I was on the ColdRiver in Massachusetts at seven feet. Four feet is pretty high; it’s solid Class IV then. The ice had just broken and the river was brown with silt. The first rapid is Class V. I flipped and tried to roll, but hit icebergs while sweeping. I camp up on my second roll too exhausted to stay upright. On my third try I was loose in the boat and my roll just rolled me out into the river. I was very conscious of the seriousness of my situation-absolutely no one could help me. I held on to my paddle and boat for a short time. The holes kept endering my boat and nearly ripped off my wrist, so I had to let the boat go.
I dropped into one hole after another, concentrating on clearing my airway and breathing in before the next one came. I used my paddle to try and ferry my body to shore, but it was only slightly effective. Although my brain knew what was happening, I could feel my body shutting down. I felt very calm I was too tired to panic. I got over to the river left shore where the current wasn’t too strong, and tried to grab some bushes, but I couldn’t open or close my hand. “You’ve got to do it,” I thought, but my body wouldn’t react. Then my legs went over a pourover and the water stood me up. I guess I was pretty stiff from the cold water. I aimed for shore as I toppled over, then rolled onto the bank and somehow stayed. I still had gross motor control of my legs and arms. I had a splitting headache. My breathing required a major conscious effort. My diaphragm wasn’t contracting on its own so I was forcing air in and out by working the abdominal muscles.
After a time my breathing became easier and my headache went away. The shuttle bunny saw my gear floating by and drove upstream to help, but I was on the wrong side of the river and had to walk upstream to a bridge. After about fifteen minutes I could get my legs coordinated well enough to walk along the steep embankment to a bridge. The group retrieved my gear and regrouped. We paddled a Class III river later in the day. I can’t believe I tried another river after getting so badly spanked!
Editor’s Note: This is a remarkably vivid description of what it feels like to escape from a cold-water flush drowning.