Current River Connections-Conclusion

Astonishingly, the river world looked normal as they crawled out at daylight. After the symphony of the storm the night before, heavy on the percussion with a startling light show, it was eerily quiet, as if the fog blanketing the surface of the Current was muffling the morning. Walking down the bank to the crystal-clear water, Tarzan pointed out the focus of his night watch – a large stone set between the tent and the river’s edge. If the rains had been heavy upstream and flooding a possibility, the stone would have been the silent alarm to run for higher ground.

Ready to hit the river, breakfast was postponed. They had paddled through the diminishing mist for about an hour when they realized they were approaching the bridge at Van Buren. They had been close enough to have had hot showers and rest in warm dry beds during the storm the night before if they had only known where they were! (Nancy Drew had learned lesson #3 the wet way. The place one touches a tent during a rain will become a leaking spot that won’t stop dripping till the rain stops falling.)

During their quick breakfast they decided to reach the boat ramp at Doniphan before dark. They had rafted the distance before in a two-day float so they were determined to cut that time in half; it was early and canoes are more maneuverable. They were cheered by the challenge and by being in familiar territory.

Perhaps it was Tarzan who learned lesson #4. The lookout seated in front COULD and WOULD and DID take over control of the vessel when she deemed it necessary for life and limb. Call it mutiny if you will, but Nancy thought it needless to challenge Harry’s Root by aiming to shoot over the least treacherous-looking part of it. Yes, safely doing that might help them save a couple of minutes in their time, but tipping could add hours if they were unscathed enough after a second spill to right the canoe and gather its contents without the aid of a well-placed gravel bar. She could recall only scary tales of encounters with Harry’s Root.

A paddle planted vertically in the gravel will cause a canoe to twirl nicely toward the bank. It thwarted all tauntings of Harry’s Root and choreographed a smooth à la main droite to the gravel bar in a small cove nearby. Nancy hopped out. The sooner Tarzan gave up on the foolish idea of river dancing with Harry, the less time they would waste in dialogue about it. Perhaps the scene was worthy of applause, for it attracted the attention of some campers on the bank above them, unnoticed until they asked the pair if they needed help.

A bit embarrassed by having an audience for this impromptu performance, the two reached a quick resolution. Nancy took the lead in this two-step and AROUND the infamous root wad they paddled. ( In other words, Nancy won that time.)

Back then there were pay phones in public places. At 5 pm Tarzan used the one at Float Camp to call the outfitter where the pair worked to alert their colleagues they would be ready for pick up in about an hour. That last hour was a jubilant one. They had paddled from above Van Buren to Doniphan in one day, and from Baptist Camp to the local boat ramp in 29 actual floating hours. What a wild ride for one flatlander and one city gal! Bring on the celebration!

Alas! They glided to the ramp with no fanfare, no honking horns, no waving flags; not a soul was there to greet them. The tractor pull at the county fair had prime billing.

And life goes on.

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Current River Connections-Installment 8

Incredibly, Mother Nature did not unleash her wrath for another two hours. With recent flash flood accounts in a neighboring state forefront in their minds, all camp preparations were modified.

Canoe secured out of the river. Tent placed far up the gravel bar with a wary eye on nearby trees. The approaching weather dilly-dallied long enough for the making a fire and a hearty meal to fuel the duo as they watched threatening skies and listened to the increasing volume of encroaching rumbles.

Darkness, though, ushered in Mother Nature’s fury swiftly. She thrashed the riverway with howling winds, deafening thunder, piercing lightning and tons and tons of swirling rain.

During the worst of it, Tarzan was ultra alert, periodically unzipping the tent a smidgeon to peer out, at what he didn’t say. Nancy didn’t ask. She was ultra alert, too, battling a terrifying panic. At every urge to scream, or cry, or run, or crawl under the sleeping bag, she could hear one of Tarzan’s trademark replies, “Now what good would that do?” loop in her head. Sitting up was impossible with the wild weather wanting to flatten the tent. All she could do was swallow the fear, muffle the what-ifs in her mind, and wait.

Later in the night she would rouse at a passing shower accompanied by snippets of thunder and lightening. Or was she roused by Tarzan still now and then unzipping the flap to peer out? A mystery for Nancy Drew to solve with the morning light.

