So I got the second proof for my book today. It looks great. Happy and content, I decide to take a break from the 4-hour-per-day 6 to 10PM book writing grind and do something different. Anne was relaxing a bit – and we planned a golf course walk at 8PM – so I decided to go Kayaking on Lake Dillon at 6PM.
I have one of those Swedish kayaks that comes in two pieces. It slides together and there is a ratchet that holds it in place. So I load it into the truck, head over Swan Mountain Road to Snake River Inlet. It’s a short haul to the water.
After pulling the entire ensemble near the shore, I try to get the thing together. It becomes a game of whack-a-mole. 2 slots together, 3rd won’t fit. Round and round we go. Try it upside down, on its side, against a rock. Move it to the grass. Finally give it a swift kick and in she goes. Ratchet down, put on the life jacket, get my iPhone and headphones (in a ziplock bag). I nurse myself into the thing – as my entry point is a large pile of rocks.
Off we go. I am reminded of how slick this kayak is. It’s remarkably fast. I head toward a point further out in the lake. My five minutes of bliss is interrupted with the first assumption that perhaps I am not going as fast as I was before. “Oh, it must be the distance to shore and an illusion from being so far out.” Then I notice that the middle of the kayak is bowing up at the connection point of the two pieces. “This can’t be good. Oh well, it must be the fact that it wouldn’t connect well.” 30 seconds later, it is apparent that the nose is pointing up. Shit. I look behind me – everything behind me is underwater. “Crap, we have a leak.” So, I paddle forward for 5 seconds – in denial and thinking “it’s a slow leak.” The 2×4 of sensibility smacks me on the side of the head. I turn the boat around – nearly falling in. Bad sign. I start attempting to make haste – of course, I am moving at the speed that a kayaker pulling an ocean freighter would move. Then critical mass hits – that would be when the mix of buoyancy and weight collide such that the boat loses all stability. She tips to the right and in we go.
As we are in the process of tipping, I reach for the iPhone in its bag (this happens in less than a second). This is a previously mastered skill as a result of many other capsizings with kayaks.
The water in Lake Dillon is cold. Some feet down, its in the 30s and 40s. It maxes at 63 in the peak of the hottest summers at the surface. I fell in a deep section near where snowmelt from ski resorts and 14000 foot peaks enters the water (read: very cold) and went down completely under. I was not prepared for what happens when impacting very cold water (even though I have swam in some very cold water). They call it the “torso reflex” – the person gasps for air upon hitting ice ass cold water. Some have drowned from it – by taking in water in the process. It has been described as “having all of the air sucked out of your lungs” (that is accurate, btw). I have swum in 52-degree water for rather long periods of time – and such a thing has never happened. I have quite the tolerance for cold (evidenced by my hatred for hot weather). Who knows what I fell into temperature wise? Maybe high 40s?
So, here I am at 9100 feet altitude in water possibly below 50 degrees and I can’t breathe (all of which is made worse by altitude). As I was falling in, the decision to abandon the boat was obvious. 3rd time in use and it leaks (for a $550 Swedish boat that is two years old)? I will address those grievances with the manufacturer. The boat can go to hell. $100 oar from REI took 8 seconds to part with – it floats yet provides ZERO buoyancy to a human.
In the ensuing 30 second struggle to breathe, I realize I am some distance from shore and I might drown and I am in a damn life jacket! It is as though the water up here is half buoyant compared to sea level. I am swimming and nothing is happening.
After the 30 seconds expires and I am gasping for air, I realize I need to relax. “Float damn it! That doesn’t take much effort.” So I start slowly kicking, no arms. I can breathe. At some point, I can’t. WTF! I HAVE A LIFE JACKET ON! (For some reason, if I stop swimming, I sink. The PFD must be undersized). Relax again. Ahhh… oxygen… and, at this pace, I will be dead of hypothermia by the time I get to shore. Need to swim faster. So I turn onto my stomach. That has about the same usefulness as breathing in a mouthful of water. Hypoxia in 6 seconds. Turn back over. Relax. Can breathe. Not swimming. Going to die. This sucks! WTF! Its sunny, 62 degrees out, its late July, I am an excellent swimmer, I HAVE A LIFE JACKET ON and I MIGHT DROWN. THIS IS FREAKING RETARDED!
This Captain is Not Going Down With His Ship
I then figure out that, when I swim with legs and arms, I tend to go fast (as in, I default to sea level swimming methodologies). At 9100ft and with rapid heat transfer, we can’t do that because, for some reason, I feel like I can’t breathe when I do (even though I am gasping for air and whatever I take in is not enough). I limit to leg kicking and up the rpm. Now we’re moving – and we won’t suffocate in open atmosphere. At this point, I realize there is a giant hole in the ziplock bag and my iPhone 5 is floating inside. As are my 3 week old $25 Apple ear buds – for which I replaced for having put the previous pair in the washing machine. Damn. Drain the water. Keep kicking.
After doing some research on useakayak.org (what a slap in the face!), I find that the water temperature I was in would result in loss of dexterity in 5 to 10 minutes, exhaustion within 30 to 60 minutes and death within 1 to 3 hours. Such a nice feeling that the clock started ticking the moment I fell in. It is redeeming that the water was slowly warming the closer to shore I got. Further, in retrospect, I realized that I was trying to levitate into the top 6 inches of water where it was warmer. This was resulting in abdominal muscle contraction – which makes doing anything harder at 9100ft due to less available breathing space.
