Those of you on the Bradstreet kayaking list might remember an invitation to join me for some paddling this past Sunday. Bradstreet member Frank gave a tentative nod but then later bowed out, and then later I mentioned it to Dax and he joined the team. At Dax’s suggestion we decided to hit the lower part of the Cuyahoga river, between Peninsula and Brecksville, for a change of pace. Naturally I was out late Saturday night partying, to ensure that I’d look and feel my best for the early morning Sunday event. I staggered to bed Saturday night with visions of a sunny day’s paddling awaiting me.
The alarm went off at oh-dark-thirty and my first sensory input was the sound of raindrops pelting off my bedroom window. Or a squadron of crazed stinkbugs, given the past few months’ experiences in Ohio, but I was hoping for the best. And rain it was. Peeling back the shade, I saw a sky the color of pencil lead, filled with those shitty little raindrops that look like they’re saying, “Yeah…I could do this all day, pal.” Yuck.
I oozed down to the computer with one eye open and checked the weather. Wunderground was calling for a 50% chance of rain. Well, duh. It’s always a 50% chance of rain….it’s either RAINING or it’s NOT. At war with myself, I decided to gather more input…and by that I mean I decided to call Dax and give him an opportunity to be the wimp first. Unfortunately (and to my complete surprise) he was still raring to go. Which meant I had to go. Caught between the all-too-familiar male conundrum of ego vs. intelligence, the decision was already a foregone conclusion…
Dax arrived at my place right on time. Fortunately, the rain had decided to stop, although it was still dark, gray and threatening. Unfortunately, I was already letting down our team by not being ready to go. In an attempt to alleviate the constant requirement to carp and bitch at his usual slow paddling pace, I’d decided to remove Dax’s one excuse…that of having an inflatable kayak…and bring Polly’s plastic boat along. I’d told Dax I’d have everything on the car and ready to go when he got there, however, I was still dithering around like a woman in a shoe store when he arrived. I was struggling to figure out what kind of gear combinations would be required to paddle down a river with temps in the forties and rain, and then bicycle back UP the river to our car…with temps in the forties and rain. And of course, I always plan for an unscheduled swim, so that had to be taken into consideration as well. The final choices resulted in a mound of clothing and assorted gear which took up about half of the rear of my SUV. How I was gonna get all that in my kayak, much less my bicycle, I had no idea. Finally, with help from Dax, we got the boats and the bicycles on the SUV and off we went. I was just about fully awake by then.
Arriving in Brecksville, we found the pull-out location where we would leave our bicycles. Kinda. There were….complications. Remember those marathon-running assholes who closed down the Valley Parkway so I couldn’t use my normal put-in on the Rocky River a few weeks ago? Yeah. Well, guess what. Now they’d shut down the tow path so they could all run in the rain. Really. I couldn’t make this shit up. There were cops at the Brecksville end and they told us, in no uncertain terms, that we’d not be allowed to bicycle back from Brecksville to Peninsula on the tow path as planned. We asked nicely and they did allow us to lock our bikes up in that parking lot…as long as we didn’t park there any longer than that. Apparently the runners would be needing the parking lot, too. For their, um…legs, I guess. I was seething, but Dax kept saying calming things to me, and thus no blood was shed. I did offer one of the cops $20 if he would just start shooting random runners, but he declined, though I’m pretty sure I detected a note of real regret in his voice.
After locking our bikes up, we spent some time looking at the banks of the river to choose a good pull-out spot.(1) Unsuccessfully, I might add. There didn’t appear to be a good place, from what we could see, but what the hell…nothing else about this trip was working out. We decided to just start paddling and figure it out when we got there. After all, our choices would be limited, right? If we kept going, we’d go over the dam, so we thought that’d be excellent incentive to get creative.
We then drove to Peninsula to put in. Along the way I followed Riverview Rd, the route we’d be forced to bicycle now that the Marathon Nazis had taken over the tow path. It was at this moment that even Dax’s normally indefatigable enthusiasm took a hit, as he realized that Riverview is pretty much all giant hills and narrow blind curves, about the worst environment in which a bicyclist could find himself. But again we figured we’d tackle that problem when we came to it. Like a pair of Labrador Retrievers, we were all about getting into the water at that point.
