Our third annual Bucket Trip was the gift that kept giving, the trip from hell. The adventures kept coming at us non-stop and they weren't through yet.
On the afternoon of the third day of our trip down the Dolores River in Utah on three rafts with 10 persons, Jy had skippered our boat into a huge standing rock in the middle of a rapids and it had flipped over. After a harrowing escape from underneath the boat, I had gone on a wild ride down the rapids to the bottom.
After I shakily pulled myself out of the river, I had gone back upriver to see if I could help out with our capsized boat. I hadn't seen Jy or G, the other man in our boat, since I had been dumped unceremoniously into the frigid water.
I hoped they were both alright.
Well, they were, more or less, at least for now. When I arrived on the bank across twenty feet of torrential rapids from where the rock was, the scene was shocking.
The overturned raft was being held fast by the current against the rock we had crashed into. Jy and G were out of the water pressed against the rock themselves, standing atop the higher pontoon of the boat, shoving against it with their legs trying to get it to move off the rock.
Forty feet behind them was our largest boat, tilted precariously in the river, hung up on rocks in the rapids while its three occupants scrambled about the boat deck and stepped into the seething water which was pouring over the barely submerged river rocks in their attempts to free it. Just like our capsized boat, it was stuck tight.
On the bank with me were the last four members of our trip, both couples that had been in the 4-person paddle boat. When its captain, T, had heard the approaching rapids, he had judiciously put in on shore to scout it on foot before embarking down it.
We watched helplessly while the five persons in the river worked frenetically to free their boats. There was no getting out to them, the river was too deep and the current too strong.
The two women on shore, Ju and A, accompanied by B, went downriver on foot to try to collect anything that might break free from the boats. This is called recovery, not rescue.
We all hoped it wouldn't be bodies.
After many long minutes, perhaps a quarter of an hour, G and Jy had made some progress in shifting the position of their boat. It moved downstream ever so slightly while they shoved against it while keeping their backs pressed against the vertical wall face of the standing rock they were leaning against.
Suddenly the current caught the boat and it broke free of the rock. With a shout, Jy and G scampered about trying to scramble onto the raft before it left them on the rock in the middle of the rapids.
This proved to be impossible because it was still upside down. Down the rapids it went, sunny side down, sucked down the same vortex that I had been sucked into when I got out from under the boat.
It left its crew behind as it disappeared from sight.
G, being an experienced river man, crawled higher on the tall rock where its angle was less severe and gained his feet. He climbed to the top of the twenty-foot rock and looked off downstream at his disappearing boat.
Jy, not being used to such things, was clinging to the rock face with his river shoes barely out of the water. He pressed his belly against the smooth granite, his fingers dug into a couple of slight crevices.
"G, help me, I can't get up the rock!" he called out. G kept watching his boat. Behind them, the crew of the other stuck boat were oblivious to the drama on the rock as they frantically worked in their own little island of chaos to free their boat.
Down river, A was having her own adventures, which involved going into the river to its midway point. Her status as a Boston Marathon Qualifier enabled her to save our trip from further, possibly irreparable, disaster.
Jy was aware of my presence on the bank opposite him. He had been visibly relieved, as had G, when I had showed up, because it meant that I hadn't been killed or severely injured. Jy also now had proof that a passage down the rapids was survivable.
"G, I can't climb this cliff! I'm going to swim down the rapids. Do you think I should?" Jy had a life jacket on, as did we all.
G grunted. Life on the river is tough.
He was clearly worried about the boat, which was his possession and contained all our stuff. Jy slid backwards into the raging river and was gone down the rapids in a flash!
Jy was on his own now. There were persons down below who could possibly help him if and when he emerged from the rapids.
Did I already say that life on the river is tough? (Left: Jy disappears down the rapids on a lonely ride. Good luck, buddy!)
I hadn't read the trip brochure closely enough before I came on this trip. At the last second, I almost gave in to my vague unease about it and went off to Custer's Battlefield instead. Talk about last stands. Look at them all! Don't let any escape!
Jy had vanished down the rapids. G was atop a standing rock in the rapids, twenty feet from safety across a rampaging channel of churning, frothy water.
J and his crew were caught in the rapids in the middle of the river. They had already lost their spare oar the day before when their boat got stuck at Stateline Rapids, the supposed "tough" rapids on this trip.
Unbeknownst to me, A was diving into the river at about that moment down below after a long run in pursuit of one of the paddles from G's boat. This trip was five days on a remote section of river, devoid of serviceable roads nearby and without cell phone service, and every oar was precious.
My boat, with all of its baggage, had floated away downriver upside down and was out of sight. The only possessions I had left were the soaked clothes I had on.
I had almost been drowned under the boat and then killed in the rapids.
There was the paddle boat upstream, our smallest boat, which still had to make it past the rapids.
Night would come soon enough, with its 40 degree chill.