dream of crafting, writing and learning about various subjects continuously grows and branches in multiple directions. Believing retirement is for trying anything at least once and enjoying each day.
Vickie Bartley, Owner/Manager of Blissful22, an online retailer located in Morganton, NC. Retired after thirty-five years in property management. Living in the mountains of North Carolina riding a motorcycle while enjoying two furry friends. Recently published a few books, opened an online store, and continually taking classes on self-awareness.