Category Archives: Near Death

It Has Been Said That No Good Turn Goes Unpunished… Also Known As – A Day That Will Live In Infamy. December 7, 2016.

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“Hey, you guys need help?” I asked through the rolled down window of my Tacoma.  My wife and daughter and I had just rolled up on two very large pigs strolling down the middle of Main Street in Garfield, Washington, looking for all the world like a mother and daughter on a Sunday stroll after their church potluck.  My daughter had broken her ankle earlier in the year and we were just returning from an appointment with the very tan orthopedic doctor who spent half the year fishing in Mexico and the other half the year taking money from people whose daughters are sure they know how to long board, but realize too late that it’s a lot harder than it looks. He was sure he could fix it… for a price.  It had been a long morning and I was looking forward to being home.

“Dude! Yes.”  He was dressed in ratty blue jeans, a filthy tan hoodie, and had a Steeler’s stocking cap pulled low over a greasy, brown, party in the back.  He weighed all of 120 pounds and his tattoo to tooth ratio was about two to one.   I jumped out of my truck.  I was thankful that I wasn’t driving my Prius because nobody in Eastern Washington or Idaho trusts a guy in a Prius (best car ever btw).  I slowly walked towards the animals with an eye to getting in front of the 300-pound beasts.  Tattoo guy jumped around, yelling and waving his arms trying to get the pigs to do something – what, I’m not sure, but from the looks of it he was trying to stampede them into the sunset.  As we danced with the pigs a stocky guy in a lambskin jacket and Carharts came out of a large, brick building and began yelling at him.  Over the door stood a huge statue of a full grown, red and white Hereford steer.  “Hmm.  That’s kind of cool.” I thought.

“Dang it, Billie (only he didn’t say dang it).  Didn’t I tell you to let me know when you was going to let the pigs out of the trailer?”  Billie redoubled his jumping and whistling effort, trying to look like he was doing something important or at least trying to give the impression that he working really hard to rectify the situation.  He never looked at yelling guy as he flailed, but hollered back, “They just jumped out!” The pigs ambled on ignoring all three of us.  The guy, whom I assumed was Billie’s boss, saw me and yelled,  “Try to cut them off and head them back this way.”  I could tell by the tone of his voice that he knew I was an experienced swineherd.  It was probably my running shoes, Kuhl pants and the black Vandal’s sweatshirt I was wearing, but I had him completely fooled because in actuality my only experience with swine was when I helped my friend Gary feed and run his fair pig back in high school.

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Most of my friends in high school belonged to 4H and had some variety of fair animal they were working on.  Being the new guy from the Great White North, I had no idea how and no desire to want to learn what it took to have a fair animal.  Heck, I had just seen cows up close for the first time and wanted nothing to do with them.  They were big and kicky and unpredictable.  When my friends sold their animals to generous farmers at the fair auction it seemed that the most money was made by owning a steer, but even though you made a lot less money, running a pig seemed to me to be the way to go.  From what I could tell, you just fed them, walked them around a bit, brought them to the fair, washed them and then used a big stick to poke them around a ring until you got a ribbon.  Then you sold them, made your two hundred bucks and walked away.  Pig are said to be intelligent, but in actuality,  they’re not all that smart.

Because of my “extensive” training I did know enough not to make any fast motions or sudden movements.  Boss guy began clicking softly to the pigs like he knew them.  They hesitated and looked at him like he might have had food.  It was enough of a distraction for me to find my way to the front of them where I stretched out my arms in a gesture that looked like I wanted a hug, but all pigs know this arm position to mean “none shall pass.”  I walked slowly towards them in an effort to get them to stop and turn.

I’ve seen large, snotty, aggressive swine before, the kind that will grind you into the mud, then sit on you until you drown and then eat you, but these weren’t like that and looked for all the world like they were going out for an afternoon stroll to check on Mildred, their aging aunt, before heading home for their evening bowl of Purina Nutristart and a belly scratch from their owner Tammy, a blue eyed, blonde haired little girl who was named after Tammy Wynette because her mom just loved the song Stand By Your Man since it always reminded her of how she stood by little Tammy’s dad even though he was a no-good drunk.  Tammy’s dad didn’t drink any more, but gambled a lot and Tammy’s mom didn’t really know which was worse.