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Current River Connections-Installment 7

Lesson # 2 – Nothing dries hanging on a clothesline on a riverbank. Nancy still had a drenched wardrobe as she and Tarzan broke camp on the second morning. They were astonished to realize the creek across from their gravel bar was actually Jack’s Fork River! The anticipated surge of rolling whitewater was nothing more than a serene trickle, like a river lullabye.

The canoe glided through the magnificent canvas of a magical misty Ozark morning void of signs of humanity. Creatures in water, on land and in the air came to life in musical movements crescendoing at sunrise. They reverently enjoyed the majestic scene as the sun brought the canvas into sharp focus.

Canoeing unfamiliar waters becomes an exercise in snap judgments. Gravel deposits can shift-shape from an innocent island to one with an undetectable treacherous channel. Others morph into peninsulas with deep coves. The two maneuvered with ease over menacing root wads or against the current to retrace ripples to return to the main channel, all the while chatting about the marvels and pitfalls of riverways and life.

Needn’t be said the two knew each other well, otherwise this feat in enduring the company of the other 24/7 for possibly five days never would have transpired. They stretched their boundaries, pushing sensitive buttons and turning ensuing reactions into improv comedic situations worthy of Saturday Night Live skits. Also needn’t be said that Tarzan was a pro at button-pushing and Nancy gifted at over reacting. Neither skill made time fly by.

Mother Nature decided to add a measure of suspense to the paddling production. At lunch break they spied some rolling clouds hinting at the possibility of a summer squall. Worth watching, it was decided. Later at a campground stop Tarzan made amends for some of the button-pushing by pulling money out of a surprise stash to buy ice cream at the camp store. And he checked the forecast. If there were concerns he didn’t share them.

Much of the afternoon their eyes scanned the sky more often than the river, watching for warnings in swirling darkening clouds rather than in churning waters. The sticky heat was intense, the sporadic winds hotter still, sometimes offering challenging resistance to progress.

Again the focus turned to finding a suitable campsite, this time with slightly different qualifications. Maybe not too many trees, for sure on a higher elevation than the last, and at a location they could reach in time to balance securing the equipment, setting up and eating before dark or the storm, whichever arrived first, yet without wasting precious paddling time through the isolated river forest.

The circling steamy winds teased with spells of cool gentle breezes that scurried away at increasingly louder rumbles and smatterings of huge raindrops. The sun couldn’t decide to hide or spotlight the activity on an unnerving stage. Just before 5 pm Tarzan eyed a gravel bar ahead that would have to provide the shelter they were going to need. It seemed the August thunderstorm would arrive ahead of the night. Missouri summer storms can be severe; damaging winds, monsoon rains, tree-splitting lightening could make their appearance soon, so meticulous preparations began the moment they aimed the canoe straight for the gravel.

Next week-Water, Water Everywhere

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Current River Connections-Installment 6

Grateful for the help with the portage at Akers Ferry, the adventurous duo settled in for a peaceful float. Signs posted marked notable sites, but Tarzan’s concern about their progress meant there were few site-seeing stops. They did pull over to check out a cave accessible by canoe, but there was a line of paddlers waiting their turn, so on the pair went.

As the day dwindled, the task of paramount importance was finding a suitable camping site. A comfy gravel bar that didn’t look too snaky, yet close to a source of kindling was at the top of the list. That is just what they came upon, with plenty of time to get situated before darkness set in.

First things first — secure the canoe — then put up the tent, which both knew would go faster if Nancy busied herself doing something else, like starting the hunt for kindling. Over and behind the many mounds of gravel she traipsed in wet shoes that seemed to get heavier with each stomp in the loose gravel.

Nancy was plum tuckered out. There had been stress early on, but wide-eyed fun afterwards, and lots and lots and LOTS of paddling. She wondered if Tarzan was feeling the fatigue.

As she topped a mound to the campsite, there he was, stretched out belly down on the rocks blowing on the starter pile of kindling. Her first thought was one of relief. After the spill she had worried they would have nothing but soggy matches and cold hot dogs on this first night. Tarzan had packed well; there would be both a fire and a hot meal.

As she placed more kindling by the smoking sticks, though, she realized something was off. He still had his life jacket on and it was still buckled. Nancy had ditched hers right away. His elbows were dug into gullies in the gravel as he snapped twigs to place on the tiny flame. Every so often he would raise his head a bit to blow on the flickers.

