In the late ’70s, my husband and I were young and adventuresome, though possibly a bit forgetful and naive. Relatively new to Alaska, we borrowed a rubber raft and bummed a ride to the remote Robe River. We planned a 3-mile float to the larger and swift Lowe River, which ends up in Prince William Sound, just a short distance from Valdez, the town we called home.
As our ride pulled away we were quite alone and miles from town when, to our horror, we discovered we were literally up a creek without a paddle. Yes, we had forgotten the paddles in the back of the vehicle. With nobody else within miles, we had no choice but to try steering with branches broken off a tree.
Canoe paddles are designed with comfort and efficiency in mind. Now imagine miles of holding onto a rough-barked branch and trying to keep the canoe going straight. It was not a pretty picture. The Robe River is known for overhanging branches and “sweepers” — trees that bend low over the water just waiting to capsize unwary boaters.
Somehow we managed. We got a bit nervous (OK, I was terrified) as the river picked up speed heading into the much larger Lowe River. We had been warned to steer hard for the shore once in the Lowe, to avoid riding the current directly into the sound. To my horror, my husband’s branch broke and he ended up steering with a short stick, making me and my branch the best hope of avoiding disaster. We paddled with extreme urgency to shore and barely managed to break through the pull of the current.
We made it home unscathed and much wiser with a good story. We never forgot our paddles again. Someday maybe I will tell you of the time we were up a creek without a boat.
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