Big Wilbur stopped and stared at me with his close-set, beady eyes.  Little Wilbur bumped into his rear end, stopped and looked up too.  Dumb and Dumber I thought as I stared at them, but there was an intelligence in Big Wilbur’s eyes that belied any dumbness.  He eyed me for a good long time as if weighing his options: run right through the old guy with glasses or head back to the flailing tattoo guy. I raised my arms up and down and took a step toward him.   He turned and ambled off towards the sidewalk with little Wilbur following.  I slowly walked with them and little by little was able to turn them back towards the trailer out of which they had just made their escape.  Things were looking very, very good and I would soon be on my way.  I was already patting myself on the back for having done what I considered to be my very smug and helpful good deed of the day.

 

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Clicking Boss guy was shaking a big silver bowl of food in such a way even I thought sounded really appetizing and the pigs doubly so.  They picked up their pace a bit as he backed his way towards the metal trailer ramp.  He backed up the ramp and Big Wilbur followed him docilely in.  Little Wilbur put one hoof on the metal and proceeded to stumble and slip and fall down the ramp with a huge crash.  Flailing Billie, seizing what he thought was a prime opportunity to redeem himself, rushed little Wilbur, grabbed him by his haunches and tried to force the 300-pound beast into the trailer.  Little Wilbur was taken aback by being grabbed on the behind and kicked at Billie.  By this time Big Wilbur had heard enough.  He caught the bowl in his teeth and turned to run.  The bowl caught the edge of the trailer sending it clashing to the floor like a dinner bell coming off its hinges.  Both animals squealed and bolted, knocking me and Flailing Billie to the ground.

Boss guy shot out of the trailer, picked me up by my shirt, shoved a pig board into my hands (a pig board is a big wooden board used to separate pigs when they fight) and pushed me up the sidewalk to try to get in front of the pigs who were trotting off (yes, pigs do trot) down the center of the road again, stopping “rush hour” traffic which consisted of two grain trucks, one bank-out wagon, the Avista bucket truck and a field sprayer.  Everyone bailed out of their vehicles and tried to stop the stampeding pigs.   Avista guy was knocked over, bank-out wagon guy was trampled, and as the animals came closer to field sprayer guy, he made a feeble attempt to stop them, thought better of it, then just hugged the side of his truck and let them run on by.

We all watched as the pigs slowed and turned onto the porch of a beautifully landscaped home on the north side of the road.  They went through the gate and up onto the porch like they owned the place.   They didn’t.  Now they were trapped, but what do you do with pigs on a porch?  About this time I turned, looking for some guidance from Clicking Boss Guy.  When I saw him I had an inkling that these weren’t little Tammy’s 4H pigs and I knew instantly that things had just gotten very, very serious.  Boss guy was no longer clicking softly to the pigs.  He was pissed and it wasn’t just his furrowed brow and angry eyes that clued me into the impending doom. It was more the AR-15 that he was walking down the middle of the street with.

There are some people who know how to hold a gun and there are some people on whom guns just look good, like they’ve been a part of their lives for a very long time.   Big Gun Boss Guy was the latter.  He looked for all the world like a guy straight out of Lone Survivor.  A huge dust cloud swirled across the road and as he stepped through it, the sun glinted off his yellow shooting glasses and, if his arms had been bare, they would have glistened with the sweat of exertion, but the pigs weren’t done yet.

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Everyone was helping now, calling to the pigs and circling around to block off every means of escape and in all the excitement the pigs bolted off the porch.  For all our bravado, none of us got in their way.  Their hooves dug large chunks of paint off the porch and they galloped (yes, pigs gallop) back towards the trailer and safety.  We all kind of trotted after them.  The pigs had separated now and Little Wilbur stopped in the middle of the road looking for direction from his friend, but Big Wilbur had moved on.  Big Gun Boss Guy was having none of it.  He raised his rifle and took aim.  “No Good!  No clear shot! Abort firing.”  He was talking to himself now.  Little Wilbur seeing his friend, jogged (yes, pigs jog) over and stood by him.  They continued to move towards the trailer.  Big Gun Boss Guy pointed at me with two fingers and then pointed forward.  No words were spoken, but I took my pig board and my flaccid upper body and “sprinted” forward keeping to the sidewalk side of the pigs.  They suddenly stopped.   Big Gun Boss Guy held up a fist – the universal sign for everyone to halt.  We halted, all eyes trained on him.

