(larvalbug editor's note: This story was originally published in the Prairie State Canoeists newsletter in 1980. It has been edited slightly for this online version.)
(PSC editor's note: Following is an exciting narrative by one of the Club's most avid canoeists which answers the question, "Why should I join a canoe club?")
Saturday evening we arrived at Alley Spring to find Jack's Fork running normally with clear blue water. Several canoeists had run from Alley Spring to Two Rivers that day and had several swims - but they were using canoes. That night it poured rain and the next morning Jack's Fork was brown and ugly. We checked at the canoe rental, got a car shuttle arranged, and proceeded to Buck Hollow, a distance of 24.8 miles with a normal gradient of 7.2 feet per mile. Many people talked to us before we left, but Vicky assured me the water was not as high as when Val and she ran it several years previously.
We decided it was not necessary to camp; the water was running very fast and we could be back at Alley Spring in a few hours. Our usual method of travel was with open cockpit with a Miniature Schnauzer dog in each boat. We did not change our method even with the standing waves.
We took off from Route 17 and left all of our well wishers on shore. Now all we had to do was figure out where the river channel was supposed to be with the water flowing around the trees. As we approached a bend I looked ahead and at first I didn't notice Vicky. Then I saw her at the head of a large group of small trees on the right. She was yelling something, but I couldn't understand what she was saying above the roaring sound of the muddy water. All I could see was her hands on the tree, her head, and the dog wrapped around her neck, with the waves splashing around her face. I tried to tell her to throw the dog towards the shore. I didn't see her boat, so I swung around to the left shore. I planned to get a rope, wade out as far as I could hanging on to trees, and somehow get the rope to Vicky. I finally found a spot close to the bank, got my dog on shore so I could get out, jumped out of the boat in waist-deep water, and reached into the boat for a safety rope. I frantically groped around the back of the kayak trying to find the bag containing the rope - there was NO bag and NO rope. So, I hung on to the trees and tried to get as close to Vicky as possible, but then I saw her swimming, the dog still around her neck and the rim and seat of her kayak around her, to the opposite shore on the other side of the island.
I got back into my boat, retrieved my dog, and tried to cross the river to where I last saw Vicky. I couldn't get near there because of the cliffs, but I finally found a cave and yelled to Vicky, although I couldn't see her. I found Vicky's paddle and half of the Iguana which contained her life preserver floating and pushed them into an eddy near shore. Finally, I managed to paddle up to where I had last seen Vicky, but I couldn't find her. I tried to keep voice contact by yelling. Vicky had climbed up over the top of the cliff and down into the cave landing.
We stood there trying to decide what to do next. We were in a cave probably 1½ miles by river from the put-in. Vicky was shaking and on the verge of hypothermia. I was too scared to think of anything. We had no dump clothes, no matches, no food, no water (hot or cold) - totally unprepared for what was happening. After what seemed like hours, we saw two canoes coming around the bend of the river. One of the canoes almost ended up in the same group of trees as Vicky, but they maneuvered around it. They landed in the cave and got Vicky and the two dogs in their boat. I was finally able to use a spray skirt and almost enjoyed the run to Blue Spring where the canoeists had their car.
We reported the incident to the Ranger Station where an older Park Ranger was very sympathetic but seemed to be smiling underneath. That night while we were camped at Alley Spring, the Park Rangers kept us advised about the rising river. If the camp would flood, they would move us to higher ground. A young ranger told Vicky not to feel so bad about her accident because he wrapped a canoe around the bridge pier at Alley Spring himself.
Vicky told me that she was yelling that she was trapped in the boat when it collapsed around the tree. She had tried to figure the main channel of the river and changed too late to avoid getting swept into the trees. The kayak folded up around the tree and the only way she was able to get out was to forcefully break the boat. She was able to touch the bottom of the river but the current was so strong she just had to drift and swim down through the trees. She was planning a hike on the Appalachian Trail that summer, so she was physically strong enough to get out of the boat.
During the week, we rented a canoe and paddled several days on the Current River, which is much more forgiving than Jack's Fork, and was not at flood stage. We had met a member of the Prairie State Canoeists several years before this incident. We paddled with her on the Current River and immediately noticed the safety practices, but we thought we could continue our adventurous frivolous ways. When we returned home from this trip, we immediately joined Prairie State Canoeists, and learned that Safety and Fun can both be practiced with a group.
Except for sounds of fast water and occasional recurring nightmares, I am again enjoying paddling, thanks to the support of the Prairie State Canoeists.