It was just daybreak, 17 degrees and snow flurries when I launched my 14-foot Charleston Dagger into the Kentucky River off College Hill Rd in Waco and headed up river. The water was smooth. I had five layers of pants and shirts on plus two socks, two hats and three changes of gloves. I was pretty confident that I would stay warm and for the most part, I did.
When I first launched, my skeg seemed to be sluggish going down. I snapped the line another time and it dropped into the water. What I didnt realize at the time was the line was starting to freeze in just those few seconds of being in the water. That was the last time I would do anything with the skeg for the next 3 hours, as all six feet of the skeg line froze to the side of the boat.
What a trip. I took my water bottle out to have a swig and the top was frozen shut on that. Soon, my gloves froze to the paddle. The drops from my paddle would land on the boat and freeze where they dropped. Man, was it cold out. The only thing that didnt freeze was the lid to my flask.
In my old Navy Seabee days, because of our specialized skills, there were many missions that we could volunteer for. One was called Winter Over. That was 6 months service in Antarctica during the dark months in support of the Science Station up there. The main jobs were to keep the place dug out and to make sure everything stayed running.
It was so cold up there that you were only allowed outside a half hour at a time. Within a few seconds, the nerves on the out layer of skin froze so you could not really feel the cold. If you didnt pay attention to the time, you could just stop moving with in an hour or so and be frozen in place till some one hauled your carcass away.
One of the daily rations was a small bottle of liquor, about the size that you would get on a plane. The idea was that the shot a day would keep your blood thin enough to circulate better in the extreme cold so as not to coagulate so quickly. Today seemed like one of those days. Thank goodness the flask lid was not frozen shut.
When I first started out, there was about a 6-inch fog that danced across the top of the water. There was a slight breeze, so it swirled about from one spot to another. The sky was overcast, but it was starting to clear. Within an hour, the clouds were all gone and blue sky prevailed. The sun shone so bright that I had to put shades on. But it made little difference in the temperature. Though, after about 3 hours in the sun, my skeg line thawed out.
The wild life didnt seem to mind the cold. I saw a group of wild turkeys feeding on a hillside, a raccoon swim across the river, several doe, several hawk, a wood duck and several blue herons. The Herons were fairly common, but the Wood Duck and the Raccoon were absolutely beautiful in their winter coats.
I surprised one of the does that was getting a drink of water out of the river. Or I assumed I did, as when she saw me, she missed stepped and fell into the river. You would think she hit a trampoline in the water the way she sprung back out. Then she stood on the bank and stared at me as if she was waiting to see if I were going to laugh or shoot her. I did neither, but spoke to her and told her it was ok. She bounded up the hill and would stop every few feet and look at me again. Each time she stopped, I would speak to her. Hopefully she wont stop to speak to any hunters.
After three and a half hours of paddling, I came to a side feeder creek. When I turned into it, I saw the surface was white and thought it was frozen. But actually, it just had about an inch of slush on top of the water. It was about the consistency of a Slushy. It was sort of neat, as I neither paddled through it nor slid across it, but more like a combination of the two. I would extend my paddle into the slush, get a grip and just pull myself through it.
After coming out of the feeder, I paddled on up river for another half an hour before feeling totally whooped. (Thats whipped for you Yanks). I had been paddling for four hours up river into a steady breeze. I decided it was time to head back if I were going to be off the water before dark.
Even though I was going down river with the wind at my back, it still took me the same amount of time to get back down as it did to get up. I think it was mostly because I spent a lot of time letting the wind and current do the work for me. I tried to stretch out as much as possible in a kayak and soak up the sunshine. It was a very pleasant paddle back.
When I finally reached my put in spot, got my boat out and headed home, I suddenly felt very cold. I was amazed that I had spent eight hours paddling in sub zero weather and felt fine, but after I get out, Im cold. When I got home and unloaded my boat and gear, I thought I would freeze to death. Seemed so backwards. Maybe it is the love of the sport that kept me warm.
Last year, I called my excursions an escape. But there really are not. They are a love. I do this in all weather, all places at all times and include as many people as possible because I love it. Kayaking to me is like my wife and kids. I go to them for love and belonging. Not to escape anything. I think the paddle is the same thing. I just cant get enough.