With two fingers he pointed at Avista Truck guy and then at the pigs.  Avista Truck Guy nodded and moved slowly forward.   He pointed with both hands at everyone else and motioned for them to fan out and they all fanned out like a high school flag corp lining up on the sidelines behind the football team just before the halftime show.  He motioned for them to follow behind and, as one, they all moved slowly forward like zombies from Walking Dead.

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The pigs saw what was happening and turned towards me.  I held my pig board with one hand and with the other wagged my finger at them and with my best Dikembe Mutombo impression said, “No, no, no pigs!  NOT IN MY HOUSE!”  They sneered at me.  All three of us knew I didn’t stand a chance.  I braced myself for the onslaught.   I was not going to be the weak link that let my team down.  Lives were at stake and I took my duty seriously.  The pigs rolled their eyes (yes, pigs roll their eyes) and continued their journey to the safety of the trailer. Big Gun Boss Guy nodded at me in approval and I stood a little taller.

I was starting to relax a bit now.  The pigs were moving in the right direction and they would soon be back into the trailer and on their way home to Tammy.  Big Gun Boss Guy had relaxed a bit, too, and I could tell he was relieved that he didn’t have to shoot the pigs in the neighbor’s yard or in the middle of the street. What a mess that would have been, not to think about all the paperwork for insurance.  We had won the day with an overwhelming show of force.  This battle would have a happy ending.

The pigs wandered back to the side of the building and stopped in the shade.  Even though there was snow on the ground they were tired and hot and looked for all the world like they just needed a drink.  I looked over at Dream Crusher and Molly and they looked so proud.  Molly was even filming my heroics.  What an amazing day of helping.  I would remember this for a long time.  What a day.  “Stop!”  Big Gun Boss Guy had pointed at me and signaled to hold my place.  I did.  I was ready to be done with this and go home.  I leaned my board against the side of the trailer and turned to go.

Big Gun Boss Guy held the gun at his shoulder and he was drawing a bead on Big Wilbur.  Both pigs just stared at him.  There was a sound like a gun shot because, well, it was a gun shot, and then another sound like a gun shot and I heard Dream Crusher and Molly scream.  When I looked, Big Wilbur and Little Wilbur were peacefully sleeping next to each other in the snow.

Big Gun Boss Guy lowered his gun and looked at me.  “All righty then!” I said as nonchalantly as possible. He nodded and I gave him a wink and double finger guns, then realized what I was doing, thought better of it, and kind of feebly waved as he turned to walk away.  He slung the rifle across his back and made his way towards the building.  I walked in the general direction of my truck not taking my eyes off him, but as he entered the building the trance was broken and my eyes swung up to the big steer above the doorway.  On the side of the building, right above the enormous bovine, in big white letters it read: “Garfield Meats.”

I got into my truck and sat there for a few moments trying to process what had just happened.  I have hunted and seen things killed, but never on Main Street, Anywhere, USA and I was a bit in shock.  I felt like I had been transported a hundred years into the past and, except for the AR15, I could have been standing in Maycomb, Alabama watching Atticus Finch kill the rabid dog before it bit anyone.  “Well, that was a bit surreal, wasn’t it?” I said with a lightness I didn’t feel.  I looked at Dream Crusher.  She was pale, looking for all the world like she wanted to kill me for stopping.  I nodded, started the truck, and looked at Molly in the rear view mirror.  Tears were streaming down her cheeks.  “Oh, honey.  I’m sorry.  Are you okay?” I asked. “He killed them?” was all she could say.  I put the truck in gear and pulled back onto the road.  “No, honey.  Those were tranquilizer darts.  The pigs are just sleeping.  Very soon they will be on their way back home to Tammy.”  Only I didn’t tell her “on the way back to Tammy to be put in her freezer.”  Some things are better left unsaid.

 

I would have put a bullet through my foot if I had a gun.

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Just the first of many

Impulse is a dangerous thing and especially so when you are trying to impress one of your children. Doubly so when it’s one of your girl children. To put it mildly, my daughter Allison hurt my feelings and my capitulation was an attempt to regain what was left of my dignity.  What she said was, “I didn’t ask you to go because I really didn’t think you’d be able to do it,” but what I heard was, “You’re too weak and feeble to do anything like float down a river with me, old man. I’ll just ask someone who is stronger and more capable.” She had ground salt into the open wound that was my rapidly deflating ego.

