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Outdoors Outpost
The River of Life (And Death)
Wednesday, June 5, 2013 • Posted June 5, 2013

As America’s foremost procrastinator, I have once again managed to miss an important holiday. Memorial Day is a time, not to necessarily mourn our lost veterans, but to remember them and express our appreciation for their sacrifices. I apoligize to all U.S. veterans for being so neglectful, but please bear in mind that I often remember my own birthday about halfway through ‘Happy Birthday To You,’ while my wife and kids are walking in with a flaming cake (which lately has to be called in to the local sheriff’s dispatcher before it’s ignited).

Also, as Jerry Patterson, our august Texas Land Commissioner and the current leader (no doubt) in the Lt. Gov. race said recently, in a tribute to his veteran ancestors, once we have paid our respects, we should enjoy ourselves. So that’s what my family did Memorial Day weekend. We paid our respects and then enjoyed ourselves almost to death.

Our idea of enjoyment may be somewhat different from yours, but that’s OK. Not everyone likes exhausting themselves, almost drowning, and very nearly knocking themselves out. I have to admit I’m getting a little tired of it, myself. A fellow can stand only so much fun.

My wife and I and two of our sons, Paden and Leret, decided to float part of the Llano River during the holiday, on account of the river happened to have some water in it. This has not been the case of late, what with the Big D in Texas the last couple of years (we don’t like to say drought, as if that legitimizes it and causes it to linger). But it finally rained pretty good in Mason County and points west, and the river came down. Which requires an explanation.

See, when a lot of runoff water enters a river upstream, it causes the water level to rise downstream. Pretty simple, but when that happens, we say ‘the river came down.’ If there happens to be a misplaced Yankee listening, instead of minding his own business, he might ask why we say the river ‘comes down’ when the water level rises. Yankees often don’t grasp the obvious, that the water that caused the river to rise came downstream, therefore the river gets up when it comes down.

The Texans reading this already knew all that. I’m just explaining it for any Yankees, such as Oklahomans or Arkansans, who happen to find this column. It seldom happens, but there you go.

Anyway, the Llano was up about three or four feet, which is enough to help move a boat along pretty handsomely, but not enough to scare the daylights of you. Usually. It all depends, though. Ron White once made fun of a fellow who tied himself to a palm tree on the beach in Florida when Hurricane Andrew was coming, to prove he ‘could withstand gale force winds.’ White said, “Buddy, let me tell you something. It’s not THAT the wind blows. It’s WHAT the wind blows.”

The river is like that when it comes down. Stuff comes with it, like propane tanks and houses and cars and wire gaps, stuff that can kill you. So you have to watch out. But a three-foot rise is not too dangerous. Generally.

We put in at the bridge over state highway 87, planning to float twelve miles to Castell, or bust. I was in my trusty Old Town solo canoe, and everyone else was in single kayaks. We have learned, as a family, that everyone needs to be in separate boats. It inspires cordiality and cuts down on attempted fratricide.

The boys still splash each other and such, but they can escape serious paddle-inflicted wounds if they aren’t in the same boat with one another. Even my parents, after forty-odd years of marriage, declared, after only one trip in a tandem kayak, that they would never again float without each having his or her own boat. It was a wise decision.

The rapids weren’t exactly raging, but the current was strong enough to stand us on our heads several times. My wife was once trapped underneath her boat for an undetermined period of time, and therefore almost drowned. Technically. The main problem was that her kayak had a hole in the bottom, and it was full of water, which made it very hard for her to get it off of her. That was, of course, my fault.

I also had a disagreement with my canoe at one point, and managed to turn over in about a foot and a half of water. When I tried to get back in the boat my feet slipped, and as I fell over my trusty canoe jumped up and whacked me on the forehead hard enough to cut a gash over my eyebrow. Luckily I had muddy river water to wash out the wound with.

We finally made it to Castell, but the outcome was in question at several points. If you decide to float the river on a rise, allow plenty of time. I recommend cancelling magazine subscriptions, and arranging for someone to pick up your mail.

And if you float from Hwy. 87 to Castell, keep an eye out for 1½ kayak paddles, which unnamed members of our party managed to lose along the way . . .

Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who carries duct tape on the river at all times. For everything. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or jeep@verizon.net

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