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Strained, Soaked and Thwarted

June 30, 2019

Picture This

You’re neck deep in chilly, rushing, river water. Your left hand is barely clinging to a downed tree and your right hand is tightly grasping a fully swamped canoe. A moment of decision. Suddenly it’s quite clear how important the decision is that you’re about to make. You realize you’re going to have to let go of one of these things.

Wait a second! How did I end up here? I didn’t expect this.

Beautiful Day

It was a beautiful summer day, sunny and about 80 degrees. I knew it was going to be nice and had already loaded my canoe gear in and on my car before going to work. I got off work and was driving to a familiar spot near my home when I made a last minute choice to try a new section of river.


Put in and safe parking

I found a put in and a safe place to leave my car, texted my wife to see if she and my daughter could move my car downstream and set out for what looked like a nice and easy four mile section of a flat water river.



Put in

It was beautiful. Quiet, warm and sunny. The birds singing on the late afternoon air. Great blue herons wading in the river, white tail deer scampering away as I approached. The water levels were back to normal flow and clearing up after several weeks of rain. I wondered how cluttered the river would be with debris after the flooding in previous weeks. I felt apprehensive, not knowing this section of river, and trying to imagine what would happen if it became impassable when I was nowhere near a road or reasonable access. For about an hour there were no obstructions and the river was gorgeous. Most of it was tree lined and fairly secluded. Periodically it would open up and you would realize you were passing by someone’s backyard.


Then I approached the first obstruction. A small tree had fallen across a narrow section of the river and the small upper limbs were extending from the water surface about 8 feet.


First strainer encountered on route

I considered paddling through it, but figured I would probably end up with a stick in my eye, so I looked around for other options. It seemed relatively easy to take out and carry around this area. It was, and I did.

About five minutes later I reached a second obstruction. This one was much larger with three large trees lying across one another with zero options to paddle around or through.

Obstacle/Strainer number two

I was able to make my way to river left and climb up on the logs. They were stacked in such a way that they were almost like steps. I was able to safely pull my canoe up and over and rest it on the downstream side of the obstruction close enough to climb back in safely and paddle on. I was feeling pretty good at this point. I had encountered two obstructions and was able to navigate past them without much trouble.

It was about 8:00 PM at this point and I wasn’t sure how much further I had to go to get to my car. I had more than an hour of daylight left and I thought I was going to be fine but I was just a little bit doubtful. I paddled around a right hand bend, back to a left hand bend and saw a medium sized tree across the river with a low spot in the center where the water was flowing over.

Strainer number three

It came up pretty quickly and I didn’t have much time to really think about what I wanted to do when the bow of my canoe bumped into the low point of the log. I scooted the front of the canoe up on the log and thought I could scoot it forward and then off and paddle on without getting out. This was my first time in this kind of situation in my new composite canoe. I didn’t like the scraping, creaking, cracking sounds I heard next and wasn’t sure how the aramid and carbon fiber would respond to these stresses. In my polyethylene (read: plastic) kayak, I would have had no worries. In my old Royalex canoe, again – no problem. But this black beauty… I didn’t want to mistreat her. Especially since we were just getting to know each other :-). I stepped up onto the log, picked her up and slid her forward so that she was bow first and angled downward into the rushing water. I climbed back in and started to scoot forward. As the canoe transitioned from the flat, center portion to the “V” shaped stern, she immediately twisted 90 degrees to the left and filled with water. Next thing I remember is being in the river and not being able to touch the bottom. SOOOO GLAD I HAD MY PFD (life-jacket) ON AND TIGHT!!!! Fortunately, my paddle went right into the boat and stayed there.


So, I’m neck deep in chilly, rushing, river water, my left hand barely clinging to the downed tree and my right hand grasping a fully swamped canoe. Assess, THINK, and decide. I’m going to have to let go of one of these things. I want to hold onto this log because it feels safe but I really need this canoe to get myself back to my car. I don’t know what’s under the surface of this water. Are there more strainers underneath that will trap my legs? How far will I need to float down the river until the water is shallow enough to stand up? I can’t hold on to both much longer. I don’t see any strainers, it looks shallow about 30 feet downstream. Ok, you’re going to have to let go of the tree. Here goes… letting go…. immediately flying downstream holding onto a flooded canoe. Feels ok, almost calm (did I make the right choice? Am I going to be ok?). Seconds later. My feet skid long the smooth rock covered riverbed and it’s shallow enough to slow myself and stop. I’m able to twist the canoe upside down and dump out the water and flop her back on the surface of the river and push her to the shallow shore. I stand there in ankle deep water, soaked to the skin and breathing heavily, heart and head pounding and the tremendous feeling of relief. I’M OK! Phew. Breathe. Should I call for help?). Calm down. Man, my fingers hurt. Relax. You’re fine. Shoot, there goes my hydro flask floating down the river. It’s ok, you’re safe. Should I call for help? No, you’re fine. How much further is it? How many more strainers are there? How would I get out of here anyway? Relax…

Now, as I sit here in the clear, reflective perspective of my La Z Boy, I know that there were no more strainers or obstacles in the last 30 minutes of the trip. My fingers would hurt for s few days from jamming the bark up under the fingernails, and that I would be fine. Just fine.