“No, I really want to go,” I said, trying to sound enthusiastic. Even as the words parted my lips, my mind was looking for a compromise, a way out. The audible click I heard was the sword of Damocles breaking free from its secured position. Had I really just verbally committed to floating 50 miles of the most remote river in the lower 48 – the Owyhee – with my daughter? Yes, I had. I was terrified even before I learned that someone had died on the river that spring and well before I would see the flotsam and jetsam of a shattered drift boat being held by the pressure of what amounts to two full grown cows pressing it against an imposing rock wall.

All I knew at that moment was what Allison had told me in the past, that there are no roads in or out and that you must leave nothing but footprints and take nothing but all of your bodily secretions out with you. I was worried (and a little grossed out by it), but it was still months away and a lot could happen between then and now.

Nothing did.

A long drive and an uncomfortable first night and I suddenly found myself sitting on a bright red, inflatable kayak, with a bright yellow helmet, a bright red life vest and clutching a bright yellow paddle. The fact that everything was brightly colored should have been my first clue that things don’t always go as planned.  If they did, everyone would be dressed in drab outdoorsy fabric like the kind you see the urban Eddie Bauer types wearing and the kayaks would sport more natural colors to blend in with the environment.  What I should have realized is that in a rapid it’s really hard to differentiate between a rock and a dead body unless the body is tightly wrapped in some form of unnatural, neon pigmentation. Had I only known.

I kept up a cheerful countenance as I floated a little ways from the group, getting the feel of the kayak under me.

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Emma teaching the group proper paddle technique.

The teen girls (it was a father/daughter trip) all listened intently as Emma and my daughter (a third year guide) talked about boat safety and how to paddle.  Boat safety, shmoat safety.  I grew up around the water and paddling would come naturally to me.  A duck didn’t need to learn to swim did it?  Besides, I own a drift boat. How hard could it be?  Yeah, it’s not the same.

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A glimpse of my group paddling off as I spun in circles.

I watched as the kids paddled off downstream and turned to catch up with them. I put a paddle in the water and pulled.  My kayak spun wildly. I plied the other end of the paddle to slow down the spin.  It didn’t help.  I firmly plunged my paddle into the water on the port side and it slowed to a stop. I slowly centered myself and pointed the bow downstream.  I dipped a blade into the water and slowly pulled.  The kayak began turning to the right.  I quickly jammed the opposite blade into the water and pulled and it spun wildly again. This was not going as planned. I smiled, with an ease I wasn’t feeling.  Inside I was like, “Uh oh, this is going to end badly.” It was all coming true.

I knew I was going to die on the river. I also knew it was going to be hard on Allison to have to pull her dad’s brightly festooned, but lifeless body out of a rapid, but I didn’t care. She had asked me to go and it would serve her right for goading me into coming on this trip.

Dream Crusher asked a number of times if I was doing okay as we drove to Horseshoe Bend where the trip would begin.

“Yes, I’m fine, why do you keep asking?” I stared straight ahead.

“Look at me.”  I turned my eyes towards her, but not my head.  “Okay, I’m looking.  I’m fine, really.” I bared my teeth in a feeble smile.

“Then why are there beads of sweat on your upper lip?”

I yawned and dragged my arm as carefree as I could muster across my lip. “By the way,” I said, “did I tell you that I want my ashes sprinkled on the Clearwater?”

“Just stop,” she replied.  “I knew it.  I knew that’s what you were thinking about.  Just stop it right now.”

“What? I’m just making conversation. Oh, and the passwords to the online accounts are in the cupboard and makesuretogiveChristianmybaseballglove.” I raced to finish this last line as she reached for the knob on the radio to turn up the volume.

“I have to do something to drown you out,” she said as she spun the knob. It was an unfortunate turn of phrase and she turned to look out the window without another word. I felt my lip. It was wet again.

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My paddle was actually upside down and backwards.  You shouldn’t be able to see the writing on the paddle in the lower right corner.

As my kayak spun in the water and I got further and further from the group, Allison paddled up to me and said, “Umm, Dad, one of the other guides told me to tell you that your paddle is backwards.”