N–Are you okay? Did you turn an ankle? Did you fall?
T–(Long pause) I’m okay. You’re gonna have to get some bigger stuff for this fire.

Nancy made a couple more trips for wood and each return to camp found him in the exact same position.

N–What’s wrong with you? Why aren’t you getting up?
T–I can’t raise my arms. They just don’t want to move.

So he WAS tuckered out, exhausted to the max. Nancy’s muscles were talking to her, too, but not in the way Tarzan’s were talking to him. Thus began the endless teasing debate that she was a slacker, that she made Tarzan do all the work while she sunned up front. The extreme tension of the flip, then wrestling the empty canoe and gathering the contents from the river had surely caused the muscle fatigue he was dealing with, she surmised.

As the fire blazed, darkness arrived. Tarzan finally sat up, unbuckled his vest and accepted help getting out of it. While he worked with supper, Nancy went to get her bag of stuff. She figured it seemed so much heavier because her arms were tired, but she was mistaken.

Everything she had packed was soaked, dripping: sleeping bag, clothes, towels, everything except her toiletries in baggies.

N– I used the kind of bag you told me to! Why is all of your stuff dry and mine is not?!
T–Did you double-bag it?
N–No, I didn’t know I had to.

This was Nancy’s first overnight floating experience. She had a lot to learn.
After supper she hung up what she wanted to wear the next day, and laid out other items across the canoe and on the gravel around the fire to keep them from souring.

Tarzan let her borrow a dry shirt and unzipped his sleeping bag to share half, reducing the padding on the gravel bed but neither noticed. Exhausted uninterrupted sleep came quickly after a brief discussion of what was ahead.

They should be getting close to the point Jack’s Fork River met the Current. Would they be ready for that, or would it create another canoe-flipping situation?

Next week- Dark Skies

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Current River Connection-Installment 5

Water rippling by, birds curiously chirping, gravel crunching under heavy wet tennis shoes, canoe scraping as it swayed with the return of the rescued contents – sounds intensified by the absence of the usual chatter. Their immediate thoughts would be shared later, but for the moment no words were spoken by either. No ‘what-ifs’ or ‘why-didnt-you’s” or ‘I-told-you-so’s’ broke the silence weighted with relief that there were no injuries or losses. Most importantly, the two were not stranded. Normalcy resumed with the digging around for snacks and drinks before pushing the unscathed canoe into the Current.

Without a map to refer to, the distance to cover tripled in Tarzan’s mind. Any springs or caves to explore, if noted in time to maneuver to, were bypassed. Nancy’s frustration with that unexpected development would ebb and flow along the way but it was a frustration she did not address aloud. She did, however, insist on infrequent stops to stretch legs and locate trees. Taking care of business could hardly be considered lolly-gagging, she argued. Anyway, in shorter floats they were always ahead of scheduled pick-ups; she was positive they would wind up back at home way before anyone expected them to.

After the encounter with the cliff that capsized the canoe, the two mysteriously resumed their proficient paddling, hardly disturbing the glassy surface of the widening river. Zig-zagging from bank to bank was never again an issue and it really didn’t matter why. They had found their easy cadence and began relishing the new sights along the way.

About mid-day they became aware of the first fellow humans they would encounter sporadically on the float trip. Up ahead they recognized a site from their driving explorations. The river flows through several culverts at a place still called Akers Ferry, though the ferry has been replaced by a roadway. The bank there offered an inviting spot for lunch and planning the portage, which happened quickly and effortlessly thanks to a nearby canoeist’s offer to help Tarzan carry the loaded vessel to the other side. Would be hard to say which of the two was more relieved -Tarzan for not having to shoulder the bulk of the burden, or Nancy for not being again reminded of the weakling she was.

Next week-First camp of float.

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Current River Connections-Installment 4

Being jutted into the rock’s nifty canoe-sized pocket abruptly halted the duo’s frustrated discussion about who was to blame for zig-zagging between the river’s banks. Blame didn’t matter at the moment; capsizing was imminent. Tarzan worked to protect his skull from slamming against the cliff’s face in rhythm to Nancy’s bouncy white-knuckle ride in the front. Each dip meant more water on board.

N—We’re gonna flip, aren’t we?
N—Would it help if we just rolled on out? Would that keep us from getting hurt?
N—Ok. I’m going.
T—Don’t lose your paddle! I’ll worry with the canoe. Make it to that gravel bar over there!

(Has it been mentioned that Tarzan could not swim? And that Nancy took lessons at the YMCA in a class of 5-year-olds when she was 12?)

She was already sitting in water so Nancy leaned over into the river making sure to hang on to her oar, kicking away as fast as she could toward the gravel bar ahead. About the time she was out of the main force of the current, she touched bottom, stood up and turned to check on Tarzan.

He was high-stepping toward her grappling with the canoe, yelling orders. Helplessly she watched the canoe’s contents bob by in the middle of the channel headed around the bend out of sight.

How he managed to get the canoe right-side up was a question for later. As he shoved it toward her, he almost beat it to the bank as he zipped across the gravel bar intending to catch their possessions as they rounded the bend.

Catch them he did, one by one, running to stack them on the bank in time to get back to retrieve another that could be tossed to shore. No doubt about it; he was quick-thinking, quick-acting and quick-footed. Only two items were lost – Nancy’s cheap sunglasses and their revered map of the scenic riverway portion of the journey. Both had been on top of the cooler; the map there for quick reference and the glasses there so not to lose them in the trees they had spent so much time in.

( Next week – Regroup, Reload, Relaunch)

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A Mishap

“You’d better turn back around and watch where we’re going,” suggested Tarzan as their canoe bounced off the bank for the first of what would be multiple up-close and personal encounters with both sides of Current River in a short stretch of shallow fast-rolling water. As Nancy Drew hunkered down and shielded her face from a dense canopy of overhanging branches, he asked if she had ever seen the movie Deliverance. The kids were referring to that in their snickers on the duo’s departure. She had not so she made a mental note to ask him about the plot during some lazy floating on their 5-day trip. First matter, though, was getting to the middle of the river which seemed just a paddle-length away.

“River” didn’t fit this scene. It was a narrow, shallow creek that had obviously weathered flash flooding multiple times from the looks of the high gullied banks. Maneuvering it should have been nothing more than a playful zip through a chuckling stream, the banks close enough that even Nancy Drew could have tossed a rock from one to the other.

Getting to the center proved to be an unexpected dilemma for the canoeists who considered themselves proficient paddlers. When they zigged, the river would suddenly zag. Nancy Drew initially relied on her oar for protection. Then she started using it to shove the canoe away from the bank as she frantically tried to avoid the creepiness of all that vegetation.

There had been much excited chatter about the excursion in the planning stage. Where had that exuberance gone? It had morphed into debate, a loud one, about who was at fault for the embarrassing situation. (Thank goodness there were many sharp curves behind them; their canoe was not visible to the church kids.)

T—When are you gonna put your paddle in the water?
N—When you keep me off the bank!
T—-You’re the lookout.
N—Surely you can see over my head. Oh, maybe not, it has stayed in the trees.
T—The trees won’t hurt you. Paddle!!

Maybe they looked safe to him. She was eyeing poison ivy everywhere, and the grapevines entwining the limbs were starting to look like snakes.

N—Maybe if you wouldn’t put so much force into your strokes, we could go straight. You overpower me!
T—-Maybe you should put some muscle in yours. (Add a few unprintable words here, and turn up the volume. You get the drift.)

Nancy Drew continued her analysis of the situation. To her it was obvious that a change in seating was in order, but that suggestion was not even acknowledged.

…Keep on doing what you’ve been doing, and you’ll keep on getting what you’ve been getting…All have heard some version of that. Apparently Tarzan had not, and was not impressed. Nor was he impressed with the recounts of all her successful canoe adventures sitting in the back. He was not switching.

The fact that the distance between the zigs and the zags had lengthened somewhat became apparent when the entire canoe floated under a low hefty limb serving as a sunny perch for a colorful hefty reptile. Both leaned WAY back to avoid contact.

N—We can’t keep on this way! WHAT IF THAT HAD FALLEN INTO THE CANOE!!!

Tarzan agreed as they pondered that perhaps it was the extra weight that was creating the problem. They were accustomed to transporting little more than lunch on their outings. He had to fix this, or he would be stuck with a petrified lunatic for five whole days. There was no other choice but to keep going. At first stop he would check the map to see where there might be a phone to plan his…their…rescue.

Suddenly the river zagged again, and with a deafening roar it catapulted the canoe right into a deep cleft in a sheer rock wall, engulfing it with a tight grip. They began to take on water.

( Next week-Bottom’s Up)

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