Up shit creek without a paddle
The River Spey appeared calm, but the quietness of the Highlands allowed the sound of the heavy rumbling to make its way upriver unopposed. Looking downriver The Spey seemed to just stop, then appear lower and further away than it should. It was an optical illusion. The missing part of the river is known as The Washing Machine. The calmness of the water before and after it gives you a false sense of security. You know something’s there but you can’t see it. Before you know it The Washing Machine has you in its grasp, dragging you in. You have no choice but to be brave and commit.
“OK Joe, here it is. Let’s get on our knees to lower the centre of gravity. We need to make ourselves more stable,” said Danny.
“But I can’t get my feet under the seat.”
“Just turn your ankle and it will slip under.”
Danny could see Joe was struggling to get in the kneeling position, so he slowed their approach until Joe was settled.
“You ready then Joe?”
Danny steered the canoe onto the centre line and allowed the current to take them through. The river suddenly drops throwing you straight into high pounding waves. The position of the rocks forces the river into itself, forming a “V” pattern. All you have to do it head for the tip of the “V” and ride through the waves.
The canoe bounced up and down, with the bow crashing into each wave. The waves appeared like teeth snapping down each time the canoe attacked it. With each bite the river deposited more of itself in the canoe.
“Woo hooo, yeahhh. We’ve done it” shouted Joe from the front.
They made it through the “V” with only a couple more waves to ride over. The first rocked the canoe to the left, enough for the edge to slightly submerge and grasp a large dose of water. The balance was out, the inertia from the water inside the canoe made it dip left again. This time despite Danny and Joe’s attempt to compensate, the Washing Machine hammered into them capsizing the canoe. Both of them were thrust head first under the water.
Danny’s head bobbed up above the water. He could see the canoe floating away with Joe near the front of it. Danny was lying forward still holding onto the paddle. The shock of the cold water made him hyperventilate. Each rapid intake of breath was accompanied by The Spey. He was choking and starting to panic. Out of nowhere he was hit by a childhood memory. It was so vivid. He had choked like this before when he was a child practising snorkelling in a swimming pool. The water had come over his snorkel and every breath was filled with chlorinated water. He had panicked the same then. He couldn’t touch the floor as he had just swum into the deep end. A hand of a sixteen year old girl saved him that day, dragging him to the side of the pool.
Joe couldn’t break free of the canoe. His foot was caught under the seat. He was being dragged under. It’s not my time to die, he told himself as he tried to fight the panic, but the cold and lack of oxygen was terrifying. His helmet hit a rock, which rotated him out from under the seat. It helped him break free and find the river surface. He called out for Danny with every gasp only to inhale more of The Spey. He was being pounded against the rocks as he was forced downstream. Instinct made him reach out and grab hold of one rock. He pulled himself closer out of the fast paced current. The rocks began to help him as he used them as a ladder, gradually pulling himself to the safety of the river bank. The canoe and their supplies deserted him.
Danny quickly regained his senses. The paddle wasn’t a lifesaving hand, it was a hindrance. He let go and remembered that you’re supposed to travel down rapids lying on your back to avoid being injured by the rocks below. He turned over but just as quickly he decided to swim to the bank instead. He could see Joe up ahead making his way to the bank too.
Joe was sat on the edge of the bank with his feet dangling in the water. He was coughing trying to clear his lungs. Danny stumbled his way across the rocky embankment over to Joe.
“Joe are you ok?”
“I’m alive,” Joe said in between coughs. “I think I’ve screwed my knee though.”
Joe’s wet trousers clung to his legs. Danny could see Joe’s left knee was swelling up, almost double the size of his right knee.
“I’m getting really cold too,” Joe said.
“Yeah me too. Let’s get you out of the water and find somewhere to dry.” said Danny.
“You know Mum’s going to kill you. You’ve broken her golden child.” Joe said trying to break into a smile.
“Ha ha, I did think that too. Let’s get you home then, so I can face the music.” With that Danny dragged Joe up the rocks onto the grassy verge at the top of the bank.
The top of the bank gave no cover. It was exposed to the wind which cut right through their soaking clothes. Both sides of the river were cradled by fields slowly raising onto hills, before turning into a forest. Downstream was a bridge and what was going to be their camp site for that evening. The bridge was their best hope as someone was bound to cross it.
“We need to get to that bridge. I need your help to get you up so I can carry you.” Danny said.
Joe started to drift in and out of consciousness. Is it shock or is he beginning to get hypothermia? Danny was worrying to himself.
“Come on Joe, stay with me. Help me get you to your feet.”
Joe understood what he was saying. He offered his arm so Danny could place it around his shoulders. On three, he dragged him up. Progress was slow but after 40 minutes they made it to the bridge.
The walking helped pump some warmth through their bodies and dry the outside of their jackets, but the wet clothes underneath were still a problem. Danny helped Joe to the side of the bridge near the sandy embankment. He took off his waterproof jacket and hung it on the bush next to them to act as a windbreaker. He fixed Joe’s jacket above Joe’s head, forming a little shelter.
“I need to get a fire going so we can get warm and get some of these clothes dry.” Danny said. “I could do with a match.”
Joe whipped his head up. “A match, yeah, my face your arse.” He smiled.
Danny laughed at him. “If I knew this is all I needed to do for you start making sense I would have done it a long time ago.”
“Wait, no. My arse your face.”
“Too late, I can only accept your first answer.” Danny smiled at Joe, trying to hide the worry from his face. “Let’s start by getting you out of these clothes. The temperature’s not really that cold.”
“Shouldn’t you at least buy me a drink first?”
“I knew you were cheap but only one drink?”
“Beggars can’t be choosers”.
They continued laughing as Danny helped Joe out of his clothes until he was down to his boxers. “Damn Joe, it really is cold.”
“Very funny,” said Joe as he tried to cover his modesty. He was much more lucid now.
Danny had stripped to just his shirt and shorts. He rubbed Joe’s arms and legs, avoiding his knee, to try and help warm him up . He knew Joe was in immense pain but Joe was trying really hard not to show it. The little shelter was helping trap some warmth and Joe was beginning to warm up a little bit.
“I thought you were going to make a fire?” Joe asked.
“Yeah, I know. Great idea but I don’t really know how to make one from scratch. The matches and tinder are floating down the river somewhere.” As he pointed down the river he heard a car approaching.
“Stay here,” Danny shouted as he ran up the steps on the bridge onto the road.
“Where else am I going to go?” Joe shouted back. He could hear the car slow down, followed by a couple of voices. There was silence for a couple of minutes and Joe began to wonder if Danny had found the only axe murderer on The Spey. His mind wandering came to an end when Danny appeared with a middle aged gentleman.
“Joe, this is Ken. He’s kindly offered to help us get you to a hospital.”
Ken and Danny helped Joe up to the car. They lay him on the back seat so he could keep his leg extended.
Just as Danny was about to close the door Joe looked at him. “Danny — thank you.” Danny gave him a smile and nodded to him.
He ran back down the steps to collect the clothes. He just stood there for a moment staring at The Spey. He couldn’t help himself. He burst out crying. The tears streamed uncontrollably down his face.
“Come on. If you’re any longer I’ll end up as old as you!” Joe shouted from the car.
Danny wiped his eyes and nose. Taking a deep breath to gain his composure, he collected the rest of the clothes and made his way back up the steps.