“Oh, yeah?” I responded. “That’s how we do it in Alaska.  Makes it more streamline.”

“Suit yourself.” She shrugged and paddled off. When I was sure she wasn’t looking I flipped my paddle over and paddled after her, still looking for all the world like an inebriated walrus, but more of an I’ve had one too many drinks kind of walrus and not a college student on a Friday night kind of walrus.

For the first few hours we did nothing but paddle in flat, barely passable water which caused our kayaks to come to a skidding halt often enough that my abs quickly cramped in their attempt to free my kayak from the resting part of Newton’s law of motion.  Apparently one must “oochie – scooch,” which involves thrusting yourself backwards and forwards in an effort to get the rock to loosen its grip on your kayak.  The ever helpful river guides would shout this and other helpful hints at you as they “encouraged” you to “soldier” on.  “You can rest when you’re dead.” “Only 48 more miles to go.”

Dying in a river is apparently a real thing and wearing a tightly wrapped and zipped Coast Guard approved flotation device does nothing to ensure that you won’t get your foot wedged between rocks and drown.   For the first few hours it was drilled into our heads what do do if (should have said, when) we were to fall out in a rapid.  The most important thing you can do is get into River Position!  This involves getting your feet pointed down river and and up off the river bottom, flailing your arms and keeping your eyes down river to see what’s ahead.  And one must never, ever stand up.  I was told that dads always try to stand up and that a lot of dads die.  Yeah, not this dad.  I was not going to give the river the satisfaction.

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Emma, our guide, using a teachable moment to model proper River Position while our omni-competent and ever-cheerful trip leader, Aaron, looks on.

A short while later we entered into our first rapid and I immediately flipped, but came up in the most acute river position in the history of man, with my knees up and feet pointing downstream. My posterior bounced off every rock on the way down.  There was no way I was going to be foot entrapped.  Butt entrapped, maybe, but not foot. All the guides were yelling at me at once to the point where all I heard was a cacophony of “Let go of the kayak! Get your feet up!  River position! Keep your head up! Breathe! Swim! Don’t swim! Feet up! Let go of the paddle! Hang onto the paddle! River position!”  I did it all at once.  Allison told me later that I had scared her because I came up wide eyed and gasping. Well, if you know OBryans, we have nothing BUT wide eyes, and the gasping part was because I was drowning and was moments away from death. Yeah, fear like that happens when someone is scared out of their freaking mind that they are going to get their foot trapped and be sucked under only to rise again either on the last day or when their bloated body gets so buoyant that the river gives them up like some grotesque party balloon escaped from the pudgy hand of a toddler. I was terrified. I was also shaking and embarrassed.

I dog paddled to river right (that’s river guide speak for the side of the river I’m always not next to) and dragged the upper half of my body onto a mossy rock, my useless legs dangling behind me in the diminishing current. My eyes focused as my cheek rested against the slime and I watched every single teenage girl float through the class 10 rapid

as if they were sitting on a cloud, riding a spring zephyr wind. One of their kayaks scraped over my semi-lifeless body. “Oops, sorry. Hehe.” I turned my head away.

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This is a threatening smile.

“Are you okay?” Allison asked as she rushed over to me in her kayak as if it obeyed her every wish. She was looking a little wide eyed herself. “Go on without me. Leave me here to die,” I managed to say.  She patted my back and told me in low tones that if I didn’t get back into the kayak in less than a minute she really was going to leave me right where I was.  I dragged myself onto my kayak and let Allison pull me along. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and I could feel my legs beginning to redden and burn. It was yet another indignity on the first day of the last week of my life and I hadn’t even made it to the first camp and I still hadn’t used the facilities in the woods. It was going to be a long week.

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Sand as far as the eye can see.

One thing I realized on day one is that a river produces an exorbitant amount of sand.  It’s  everywhere and in everything and finds its way into every crack and crevice. If you’re lucky you can keep it out of your food and, thankfully, I was able to keep it off my camera equipment. AND it was hot – 118 at one camp.

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Even though it was only 117.7 degrees, it totally felt like 118.

I don’t remember the first night of the trip other than we ate and slept and that sand bugs tried to invade every one of my facial orifices (orifi?) Even though it was smoldering, I chose to keep a buff over my face so they wouldn’t have the joy of a good night’s sleep in one of my facial crevices. I really only remember having one thought and that was that I have six days left and I am not going to make it.