There was one more thing. Once I got myself together, I put back in and resumed paddling. The first blind bend kind of freaked me out and I tried to hug the inside of the curve. I ended up getting out and carrying to the edge of the rock bar on the left. As I straddled the canoe to get back in the saddle, I misjudged the seat and ended up sitting directly on the rear thwart and snapping it in half. Great. Just great. Well, she’s broken in now…

Lessons learned

1) Always wear your PFD (life-jacket) all the time. If I hadn’t been wearing it when I flipped the canoe, the scenario would have been very different. 2) my new canoe is flat in the middle and “V” shaped on the ends. More so than my old canoe and my kayaks. Trying to scoot over a log might not be the best strategy 3) when you get into trouble, don’t panic. Assess your situation, think through the options and then make the best decision you can make and act. 4) I’m so glad I had traveled light that afternoon. I only lost a water bottle. 5) Don’t plop on your thwart – it will break 6) When I got home I pulled out my Cliff JacobsonCanoeing and Camping: Beyond the Basics” and read all the sections on river safety, evasive tactics and strainers. As Cliff says “whenever possible, stay on the inside of bends.” Also, I need to learn and practice a back ferrys and forward ferrys as a valuable evasive skill. 6) while not necessary, it would have been nice to have another paddler along with me to help me think through things and also to help out in times of ” occasional upset” as Cliff Jacobson refers to them.

First Canoe Outing of 2019

April 5, 2019

I finally got out for the first time in 2019 in my canoe. Just put new Northstar Canoe seats in her. She’s a “Galyans Woodmsan III” so she has some Ted Bell DNA in her so it only seemed fitting. Enjoy the video.



2019 Paddling Film Festival

January 25, 2019


We are pleased to announce that we are partnering again this year with Tomfoolery Outdoors to present the 13th Annual Paddling Film Festival World Tour. The films will be shown at Neon Movies 130 E 5th Street in Downtown Dayton Ohio on Thursday, March 14, 2019 at 7:00 pm. Tickets are $11 in advance and $15 day of the show. Attracting paddlers and outdoor enthusiasts, the audience can expect a fun, social and entertaining evening.

Click here for more info and to purchase tickets online

2018 Paddling Film Festival

February 14, 2018


We are pleased to announce that we are partnering again this year with Tomfoolery Outdoors to present the 13th Annual Paddling Film Festival World Tour.  The films will be shown at Neon Movies 130 E 5th Street in Downtown Dayton Ohio on Thursday,  March 22, 2018 at 7:00 pm.  Tickets are $11 in advance and $15 day of the show. Attracting paddlers and outdoor enthusiasts, the audience can expect a fun, social and entertaining evening.

Click here for more info and to purchase tickets online

I got a GoPro

July 1, 2017

I got a GoPro Hero camera recently and have been trying to figure out the best ways to use it. I decided to post some videos here for people looking for places to paddle in the Miami Valley of Ohio. Here is my first one. Kayaking the Stillwater River. Special thanks to my friend Bryan Budding at Barefoot Canoe in West Milton for the shuttle. He doesn’t typically drop people off up river from their facility, but they weren’t very busy that day and he had time to take me up to the put in near Fenner Rd and SR 48. This allowed me to see the bald eagle nest. 
If you take this route, there is an obstacle within the first quarter mile. I’m not really sure what it is. Might be an old dam that was busted through on river left. There’s a bunch of big rocks and it’s kind of pretty. I think I could’ve run it on the far left side without any problems but I was paddling alone and decided to be more conservative. Besides, I didn’t feel like getting wet so early into my journey so I carried around it. The section around the Horseshoe Bend is a little tricky and there are several options. I didn’t get any video in this section but if you’re interested I pretty much stayed all the way to the right through the whole section. If you decide to go paddling on the Stillwater, I recommend coordinating it through Barefoot Canoe. Before you leave town make sure you get a slaw dog from Rudy’s dairy bar near the bowling alley south of town. They’re DELICIOUS! 

Here’s the video!

Tickets now on sale for 2017 Dayton Screening of Reel Paddling Film Festival

January 17, 2017


Tickets now on sale for 2017 Dayton Screening of Reel Paddling Film Festival

Click here for tickets

2017 Reel Paddling Film Festival Announced

November 3, 2016

The 2017 Dayton Ohio Screening of the Reel Paddling Film Festival has been announced.

What: The BEST paddling films of the year

When: Thursday March 23, 2017

Where: The Neon, 130 E 5th St, Dayton, OH 45402

Who: All the cool people

Tickets: $11 in advance / $15 day of event