Arriving in Peninsula, we found our put-in spot. Or at least what passed for it, if climbing over 20-feet of ankle-turning rocks carrying a boat is your idea of a good put-in. Again, the local constabulary admonished us that we were unwelcome unless we were sweaty, panting and had a number taped to our chests. We were told we’d be able to unload our yaks, but then we had to GTFO and park our car down the road with the other heathen. Leaving our kayaks and all our expensive gear by the river, we relocated our car post-haste and then walked back to begin our odyssey. Along the way, one of the marathon groupies, noticing our fashionable river garb, made comment that she hoped “we’re not inconveniencing y’all too much with our little race”. Fortunately Dax opened his mouth and started talking first, and since we were walking away from her, the only way I could have expressed my sentiments would have been to shout them over my shoulder, walking backwards, and that wasn’t exactly how I wanted to do it.
Slipping into our boats, we headed north with a pretty decent current….only to almost immediately run into a rock garden that would have made Rocky River proud at its lowest flow. WTF? I’d paddled the Cuyahoga up near Hiram and it was like 12-feet deep or something. In fact, the only reason I’d even wanted to try this part of the river today was because I thought it’d be nice to just paddle for a change, instead of having to dodge rocks all day. But here we were, 30 seconds into this trip and we were both stranded dead, grounded out on rocks. Hell.
Like a couple of idiots, we sat there in our boats for a while, trying to figure out what to do. Unlike Rocky River, this section of rocks wasn’t something you could scooch through with your hands for a couple of feet before finding deeper water again; this section ran for at least 20-25 feet. I considered getting out and walking, pulling my boat behind me (okay, that’s not true…my first thought was to start smacking Dax for not scouting the river better, but that passed fairly quickly) but I was sporting a brand new pair of NRS wetshoes, and I suddenly realized that, although they were supposed to be an upgrade to my previous choice of paddling footwear (Crocs), once I stepped into the river, the water would be over the tops of them and they’d fill up with water. And not just any water…icky nasty disgusting Cuyahoga river water, that we’d been warned not to even CONSIDER paddling in. The Crocs, at least, have dime-sized holes all over them…they drain instantly.
I decided to try scooching with my hands first. For those unfamiliar with the term (since I made it up) scooching involves putting your hands down into the water and pushing down on the imprisoning rocks, hopefully lifting yourself and your boat up enough that the current will move you forward…with luck, to the point where you’re actually in deeper water. Repeat as necessary.
Okay, I have a question. Along with my sexy new NRS wetshoes, I picked up a pair of Sea to Summit neoprene paddling gloves. My reason for doing so was that my other paddling gloves are just fingertipless nylon gloves, designed to prevent blisters, and I figured these wouldn’t be so shit-hot when the water temps got down near freezing. Now…isn’t neoprene supposed to be waterproof? I mean, it’s RUBBER, isn’t it? Cuz lemme tell you…these aren’t. At all. When I put my hands into the river in step 1 of the scooching maneuver, the water went through those gloves like they were made of window screen.
Once I overcame my initial shock from the instantly wet hands, I settled into the scooching. As previously mentioned, the shallow section of the river went on for a while, so with Dax following suit parallel to me, try to imagine two guys sitting in kayaks trying to push themselves down this river. We must’ve looked like something from a Japanese game show.
With me in the bigger kayak and carrying all the heavy shit, Dax’s scooching quickly outdistanced mine and he hit the open water and took off like a tadpole. Swearing like a sailor and sweating like Mike Tyson taking the SAT, I eventually managed to clear the rock garden and catch up with him. Which was great, for about 5 minutes. When we hit another one. At which point it’s probably lucky that Dax was in a smaller, faster boat, because had I been able to catch him I probably would’ve grabbed him and held him under. If I could have found deep enough water.
We eventually managed to make it out into enough water to actually float our boats and I began to have a good time…the weather seemed like it might actually cooperate, the leaves were gorgeous, the river interesting. We ran into the occasional class 1-2 rapid and each time I made an earnest attempt to channel Chuck. “What would Chuck do…what would Chuck do…” became my mantra during these moments. I’m not sure I was ever actually successful in this endeavor…if I made it through a particular rapid reasonably well, I’d pretty much chalk it up to dumb luck, and during those times when my rock-avoidance technique resembled nothing so much as a pinball machine in play, I figured that was about par for the course. I decided to let Dax lead, that way, while I might not learn anything from his paddling techniques, I could at least profit from his mistakes.