The only way I can describe the feeling is remembering being a kid and thinking that there were six long days until Christmas and wondering if it would ever get here and how on earth could anyone ever wait that long? And then it was here and you got to open presents.  It was like that, only some freakishly hellish version where you’re always waiting and there are never any presents, only a never ending feeling of despair and misery until the river either takes you or vomits you out on “Christmas” day after it beats you and chokes you and teaches you a lesson you’ll never forget. This was day one.

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Panic

The first rapid of the second day was called Read it and Weep and I approached it with caution, which I learned later is not how you approach a rapid designed to make you cry. It sensed my trepidation and I heard it giggle just before it lured me into a false sense of security and sucked me into a sink hole the size of ten commercial washing machines and I nearly drowned again. I wept silently, secure in the fact that no one could differentiate between my tears of sorrow and the river’s tears of mirth.  On the second rapid I flipped again. And on the third rapid… I flipped. It is generally understood that if someone goes down for the third time they are not coming back up. Thankfully, I had my bright yellow life jacket to keep my flailing body from giving up the ghost.

I am an athletic guy. I played NCAA baseball. I am a good golfer. I can juggle. I win at Pickleball (when I am playing Dream Crusher) most of the time. I have a few slight of hand tricks. My hand eye coordination is excellent for a man my age, but for the love of God and all that is holy, I could not make my kayak do what it was born and bred to do. It was engineered to be a kayak, but it was more like an unruly toddler that, no matter how hard I tried to reason with it, would do the exact opposite of what it was told. I was sure I had gotten a defective one (or a possessed one) and I was equally sure that it was actively trying to kill me. I would see a rock some way down the rapid that I knew was a bad idea, yet no matter how hard I tried to avoid it with back strokes and front strokes and side strokes and high siding and panicking, the kayak was attracted to it like it was a positive magnet and the kayak a negative. A rock meant one of two things: getting stuck or flipping, and neither were a good option.

Thankfully, there is flat calm at the end of every rapid.  It’s a time to either catch your breath and thank the Lord that what about happened to you didn’t happen or to shout with joy at your besting of the accursed white water. At the end of every flat calm there is a rapid. As I floated quietly along and heard the tell-tale whisper of an approaching rapid I would turn my face to the sky and whisper, “Please, God. NO!” I was miserable and tired and scared. Then we reached the Weeping Wall and a miracle happened.

I dragged my dry bag and my poop tube (yes, everyone had one), aptly called “Bad Disneyland,” up to the place Allison had designated as our place of rest for the night and collapsed onto the ground in a stupor. After a while my wits returned and I realized that gnats were rapidly accumulating on the many cuts my legs had incurred.  I felt like a water buffalo that was too far gone to care about the insects sucking the life out of him and I just let them feast.  Something may as well benefit from my misery.

I looked at my foot and wondered where a good spot would be for a bullet to go through without causing too much damage. I didn’t bother searching for my revolver because I didn’t have it with me. I didn’t even bring a knife (what kind of idiot doesn’t bring a knife or a revolver on a survival trip?) and I didn’t think a sharp stick would cause enough damage to get me airlifted out. Besides, I didn’t have a knife to sharpen a stick and it probably wouldn’t have done enough damage anyway. It would get mildly infected, but not infected enough to get me a helicopter ride out and it would just add to the pain I was already feeling. Besides, Allison would make me row out with an infection. I wondered what injury WOULD get me airlifted out? There was a large rock sitting next to me and my eyes gleamed at the thought of bringing it down on top of my metatarsals, cracking them into little pieces. That would surely do it. I reached for it, fell over and collapsed into a heap, too exhausted to lift it.

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Discussing the highs and lows of the day at Camp Montgomery.

