A River Rat Is Born

The Boy finally got his chance to float the Buffalo National River on Saturday. While we’ve taken him down there to swim and explore and fish a few times, this was the first time for him to float, and he had a blast.

With all the rain the area’s gotten lately, there has been floatable (and MUCH higher than floatable) water on the upper Buffalo IN AUGUST for only the second time in 40 years, according to Buffalo Outdoor Center’s Mike Mills. We watch the river levels and the forecast all week and finally found a day that had good weather and good floating levels, and which our friends were free, too.

We floated from Steel Creek to Kyles Landing, along with several hundred of our closest friends. It was crowded but congenial on the river Saturday.

After watching a number of people tump over right at the put-in (there’s a tricky little hole right after you launch), Daniel was a little nervous, I think. We made it through that hole just fine, and floated down through the first pool. Our friends the Buttons, Rob and his two boys, turned over in the second rapid. Not sure what happened: one minute they were doing fine and the next they were in the water. We stopped and helped them get their boat out and continued on.

The weather was beautiful, in the 60s to start and it never got hotter than about 80. The water was nice and cool, too, but warm enough to swim in (intentionally or not).

We found good places to pull over and eat and swim. Daniel loves swimming in the river, but we already knew that. The upper Buffalo has the best scenery (though it’s all good scenery) with lots of towering bluffs right on the water.

We had a few close calls but didn’t turn over until about 250 yards above the takeout. We watched the Buttons go through a small rapid that swept a little to the left. I guess we got lazy and didn’t study it too hard because we were thinking about taking out, but by the time we realized we needed to paddle hard to miss a strainer on river left, we were being swept into it.

I grabbed onto the tree to pull us past it, but instead it tipped the boat upstream and the canoe filled with water and over we went. I went under and when I came up, I could see Daniel. He was upstream of the overturned (and floating) canoe, holding onto the boat, with his feet up and pointed downstream, just like he should be. I was a little disoriented and — to be honest — scared, but he was fine, and quickly I was, too.

There was a shallow gravel bar just below us, and the Buttons had stopped there, and they helped us run our salvage operation. We had tied everything into the boat, and it was all okay, if a little wet. The only damage was that river water got in our cooler and soaked some crackers and a few other food items, but we recovered everything.

We didn’t get to fish (too many boats on the river, really), but Daniel had a great time. He said his favorite parts were turning over and swimming. A river rat is born.

I’ve been wanting to take him on a float for a long time now, and I’m glad this unseaonable cool snap and rain we’ve had lately helped bring it together right before school started back.