In this way we made it down the river uneventfully. Dax emphatically proved that his previous slowness was all about his choice of boats…that inflatable pool toy he calls a kayak must really slow his ass down because once he was in Polly’s plastic boat, it was all I could to to keep up with him. At about the halfway point it started raining, but since we were snugly buttoned up in (mostly) waterproof clothing to begin with, this hardly represented a major change in our circumstances. I watched the miles go by on my battery-operated GPS, using it to doublecheck our choices when we came to the occasional branchings as other waterways entered/left the Cuyahoga. Once in a while the marathon groupies on the banks would snap pictures of the two morons out playing in the river in the rain.
We’d measured the distance between Brecksville and Peninsula via road and it was something between 6-7 miles, but by 7.5 miles we still had no sight of our destination. With the continuous rain, our talk drifted around to the inevitable return trip to the car and how that might be accomplished. We needed options. Pedaling a bicycle up ridiculous hills on a twisty and dangerous road was bad enough, doing it in the RAIN was rapidly becoming an absolute last resort. I suggested we hijack a ride from some of the marathon groupies….after all, it was their fault we were in this predicament in the first place. As the discussion continued, the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad train went by us and, no dummies, we added that to our menu of options. And finally it occurred to me that my lovely wife, Polly, was actually supposed to be relatively close to us at that moment on some errand. If I could snag her via cellphone, she might be convinced to come bail us out of this predicament!
Arriving at Brecksville we were forced, as planned, to get creative. There just seemed to be no easy way to even get out of our boats, much less get them up on the embankment. Finally we found a spot where there were two shoebox-sized rocks just offshore, peaking out of the water. Lifting one leg out of the boat, we could then balance on these rocks with the outboard foot, while still being mostly in the boat. A quick lurch and tumble to the left put us on the embankment, and then it was just a matter of brute strength to claw our way up, hauling our boats behind us. Standing there grinning like idiots in the rain, we realized we’d actually pulled it off.
Checking the schedule of the train, we were surprised to see it listed as departing the station every 15 minutes. But we’d been on the river paralleling those tracks for over two hours and had seen that train once. Looking around, we noticed a hastily tacked-up notice on the wall…yes, you guessed it. Another victim of the Marathon Nazis, the train’s schedule had been completely modified to accomodate the marathon. We’d just missed the one and only departure for the day. Jesus H. Christ on a stick!
I scrambled for my phone which, predictably, I’d packed first in my dry bag….meaning it was now at the exact bottom of my dry bag, necessitating the complete unpacking of said dry bag in the rain to put my hands on it. With my entire wardrobe now scattered around the grassy embankment, I finally felt my hand touch the coveted phone. Dialing frantically, I was able to get in contact with Polly and yes, she was available. No, she was not in the area…she’d finished her errand long before and returned home. Yes, she was willing to come back out our way and help us out…for a price. Wait…what? Indeed, my bride was blackmailing us….me, actually. She demanded sexual favors. Okay, no problem, at least not once I’d had a solid shower. Deal. I hung up and gave Dax the good news, after which we repaired to higher and drier ground to await our deliverance.
About twenty minutes later I received a phone call from Polly, who, predictably, was having problems finding us. I gave her more specific directions but before I could hang up she said, “Wait…I have more demands.”
“In addition to the sexual favors, you must watch a movie of my choice with me. I choose… ‘The Spitfire Grill’.”
Noooooooooo!!!! Anything but THAT!
“If you don’t want to watch it, that’s fine,” she added, “I can just turn around now and head back home…”
Dammit. The woman had me right where she wanted me. Tasting blood, I grudgingly agreed to her terms. In a few minutes we saw her car enter the parking lot. Trudging over, dragging our gear, I considered the chain of events…I wasn’t all that worried about the current situation…after all, maybe if I started fooling around during the movie, I wouldn’t have to watch all of it. What worried me, on the other hand, was the precedent being set here. Who knew what she’d ask for next?!?
Kisses were exchanged and we loaded our gear into Polly’s car for the trip back to mine, in Peninsula. It felt indescribably yummy to be dry and in a heated car…while we hadn’t been cold on the river due to our activity, waiting around in the rain after we pulled out had chilled us to the bone and that car heater was one step removed from heaven, in my eyes. We drove my car back, loaded up the bikes and the kayaks and made our way home.
It had been a great day, full of the kind of silly fun only a really stupid and ill-advised activity can bring. Dax and I both realized that we could now kayak in just about any weather, which opens up a whole new avenue for fun in the winter. I’m looking forward to our next adventure!
And thanks very much to my honey for coming to get us. (2)
(1) Okay…is it “pull-out” or “take-out”? Because “pull-out” always makes me think of something else, and I’m not even Catholic.
(2) She made me write that