This was a father/daughter trip and every evening our enthusiastic, cheerful, and omni- competent trip leader, Aaron, would gather us around so we could talk about the highs and lows of the day. I dragged myself to the circle of humans and tried to think of the highs from the day and all I could think of was, “Well, I didn’t die…. yet.” That was my inner thought. My outer words were, “Hey, I got to spend quality time with my daughter.” Inner thought, “It’s her fault that I’m out here.” Outer words, “Golly, this is a beautiful place.” Inner thought, “God forsaken, more like it.” I went on like this for a few more minutes, babbling, then lapsed into silence. My inner mind was pacing like a caged ferret looking for a way out, but I was mute. I don’t remember what anyone else said. I just kept smiling and nodding vigorously when people’s lips stopped moving. I was sure I was going to die, so what did it matter what any of these people said? I would just be a bad memory to them as they recounted the tale of the uncoordinated old guy with the bad facial hair who couldn’t get his kayak to work and the river ate him. Good thing we couldn’t find his body because that would have been so gross to have to see his bloated whiteness the entire rest of the trip.

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I texted this photo to Dream Crusher at the end of the trip. Her response: “You Look Hideous!”  I guarantee I would look worse dead…. though not by much.

On the third day I awoke sore and defeated. However, unbeknownst to me, three things were happening in the universe. Thing one, my good friend, Matt, was praying for me on the exact morning of my crisis. I know this because I got a voice message after I got off the river that said: “I don’t know why I’m praying for you, but you’ve been on my mind all morning.” The date and time was the morning of the Weeping Wall. Thing two, Dream Crusher was also praying for me. She knew this was going to be tough on me (she had no idea at the time how tough) and so she prayed for me without ceasing. It is hard to pray for someone when you are getting no feedback on their well-being, but she did. Thing three: God was listening.

The Weeping Wall is a sheer, vertical rock face, 200 feet high that is as dry as a bone until it reaches about 40 feet from the base of the cliff. It’s at this point the water runs out the side of the cliff like so many shower nozzles and it is thick with greenery. It’s an oasis, cold and refreshing, and it’s here that we filled our water bags called ticks (yes, they look

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The Ticks

like bloated ticks) and bathed our hot (as in hot from the sun, not as in “Your bod is so hot!”) and stinking bodies. The water was amazingly clean and revitalizing. Even though it was morning, the air was already turning warm and the water felt good. I leaned into the mossy wall and let the water run over my head and tried to get the day to come out of my mind. A glimmer of hope lit. Live in the moment. The kayak doesn’t exist. The river doesn’t exist. Only now exists. I had been praying seemingly without ceasing the entire morning and I tried to physically relax and not think about anything but this moment.  It could last forever if I wanted it to. It didn’t work. I opened my eyes. The river and the kayak were still there. I sighed, pushed myself out of the water and slipped my way back down to where my plastic coffin was tied.

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Plastic Clouds or Plastic Coffins.  It’s all about perspective.

I strapped my gear onto the kayak and climbed into it. It squeaked with my weight and I felt the familiar sore spots as they settled and rested on the hot plastic. I pushed off and glided in an uncontrolled arc into the calm water.

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Burned, swollen and zinced.

The sprites were gliding and giggling over the water on their plastic clouds. I knew that at the end of this calm water was not calm water and I bowed my head in weakness and fear.

“Perfect Love casts out fear.” “My power is made perfect in weakness.” “When I am weak then I am strong.”

As I sat there with my head bowed asking for help, the 1986 Vancouver World’s Fair came to mind. The World’s Fair? Really? After all my fervent prayer, that’s all I get? Who, but a select number of Canadians, even remembers the Vancouver World’s Fair? Well, probably no one outside of Canada, except me. It was then I realized why God had prompted this memory. I had experienced a significant moment of fear and weakness there that I had always regretted and it wasn’t until I had kids that I had gotten over it completely. It is a very odd statement to say that thoughts of the 1986 World’s Fair comforted me, but they did.

Even though I was 23, the very age where you’re supposed to love jumping off cliffs wearing nothing more than a squirrel suit, I didn’t. I still looked both ways before crossing the street and I always wore my seat belt (even before it was cool) and I certainly wasn’t going to ride my new mountain bike downhill on a gravel road. Think of the road rash. But here I was heading to a Young Life club in Canada to be their summer photographer. Not an extreme sport, but we would be out of radio contact and that was scary enough. Not everyone was a photographer back then and the profession was still cool enough to give me some panache and the fellow staffers I had met up with were pretty cool.

They all wanted to go see the World’s Fair. “Why not?” I thought. I love to wander through the fair looking at the exhibits and the canned fruits and vegetables. It turned out that none of them were interested in the exhibits and as soon as we pushed through the turnstiles they made a bee line for the roller coaster.

