A few of you may have heard me talk about going canoeing as a kid, sometimes with family, most often with the youth group from church.
I was either between grades 8 and 9 or between grades 9 and 10 when this particular trip happened. Our church’s youth group would go camping up near Mio, MI for a weekend and go canoeing down the Au Sable River. Good family friends had a cabin up near Mio and I was often allowed to spend a couple of weeks with them after the canoe trip was over.
This particular year one of the youth leaders, Steve, had a younger brother, “Lyn”, who had come up from Florida to go on the trip. He was tall and cute, a life guard and also a certified scuba diver; most of the girls were trying to get his attention. My older sister had dated Steve, so it would of been weird for me to think of him as anything but just another guy on the trip. We got along alright, just kept a healthy distance between us.
Also on the trip were two girls who I had never gotten along with and my friend, “Veronica”, had always been the butt of their jokes. We will call them “Renee” and “Peggy”. There was also the female leader, Lisa, and about 10 other kids.
Friday, we arrived at the campground and set up camp. Veronica and I pitched my little orange two man tent as far from the leaders’ tents as possible and still be in our camping area. There was the usual cook-out, followed by a sing-a-long and s’mores; then it was time for sleep.
Saturday, dawned bright and early and after eating breakfast and packing certain items in water proof bags we left to go to the canoe place and spend a day on the Au Sable River.
When we got there, Veronica and I loaded our things into our canoe and prepared to launch it. There was only one problem. I had been canoeing several times and Veronica had never been in one. It would’ve been natural for me to sit in the back to steer the canoe and let her be in front where she would be paddling only when necessary. She begged me to let her sit in the rear of the canoe; I wouldn’t let her. I kept that resolve until after lunch when she finally wore me down to the point that it was easier to let her try to steer than to keep listening to her.
On our way after lunch, things were going along really well until we rounded a bend in the river and there were Renee, Peggy and a fallen tree blocking the river. Those two had managed to get their canoe sideways across the river and Renee had hooked her paddle into some bushes growing out from the shore. They weren’t going anywhere fast and here we were coming at them. I told Veronica how to steer toward them and hopefully we could just knock into the end of their canoe that was closest to the shore, doing minimal damage; as in maybe we wouldn’t tip them over.
We couldn’t go toward the other bank as that is where the tree had fallen from and it blocked over half of the river. You could see the river just rushing under it and I knew if we got much closer that we would be sucked under it too. The leaders were standing up on a hill on the other side of the tree yelling at Renee and Peggy to start moving. I was already starting to paddle backwards to give them time to move out of the way.
Veronica had other ideas. She decided to paddle against me and move the canoe toward where the branches of the tree almost touched Peggy & Renee’s canoe. She figured (she told me later) that going through those branches would be less painful then our lives would be if we rammed their canoe and they tipped over.
The river was higher than normal and also moving fast, add to that the suction under the tree and you know that you have a disaster just waiting to happen. And it happened!! I was yelling at Veronica to back paddle, Peggy & Renee were yelling at us to not hit them, and the leaders were yelling to not go near the tree.
I remember turning slightly to yell again at Veronica when we were sucked under that tree. I felt some awful hard bumps when the canoe started going under that tree with me in front and then the last thing I saw was Veronica’s hands clutching at a big limb so she didn’t go under the tree and then the canoe came down on my head.
The next thing I knew I was laying on the shore and everyone was ringed around me. I truly felt that I had died or something. Once I could sit up Steve and Lisa started asking me questions. My head was killing me, and I felt like I had been hit by a truck. I asked what had happened as my arm was killing me and it even hurt to move my mouth to talk.
This is what I was told. Our canoe got sucked under the tree. Veronica managed to hang onto the tree so only had some scratches on her. I went under the tree in the canoe. The canoe hit me in the head and knocked me out. The water was over 10 feet deep and Lyn had jumped in to get me. Between the current, the tree and the canoe I ended up with a concussion, a dislocated shoulder and a dislocated jaw. We didn’t lose any of our stuff that was in the canoe; it just had to be fished out of the water.
I was in agony but we still had to make it to the canoe pick up. This was back in the days before cell phones so I just had to tough it out. Lisa fashioned a sling out of a beach towel to help with my shoulder, there wasn’t much else she could do for me. Lyn took over the paddling of my canoe and Veronica had to go in Steve’s. I pretty much laid in the bottom of the canoe and tried not to move as moving made me want to puke.
We put in at the canoe pick up spot and just walking up to bus that would take us back to our cars made my world spin. Steve and Lisa wanted to call my parents to pick me up but I convinced them that since the lady I was staying with was a nurse I would be alright. They called my friends and once I let them know what happened they said that they would come early on Sunday to pick me up. I only had to tough it out for 15 hours.
Back at camp, I was given spare pillows to try to use so that I could be comfortable laying on the ground and I also didn’t have to do any “chores” as I was injured. Lyn and Lisa were always close by in case I needed anything.
On Sunday morning, everyone helped to pack up my tent and other things. My friends showed up and took me back to their cabin where she managed to pop my shoulder and my jaw back in place. (Not something I would recommend being done outside of an ER) I was given plenty of rest and love for the next few days as I recuperated from that traumatic experience. It was also my last canoe trip with that group; canoeing just didn’t seem so fun anymore.