I am a grandmother paddling alone over 2,500 miles from Maine to Guatemala. Along the way I will be:
- telling the story of the children who live in the Guatemala City garbage dump community
- honoring their entrepreneurial mothers
- talking about the success of the Safe Passage model school and
- raising funds for additional grades for the school.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Five Weeks Post Surgery: Back to Savannah, Recalling Arctic Misadventure and First Expedition Alligator

Arctic canoeing with Dave in my canoe - complete with homemade full cover.
Diving out of the snowy northeast, we were lucky not to encounter any white or icy roads.  Along the way we visited family and friends in my hometown, Waynesboro, Va. and talked with a friend who had the same surgery as I did, but four months earlier.  In Savannah we stayed with long time paddling friends and relived our arctic misadventure from twenty years ago that we call "The Incident."

Gifts of chocolate in a Waynesboro, Va diner.
In Waynesboro, we took my mother out for breakfast at a local diner.  I love the way that folks talk between tables here.  Having seen us drive up in a car from Maine, they wanted to know what we were doing in Virginia.  That was all the invitation I needed to start talking about the expedition,  Safe Passage and the children in Guatemala.   I handed out lots of my expedition business cards.  Before leaving, one of the diners brought over two boxes of chocolates for us.  So sweet!  Hope they also make donations to Safe Passage!

Had dinner with high school friends.  Learned that Ted's surgery back in October was the same one I've just had.  Fun to compare notes and see his strong recovery.  It inspires me to believe that I can reach a full recovery!
The long time paddling crew of Joe, Kathy and Deb in front of the marshes
In Savannah we stayed with old paddling friends, Kathy and Joe.  Twenty years ago we had canoed down the Snake, Peel and Mackenzie Rivers in the Yukon and Northwest Territories of Arctic Canada.  On a bush plane we flew into a remote lake and portaged over to the headwaters of the Snake River.  We were so far upstream that there was frequently not enough water to paddle the canoes, so we had to walk them down the creek.  We would take the outside bends of the river, as they often had enough water to paddle.  Then the terrain changed, more side streams came in and we suddenly had enough water to not only paddle, but to fly down the river.  Dave and I were in the lead, and by habit, I steered us towards the next outside bend.  Too late I saw the steep cliff marking the spot with the first large rapids of the river.  We had been told about this spot by a couple who had canoed the river the several years before and had dumped their canoe at this very spot.  As the current picked us up and threw us into the cliff face, I realized too late that I had made a big mistake in taking the outside bend.  Our canoe ended up pinned in the rapid, with the bow on a large rock, and the stern forcefully submerged against the cliff face.  We immediately gave the "Stop" paddle signal to the two canoes following us.

Unfortunately the following canoes were too close to us to stop and pull ashore, as the force of the water swept them towards us.  Kathy and Joe came by first and the water forced their canoe up against our canoe and then capsized them into the cold rapids.  Next came Ralph in his solo canoe, and he managed to remain upright after ramming into our canoe, and then carried on downstream and helped Joe and Kathy get their canoe and packs up onto shore.  The three of them then walked back up to where Dave and I were still pinned in the rapid.  I was getting cold being under water up to my waist in the stern, so we took turns switching places between the high and dry bow and the wet and cold stern.  The three on shore threw rescue ropes over to us, but no amount of force could budge the canoe.  We set up a line between the canoe and the shore.  They hauled ashore all of our packs, and then each of us.  We camped by the rapids and spent the remaining hours of daylight drying out any gear that had gotten wet.  The funniest sight was watching Dave stir-frying his slightly damp granola to dry it out for the rest of the trip.  We had five weeks of the trip left to go.  We talked about setting off our emergency rescue beacons.  But we had all of our gear and food and two canoes for five people.  Even if we couldn't get my pinned canoe released, we could safely continue the trip.

The next morning after breakfast we sat around the sand on the beach and drew vector diagrams of the forces holding the canoe pinned in the rapid.  (That's what happens when your canoe party consists mainly of scientists and engineers!)  We realized that we would need apply force to the pinned canoe from the other side of the river.  From somewhere on that cliff face.  We used Kathy and Joe's larger canoe for three of us to ferry across the bottom of the rapid and tied it securely on the other side.  Then we carefully climbed along the face of the cliff to reach the pinned canoe.  Joe and I were setting up a "Z-Drag" pulley system with ropes and carabiners so we could apply enough force to get the canoe out of the rapid.  Meanwhile Dave reached over to make sure the bow line was firmly attached to the canoe.  Can you imagine our surprise when the canoe just popped up from that small tug?  We were definitely very happy campers as the lined the canoe through the rapid and ferried over to our camp to check it's damage.  Again we were surprised to find my Royalex Swift canoe was unscathed!

There were many other rapids in the next five weeks of our voyage.  We were our usual extremely cautious selves for every remaining rapid and had no more "incidents".  In fact, we have had so few misadventures in our years of wilderness canoeing together,  that we all now refer to the Snake River pinning simple as "The Incident".
At the Arctic Circle, Kathy giving Deb her "official certificate" for crossing the Arctic Circle
I wish I was recovered enough to go out paddling with Kathy and Joe here in Savannah, but we had to satisfy ourselves with hiking through wildlife preserves.  Since it was the first warm, sunny day in weeks, we saw lots of mud covered alligators who had emerged from "mudding up" to soak up the sun.
I too wanted to lie down and soak up the sun!

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