This time last year, my husband, Mark, and I were finalizing our move here, hoping we would not be taken for COVID-19 refugees, since we had decided to retire here before the epidemic began.
Though most of our weekends were taken up with turning the house we bought into our home, the Delaware River was constantly beckoning as we crossed over its bridges.
I had kayaked a nonzero number of times at free programs in New York City, which offered 20-minute blocks of paddling in donated boats, so I considered myself a bit of an expert. I planned to conquer the river in the cheap, barely-thicker-than-plastic-milk-bottles kayaks that we bought for our anniversary.
My husband had kayaked with me before and was happy, even eager, to forego the trip and lend his boat to our middle kid. He’d ferry us to our launch point in Cochecton, and then pick us up a bit over nine miles downriver below Narrowsburg.
We put in at the boat launch below the Cochecton–Damascus bridge. The first miles were exactly as I’d imagined. The river was almost empty; we drifted, with a slight paddle now and then, often just letting the current carry us. Birds sang, insects chittered, clouds floated overhead, the heat was heavy and the water was cool.
There was a rough spot when I steered myself onto some rocks in the shallows, got stuck, and had to climb out and push the boat off. My son, Josh, looking barely smug, of course offered to help, but I refused. I could push my boat myself. Yes, I could. Getting back in... well, I managed, OK?
As we approached Landers’ boat rental, the river became more crowded; noise from the shores grew. People were wading in the water, and climbing on the rocks that we would soon pass by.
We crossed under the Skinners Falls bridge. “Humph,” I thought, “Some falls! More like ‘Skinners Riffles!’”
Seen from above, Skinners Falls seemed like a bit of white water. We positioned our boats to take what looked like a navigable route. We were wrong.
Skinners Falls fall. The ground drops. The water follows. Three times.
The front of my kayak tipped down, the back tipped up and I capsized. My oar got away, but I held onto the boat and let it carry me. A line from the children’s book “Are You My Mother?” popped into my head: “Down down down/it was a long way down.”
I couldn’t reach my feet to the ground, and the water pushed me further down the falls as I tried to gain some control and get closer to the shore. Ahead of me—and, I thought, safely through the drop-offs—Josh turned to see if I was all right and then he, too, flipped over.
Though I kept shouting “I’m OK!” so no one would worry, no one frolicking on the rocks, the shore or in the water around me looked too concerned.
A young lady in a kayak appeared, grabbed hold of the kayak and pulled me closer to land, instructing me to kick to help along.
Before we reached safety, four tubers tied together in a cloverleaf, without any invitation whatsoever, floated onto and lodged themselves on top of my upside-down kayak. Now the young lady was trying to pull me, my half-underwater kayak and four hitchhikers together.
Finally my feet touched ground. The tubers somehow detached. The young lady disappeared instantly, and who can blame her?
I pulled my kayak up the shore and turned it over to empty out. Josh arrived shortly after I did. Another kayaker had rescued him and deposited him safely as well.
People passing in boats shouted to us that my oar had been caught and someone would bring it down to us, and someone did.
I owe several people I don’t know thank-you notes.
Once again, we got into our boats on the river. It was still wonderful. We had tumbled into the drink, been a bit banged around, and it was fine. It could have been far worse; we wore our life jackets.
Somewhere around the eighth mile, Josh asked, “Does it seem like the last three miles took three times as long as the first three?” and it did. But finally the Narrowsburg bridge came into view and Mark was waiting at the landing just beyond. He said we looked so perky, he could barely believe we’d taken an involuntary swim.
People have said you aren’t really here till you’ve hit a deer, but I’m declaring my Delaware River baptism a sufficient residency requirement.
Leah Casner lives in Equinunk with her husband. Her essays have appeared in the New York Times, New York Daily News, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald, and Newsday, among others.
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