Sunday, February 19, 2012

Rematch denied

All of the signs pointed toward an epic rematch: man (and boat) vs. rapids. The weather was sunny and almost warm. The water level in Buffalo Bayou was dropping as the bulk of Saturday's flood waters headed for the bay. I was ready to take another crack at the rapids near Chimney Rock which so rudely ejected me during my last upstream paddle.

I arrived at the Woodway Drive access point, readied my kayak, and made my way down toward the bayou. Undaunted by the three or four inches of fresh mud deposited by the falling waters, I pulled my kayak the last few feet to the bayou and shoved off . The current was strong but manageable as I passed under the Woodway bridge and headed upstream toward my destiny.

My focus on the coming battle made me almost oblivious to the numerous soft shell turtles sunning along the banks and sliding into the water at my approach. And the sounds of jays, cardinals, titmice and the occasional pileated woodpecker fell largely on deaf ears. I paddled onward to meet the enemy!

I was about a half mile from the battlefield when I noticed a change in the air. The sound of the birds was obscured by the sound of rushing water.  And some type of obstruction was visible in the water ahead. I beached my kayak on the sand bar and scouted ahead on foot.

What I found infuriated me. Several uprooted trees had been deposited against the bank, constricting the flow of the bayou and whipping up the current.  What was worse was that the branches of one of the trees extended out into the portion of channel that wasn't fully blocked, creating what's called a strainer. I climbed out onto one of the tree trunks to get a view upstream.

Beyond the obstruction were relatively calm waters and my date with destiny. But how to get there?  The sandbar I was using to scout didn't extend far enough to accomplish a portage. To reach the far side one option was to go up a steep embankment, through someone's yard, and then back down another steep slope to the bayou. That looked difficult and probably wouldn't be appreciated by the homeowner.  The other option was to go over the root ball of one of the fallen trees.  That looked even more problematic.

Perplexed but undaunted, I retrieved my picnic lunch from my kayak and settled on the sand bar to eat and think. Maybe inspiration would strike.  Or maybe the waters would fall fast enough to let me sneak around the obstruction.

It didn't.  They didn't.

I scouted the sand bar one more time to see if I'd missed anything, but I hadn't.  I took to my kayak and paddled up to the base of the strainer, looking for a way through by water. It looked possible I could squeeze through against the current. But it also looked possible that I could get tangled in the tree limbs with unfortunate results.

Retreat leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. But I know in my heart that strainer didn't form by chance. The rapids knew I was coming for it and feared me. Coward! You may have saved yourself on Sunday, but I'll be back.  And next time I'll be coming at you from upstream!

To be continued...

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