Another day on the river and more lessons learned. As I venture further into the paddling and river world each and every day I make new friends and learn new lessons. Much of the time when I am on the water I am an observer. I watch, I listen, I pay attention to all the details. What is the weather like? Is it windy? Sunny? How cold is the water? I watch as the water moves around rocks, forms eddies and waves. I paddle my boat into them and see how strong or weak they are. I keep an eye downriver watching for hazards like wood and low hanging trees. I float my boat and inspect the snags and root balls to look for items that have been caught in them hoping that I don’t find a tube or something worse. I keep an eye up river looking for the rest of my group and other boaters. With my head on a swivel I can watch out for my friends. When A kayaker in the group flipped and swam I saw and was able to react and paddle to him and help him get back in his boat. Besides knowing where the boats are in the group I watch the people. I watch how they interact with one another. I watch what they are doing where they are looking and what they are not doing. If I know someone I watch for a changes in how they normally act. I check in with people when I feel I need to or if I notice a change in how they are acting. I want to make sure that the people that I am with are having a good time and staying safe. Lastly I like to observe my surroundings watching the wildlife on the shores, the birds in the sky and the occasional beaver tail slap. In the end when I am on the river I am aware and observant. I am ever vigilant because I understand that the river is a force of nature and can be dangerous.
As we came to split in the river with the paddle group I found myself helping a couple people on a paddle board that had lost their paddle and were struggling to get back on the paddle board. As I helped them back onto the board I watched as this person struggled to put on the lifejacket that they were not wearing when they fell into the water. I inquired as to what happened why was there life jacket not on? They respond that they were not expecting to fall in the water with two people on a paddle board that didn't have experience paddle boarding. I was taken back and tried to understand the situation more as this person now sitting in my boat was now taking off their life jacket again. I said you really don't like wearing that thing, why? “It’s not comfortable, and i'm on a boat i'm good” was the response. Then I was asked if I wear my life jacket all the time when I am on the water. I replied yes. They said “I understand if you are in whitewater and in a smaller boat but even when you are on a raft on this calm stuff?” I said yes again. I always wear my life jacket when I am on the water. You never know when you will be going into the water or need to have it on. I like my lifejacket. I think it is comfortable and useful. It is part of me when I am on the water. I then asked them to put on their lifejacket and keep it on. I watched again as they struggled multiple times putting their head and hands in the wrong holes not putting the lifejacket on properly again and again. Finally it was on and semi secured. I paddled around with this person on my boat for a while taking in what they said and trying to understand their perspective of the river. Learning about their experience on the water and their past where they grew up and their schooling. The biggest thing that they were upset about was being responsible for the paddle they had lost. That the biggest issue of the day was the lost paddle and now being responsible to replace it. I took this opportunity to say that if the biggest issue of the day is a lost paddle that isn't too bad, paddles can be replaced. I asked what do you think would be worse than losing a paddle? A boat they said. Anything else I replied? And with stubbornness in their voice they replied “ I know, I know… a life.” Yes a life! In the end I will not care about the paddle if we have lost your life. In the end the most important thing that you are responsible for on the river is your own life. I have known people who have passed away because they were not being responsible on the river. People pass away every year because they are not responsible on the water. I watch people each time I go down the river that do not take responsibility for themselves and do not wear lifejackets and are ill prepared to be on the water.
What can I do? I offered 4 different people life jackets that were free at the Palisade boat launch and they all turned them down. Those are the people that I look for in the snags and root balls on the river hoping that I never find them.
I got the person back to their boat and paddled away to think about what had just happened and the ignorance and lack of respect for their own life that I had just witnessed on the water that day. I have been thinking about this group and this club and the responsibility that comes with introducing people to water sports. Maybe it is because I have years of training and have experience on rivers all across the country. Maybe it is because I have had my fair share of close calls and near drownings myself. Maybe it is because I have known of others getting in trouble and have had to rescue friends. Maybe it is because I have been taught that the river is a dangerous force of nature that I am like this and have such a firm stance on being responsible for yourself when on the water, that I care so much. When I am with a group I also feel responsible. Many times I find myself as one of the most experienced people on the river. I try to lend my skills to the group offering suggestions but if you are to take a watercraft down the river you need to be able to maneuver it and avoid hazards. When you can't do that you not only do you put yourself at risk but your boat and most importantly the other people that are on the boat with you.( I later saw the same person not wearing a life jacket fall into the river from the raft they were on twice, and watched as the people on the boats had to rescue them each time.)
If this club is to become successful I must instill one thing from the very beginning and it is that you must first and foremost be responsible for yourself when on the water. Wear a lifejacket and be able to navigate away from hazards. These things are basic and should be instinctual I have learned that they are not second nature for everyone. I know that I must educate people about this and that if they are to learn it themselves that it may be a hard lesson to learn because they may come out of that lesson without a paddle, a boat, a friend, or their own life. I hope that it never happens that way and that we can be responsible boaters and educate the community on how to be safe when on the water.
Learn from these lessons, these mistakes, these situations that could have gone very differently. Think how you would feel if we had damaged a boat or worse lost a friend. When on the river be ever vigilant and observant and take responsibility for yourself and your safety.