The Battenkill River wends its way from Vermont to just south of Saratoga, where it feeds into the Hudson River. In our neck of the woods, it is often visible from the road and open for kayaking and swimming at various points along the way. Over the years, the river has been part of our life, a favorite source of comfort in those sweltering summer months.
This Saturday, Scott and I joined other volunteers in the annual Fall cleanup effort. It’s been a very wet Summer, and the river has been running high and fast; it’s also been a busy Summer, and though we’ve meant to throw our kayaks in the truck and head out for some river time on many a weekend, farm chores and weather conditions seem to have got in the way. So, the clean up was the perfect opportunity to get back on the river one last time.
We had the perfect day: blue skies, and quite warm for this time in September. As we set off to comb the riverbank for whatever trash we could find, I could tell that the current was very strong. Rainstorms had brought down quite a few trees, which had to be carefully maneuvered around or under; the put in and pull off points I could previously recognize were now under water, and the river itself seemed vaguely unfamiliar. Nevertheless, it was wonderful to be back and I gave myself into the experience of being on the water.
Pretty soon after we’d begun, and perhaps because the mission of the moment (cleanup) was forgotten for the sheer pleasure of the moment, I found myself ahead of the group. A grey heron seemed to shadow my journey, soaring over the river from one hiding place on to the next. There were families of ducks, of course, flitting from one cove to another and taking off in flight and skimming back. At one point, I spotted a pair of deer grazing in the woods, utterly oblivious to the sound of my paddle dipping through the water.
At some point, I realized that I was too far ahead of everyone for comfort. I had passed under Route 22, the usual pull off point, but had not seen the small beach and path up to the roadway. The river had picked up speed as it came around a sharp bend, where I saw several soda cans caught in the branches of a downed tree. As I was reaching out with my paddle to extricate them, it was ripped right out my grasp, and GONE in a flash.
Up a creek and without a paddle, literally, I pulled myself up to the bank, wedged the kayak into some suitable tree roots, and sent my location pin off to my husband Scott, hoping that he’d manage to somehow find me.
Before long, it became clear that no one would be able to find me as long as I hung out by the river, kayakless, paddleless, and also running of power on my phone. It must have been that thought which gave me the adrenalin I needed to somehow clamber up the vertical incline and onto safer ground. Any relief I might have felt at being able to do so evaporated at the sight of the cornfield that stretched before me. Now what?! One end seemed to end by woods, so I took the other and prayed that it was the right call, which it was, thankfully.
Unfortunately, I now needed to walk up the two other sides of the cornfield if I was to ever find another living soul who could point me homewards. Still clutching my life vest, and still sopping wet from the waist down, I trekked past more corn than I have ever been so up and personal with. At last, the field gave way to an enormous barn full of dairy cows, eyeing me with placid curiosity as I trudged on to the farmhouse I hope existed beyond.
It did. The farmer was so kind and sympathetic, and he didn’t laugh. I used the last 1% of my phone’s charge to call Scott with a more precise location than “somewhere on the riverbank”. Scott before too long, smirking at first and then right out loud laughing.
I was too tired to muster any shred of affronted dignity. It will be a long while before I kayak again, and then I intend to carry an extra paddle.