I was looking forward to my first kayaking experience. It was a part of the four day cross-gender friendship weekend which included U2. My friend, Jennifer O. and I decided to go kayaking on the Pere Marquette River on Saturday afternoon. We have enjoyed our previous canoeing experiences and we were going to experiement with a kayak.
We had not been in the river too long (perhaps 5 minutes) when we rounded a curve and I saw a long branch coming out of the water on the left side about 18 inches above the water. We were quickly coming upon it. Whatever I did to steer clear of it, didn't work. Jennifer was looking the other way enjoying the swift current. I yelled to her about the upcoming branch. She managed to avoid it. But I was dead center in its path. Just like that it hit my chest. As I tried to duck I tipped the kayak to the right and suddenly the entire river it seemed rushed into the kayak and I saw Jennifer flying into the river and the kayak yield to the river.
I had a life preserver on but I also held onto the log as I felt the kayak quickly leave me and float away. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Jennifer (out of the kayak) and the kayak quickly disappear in a flash. The current was moving fast.
What took place in the next few seconds seemed like forever.
I quickly sized up the situation and right or wrong, in the moment I didn't feel I was in a good place. I was in a "pull-up" position with my chin up against the log with a strong current pushing me against the branch. I tried to feel the bottom and could not touch it. I heard Jennifer and she grabbed another branch in the middle of the river about 25 feet from me. I decided to duck under the branch to position my self better on the other side. I did that. But suddenly I felt the pull of my shirt; it's snagged on the branch on the other side I was on and now my neck is pressed closely to the branch with my shirt snagged on the other side of it and the water at my chin level. I immediately thought, "So, this is one of the ways people drown and this is not good." The current was pretty strong relatively speaking. Not rapids, but it was moving quickly.
I am not sure at the moment if I am going to get out of this.
I used my left hand to feel where my shirt is snagged. With all I can muster I push at the shirt to get it unsnagged and I am able to free it on the first try. Now I am "free" but still about 7 feet from the shore--which is like a grass wall, straight up and down about 3 1/2 feet high. I am still feeling for ground and there is no ground. The second I let go the current is going to take me. I don't like the unpredictatibility of that. I follow the branch toward the shore. I try to step up at the bottom of the wall to climb up when my foot goes down into about six inches of mud.
Meanwhile, I can hear (and not see) Jennifer say, "If you get on the shore, come quickly, I don't know how much longer I can hold on."
So the first time trying to climb up this "ground" wall on the shore didn't work. I am hoping I am not stuck in the mud. Again, with all of my strength I can muster, I pull my foot out of the mud. It slowly came out.
I saw another branch dangling from a tree on the bank. It doesn't look stable. But I don't see what other option I have at this point. I grab onto the branch and pull myself up onto the bank. From here, I am in thick brush, but I see Jennifer holding onto the kayak and a branch about 25 feet down the river. Jennifer assures me at this point, she's found some kind of footing on a tree root underneath and she think she's okay until I get there but please hurry.
This was quite an adventure. I have read stories of canoers/kayakers drowning after capsizing, getting snagged on branches, etc. Was this a near brush with death experience? Some would scoff. But I have read enough drowning stories involving great swimmers and unpredictable circumstances. I'm not sure where I would put this. I definitely thought I was in a situation beyond my control a couple of times once we capsized. I didn't feel I panicked, yet at the same time, I felt I had to move swiftly at several points not knowing what was going to happen beyond the immediate second.