Two minutes after the cold-water induced lack of respiration, I reflect on how long it has been since I took a swim. And such a “refreshing” one at that! I had been wanting to go to the water for a while now. It takes 10 to 15 minutes to get to shore – or well, 100 feet from shore. As far as I am concerned, hypothermia will not be a problem – more, if anything, to do with the fact that I think hypothermia is a state of mind, dumb and I refuse to succumb to it (Ironically, in March 2012, at 13000 feet elevation, completely soaking wet, sitting in 5 feet of snow, after sundown, waiting for search and rescue, I had a similar conversation with myself). I hit a rock and realize I am in 18 inches of water and stand up. Don’t I feel dumb.
So the two fisherman who witnessed the angry kayak assembly, subsequent kayaking, near sinking, capsizing and swimming back don’t blink an eye until I get within 10 feet of them. Their response “Was that planned?” My response: “No. I don’t routinely spend $1200 to kayak for 5 minutes followed by a kiss with hypothermia.” ($649 for iPhone, $550 for kayak). They chuckle. This is a moment where the laid back nature of Summit County pisses me off.
Dealing With the First Officer
I drove home and when I get in the door, Anne asks “How was kayaking?” “My stupid ass kayak sank.” “WHAT?!?” “It sprung a leak and sank when I was out in the lake. I had to swim to shore. Idiotic piece of crap!” Anne is convinced that I am in shock. “You’re skin is freezing cold! You’re in shock!” “I AM NOT IN SHOCK. I AM FINE. I AM HOT!” So she starts researching homeopathic remedies and starts laughing rather extensively. “WHAT?!?” “Well, the remedy for shock is someone who is restless – you’re pacing – eats though not hungry – are you hungry?” “NO!” “Well, you’re eating like mad. And…. they are convinced they are just fine and not in shock.” “Well, that is just fine for you. I, for one, am hot. I drove home with the windows open. I am taking a shower to wash off 150 years of unregulated mining tailing residue and giardia from beaver crap.”
As I am taking a shower, Anne asks “Are you taking a hot shower?” “NO! I am hot already!” At this moment, I recall that hypothermic people, before they die, think they are boiling hot, strip off all their clothes, and roll around in the snow. Their corpses are later found frozen in the snow with a dumb look of drugged happiness frozen on their dead faces. Here I am, naked, standing in a stream of cold water, convinced I am hot after falling into a torso reflex-inducing cold lake. Fine. Maybe I am in some form of “shock.”
So after the cold shower, I go downstairs. “Fine. I might need this “remedy.” Here is the problem. I am 32 years old – and as far as I am concerned, I am 15, never going to age, impervious to trauma and a short swim across a cold lake should not be a near death experience. This is all drama and I DON’T DO VULNERABILITY.” Anne’s reply: “Well, vulnerability seems to do you.” “FINE! GIVE ME THE REMEDY.”
Inland Equivalent to the Coast Guard
Anne then mentions that we probably should call the rescue people and tell them that the capsized boat in the lake is not connected to a hypothetical corpse at the bottom of the lake. “You should call the Dillon police.” “I’m not calling the Dillon police! The Sheriff handles Search and Rescue.” (this being something I am intimately familiar with due to my little mountain adventure in March of 2012). Since she is the only one with a working phone, she dials Dillon Police and hands me the phone. No answer. I dial Summit County Sheriff and advise them of the stupidity of manufacture of my kayak – and then have to back into the practical point that there is a possibly still floating kayak with no associated corpse. They thank us profusely – as they advised that “many guys would have spent the night looking for you. Thank you so much for calling.” I told him I’ll poke around for the piece du merde tomorrow morning – wherever it washes up. Within 2 hours, the Sheriff’s office had dispatched Marine One and retrieved the boat. We have an appointment for 10:30AM tomorrow.
We contemplated “perhaps they have nothing to do” and later realized that a capsized boat would probably yield more drama than just fetching it – with passersby fantasizing about apparent corpses in the lake (though fishermen seem to not care about people becoming corpses right in front of them). That, and they are some very nice people. Stupidity reigns and yet again the Sheriff’s Office makes it all better.
So Maybe I’m Not a Black Ops Commando
So I take the remedy. I then realize that life-imperiling events suck. I don’t like being vulnerable – and for the first time in recorded history, a moronic outcome was not the result of moronic thinking. I took reasonable precautions and my damn nearly new, Scandinavian shrine to nautical engineering was, in fact, a piece of shit. Stupid mega corporations! What am I, a 90-year-old woman? I can’t even take a swim in a cold lake with out some form of “recovery period.” This is retarded.
I then, in my introspective, remedy-induced reflections on the meaning of life realize that I have a very poor success ratio with kayaks. Maybe one out of four events ends poorly. “But I am really good around the water. It’s the kayaks that suck.” Then my aquatic life flashes before my eyes. Hmm… I have nearly drowned many times. Like many times. In a future post, I will enumerate my amusingly retarded experiences with water.