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This is me NOT on the Expo 86 roller coaster.

Little beads of sweat trickled down my side. Roller coasters were one thing that I had determined would never be on my bucket list (even if I had known what a bucket list was). They begged me to go and I made a very, very feeble excuse not to. My fear was evident. It was like when someone asked me to do something bad when I was little and all I could think of saying was that my mom didn’t want me to do that. Then I would get punched in the face and left while they went off to steal matches and start fires. My credibility went to zero and my summer, while fun, wasn’t what it could have been. This was a scene that I had relived countless times and it was a regret that haunted me for years. It wasn’t until my kids were old enough to ride roller coasters that it went away.

My kids had a funny way of taking care of many of my fears… they added many others, but at least for me there were many things, like the fear of stinging insects, that went away as I tried to model proper respect for things without fear. I never wanted my kids to be like me, fearing things they shouldn’t. That’s how I found myself sitting in a roller coaster with my two sons waiting for it to kill me. I was strapped in and there was no place to go but up and over. As the coaster lurched and grumbled to the launching point, I quickly made a conscious decision. I made the determination at that moment to enjoy the feeling of abject fear. When the coaster dropped over the edge, I was going to scream like a little girl and enjoy the terror. And I did both. Now, I can’t get enough of roller coasters and will go on any, at any time.

My kayak bobbed unsteadily on the water, threatening any moment to tip me out, but I was no longer paralyzed. My head came up, I thanked God aloud. I smiled and I was ready. I knew there would still be fear, maybe even terror, but I was going to enjoy it. I was going to lean into the fear and enjoy the feeling.

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“None Shall Pass!”  Todd, the Gatekeeper, watches as the guides devise a route the Sprites would find challenging.

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Not a bad place to die.

I thanked God as I pushed by Todd, the gate keeper, and into the rapid. I was excited because I had made a conscious decision to enjoy myself. I attacked the rapid with a furor yet unknown to me and the first thing that happened when I hit the primary drop was that I immediately FLIPPED! I’m serious. Right over. I came up, but not wide eyed (except for the normal, O’Bryan type) and I wasn’t afraid. I was exhilarated and not a little mad that I had been dumped out of my toddler. “You just stopped paddling!” screamed Aaron and cheerfully gave me a thumbs up. I stored that bit of information away, got my kayak, kicked it a few times to teach it a lesson, grabbed my camera and started taking pictures of the sprites and their dads as they made their way unscathed through the rapid.

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Leroy was in his 70s and had a bad back.  He can be classified as one of the Sprites… just sayin’.

Over the next four days I went down countless rapids and flipped a total of NONE times. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t the most graceful kayaker after the Weeping Wall revelation, but I was a kayaker.  I could actively avoid most rocks, but when I didn’t, I learned to use the rock to aid me on my way down the rapid. I was still a walrus, but this one was a teetotaler. Now, maybe I was just becoming better acquainted with the spoiled child that was my kayak or maybe my athletic ability and natural good looks just kicked in or maybe I just got lucky? OR, maybe, just maybe, I needed to learn a lesson. My mind and body have always been good at doing things like this and had I been able to pick up on this from the first stroke of the paddle, I might have had to learn a different lesson, but not as one as impactful as this one was.

What had started out as a complete beat down turned out to be a glorious river trip and every evening from Weeping Wall on, I had nothing but personal highs to talk about. I watched the sun rise from a chalk dome called Chalk Basin, caught an inordinate amount

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Chalk Basin

of smallmouth bass, sat in a hot spring, saw soaring cliffs and deep pools, and throughout the rest of the days had the best time with my daughter. What started out as a bad dream ended up being an amazing trip, one I would do again in a heartbeat.
Some may say, “Well, that’s dumb, why didn’t you just trust God?” I’m really not sure how to answer that, other than to say that I just couldn’t find it within myself to do it. No matter how hard I tried, my strength just wasn’t sufficient. Whether it was fear or unbelief or just not remembering how God has provided for me in the past, I don’t really know, but I do know one thing – that my God is a God of comfort and He will use whatever means He needs to bring us to that place of peace. For some it’s a kind word from a friend, for another it is direct revelation. For me, it was the 1986 Vancouver World’s Fair. Go figure.

The following are some of the players in this drama: