By Jan Worth-Nelson
I told Sarah Carson the river would give us solace—that was how I talked her into it, for my part always wanting an accomplice in my adventures.
Two writers who revel in sedentary hours alone. Two writers—one young, one old—rampantly hopeful but almost comically expecting the worst.
Two writers who’d never been in a tandem kayak together on an end-of-summer Wednesday. What could go wrong?
Here’s the lead: that old river grabbed us and dumped us right in.
We did get a little solace—the solace that we survived. Oh, and the blue herons and that fantastic bald eagle, staring us down and then soaring overhead. And the turtles. Afterwards, Flint River Watershed Coalition Board Chair Doug Schultz, a landscape architect, said, “Mother Nature always takes taxes.”
And sometimes you have to pay for solace.
Sarah and I were among 20 local figures invited by the FRWC and Kayak Flint, joining with U.S. Congressman Dan Kildee, home on recess and a great advocate for the river.
At Flushing’s Riverview Park, the crew from the FRWC bundled us into life jackets and offered instructions. Executive Director Rebecca Fedewa gave us pause when she explained a two million gallon leak of raw sewage from three days before had flowed way past us by now. Um…phew?
We pushed the heavy kayak down the dirt slope and clambered in, Sarah in back and me in front, and we slid out into the water.
My paddle slapped awkwardly, hitting hers. I dug it down too deep and hit gravel and stone. A sheen of sweat came up under my life jacket and teeshirt. She tried some genial commands: Left, left—right, right—we worked it a little.
Kildee sailed past in his Democrat-blue kayak. Just then, the clouds parted and a bolt of sunshine shot through. Out of the blue echoed “Here Comes the Sun”— Dan had a small portable speaker propped on his hull, and he flashed a broad smile. He and the Beatles kept going—taking a surprising right turn around one of the river’s overgrown islets.
At “little” rapids along the way we did just fine, watching for ripples that signal rocks below. First rapids, second rapids.
Third rapids: our doom.
The current twisted and snagged the bow right into a gap between two boulders. We were stuck, the river piling on us from behind.
I managed to get out of the kayak up to my thighs and hold on. Sarah toppled out and grabbed the paddles. Next thing I know she’s perched on a slimy boulder, stranded, holding the paddles up like heavy wings.
SHE MUST BE SAVED. SHE’S THE MOTHER OF A TWO YEAR OLD, I internally screamed. Sarah gave me a look I thought said: this is bad and just so you know I might kill you when we get out of here.
My phone got swamped and I discovered, only later, one of my rings slipped off and disappeared. It was a silver circle of peace symbols from another poet-sister, the late Grayce Scholt. Damn Mother Nature’s taxes.
Sarah Scheitler, Corridor Alliance manager of the FRWC and co-manager of Kayak Flint, got right to us. She wrestled the kayak to the bank, while her co-manager, Jaime Welch, protected our downriver flank. Schultz and Daryl Johnson from McLaren-Flint moved in to help. Together, they righted our kayak and set us back on our way.
When we staggered out of the river at the Flushing Township Nature Park six miles from the launch site, we were soaked, shook up and grumpy, and my phone was dead. We’d left our dignity and our bliss far behind with the Beatles and the bald eagle.
We were late for a meeting back in Flint. We grabbed seats in the first van for transport. “Sarah, I’m sorry,” I said. She tactfully insisted she did it of her own free will.
And then, oh, no, there was Dan Kildee again. He was late, too. He squeezed in beside us, My socks squeaked in my drenched sandals when I moved over to make room. What do you do when you realize you are sopping wet while squished up against a U.S. Congressman? [Oh lord, I thought, he’s an important person and I’m a reporter, he’s trapped in the seat with me and I’m supposed to make the most of it.] I was still wearing my press pass, the dangling lanyard wet and tangled. My hair, too. He did not seem fazed. He does not in fact generally seem faze-able.
“My phone’s dead, Dan,” I said, “you could say anything.” He laughed. I realized I was exhausted and glum, thinking about my ring and my phone.
I got ahold of myself. I needed something good.
“How’s Nancy Pelosi?” I blurted. Yeah, that’s it! Nancy could have managed those rapids just fine.
“She’s doing great,” he replied, “She’s tougher than McConnell and she’s tougher than Trump.” Then he started talking about appropriations and even though I should have been all wide awake and driving to the next question, I half dozed off. I fingered my sad, dead phone and figured nonetheless it was a good thing overall to have been in the river—and out of it, too.
The Kayak Flint rental program at Tenacity Brewing continues through Oct. 13, weather permitting. Scheitler said the program has served more than 400 customers this year, not counting the 300+ at the annual Flotilla. Flint residents pay just $10, everybody else, $20. More information available at www.flintriver.org.
Welch offered this advice: “Before going on any trip you should have a float plan, someone on land who knows when and where you are going and when you should be off water. Know your experience level and the level of the water you are on and always wear a life jacket.”
Regarding my experience on the river, Welch said, “You aren’t truly a kayaker until you’ve been dumped — so welcome to the club!”
EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson has thoroughly showered several times and dried off since the Flint River paddle, and her phone was miraculously resurrected by Cell Phone Repair on Corunna Road. She can be reached at email@example.com. She and Sarah Carson (author of Buick City and Poems In Which You Die) are still friends and poet-sisters.
Banner image: Worth-Nelson’s kayak just before the “incident.” (Photo by Jan Worth-Nelson)