THE HARDEST DAY
I slept and slept on the way home from the most arduous day I’ve ever had. The kayak was strapped to the roof of the van and the driver never woke me the whole way home. It was the 90’s and I had been convinced by a fellow paddler that the Mangahao river was really cool when the electricity department opened the gates of the dam way up in the hills. He said, ‘we will fly in by helicopter and run the grade 4 rapids. It will be a piece of cake and you’re up to it!’
It wasn’t and I wasn’t. However, I did enjoy parts of it and learned so much about myself, including the strength of my desire to live.
We flew to the get-in point and got ourselves sorted. I asked if we should take our craft to the water’s edge. My mate just smiled and said, ‘It will come to us.’
Next minute – BOOM. An explosion of doom emanated from the base of the dam and a rush of dirty brown water spewed out from the tailrace. It quickly pooled around us and very soon we were in the boats and away. Grade 4, I think not. Grade 5 plus rapids were waiting to devour us from that point on. Fortunately, I managed the top third of the river with relative ease, but then came the chutes. We waited in an eddy at the top and went down one by one.
When it was my turn, I had no choice but to let it take me. I spent most of my time attempting to avoid the rock walls, to no avail, and was unceremoniously vomited into a pool upside down, two thirds of the way down the chute. I had not long learned to Eskimo roll, a skill I exercised right then. I looked up and an Olympic quality kayakist was on the bank writhing in agony as he
I remember the feeling of helplessness and had to make myself NOT panic. I knew I would have to use all my wits to get out of the situation alive and whole, so I steeled myself for the rest of the run. Back into the bottom third of the chute saw me successfully negotiate some tricky manoeuvres and I rested for an hour in the pool at the bottom.
had slept and slept on the way home from that point I realised I was out of my depth in more ways than one.
The run to the get-out point was supposed to be the easiest part, but in my weakened and exhausted state I really struggled. At one point I ended up in a hole being sucked back out of my canoe. I had good floatation and I swam hard to get out three times without success. I remember thinking at that point that if I wasn’t successful the next time, I doubt I would have the energy to try again. I made peace with the world at large and swam as hard as I ever had in my life. Just as I was about to give up, I got out and the river washed me to the edge.
The rest of the trip and the pack up is a blur now. I remember dragging myself out of the van and into my bed at home and slept for 24 hours. The lesson I learnt was that there was more to me than I realised and I could persevere when things got tough.
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