I took a swim in the river today (Oct. 17). It was one of those old coot things. Something I hadn’t planned. I was shooting for a nice kayak ride to Hickories Park, paddling hard, against the current and then slowly drifting back to the village. So, off I went. It was a little tough in spots; the current held me to one foot of progress for each stroke, but for the most part, it was an easy chore to move upstream, in spite of the river being at its highest level this season.
The sky was a beautiful blue with puffy white clouds slipping by overhead. The wind was gusty, blowing leaves out of treetops and rattling the brush and tall grasses along the shore. The temperature was pushing 70 – a perfect environment for an old coot on an outdoor adventure in the final days of autumn.
I made it to Hickories in about an hour and pulled ashore for a respite, and an orange. The orange was an excuse; it was my sore arms that needed the break. Then I shoved off, to begin a long slow float back home. I let the current determine my course. It was a magnificent ride, better than anything in Disney World. And, in spite of dozing off a few times, it created a nice memory to think back on when winter weather moves into town.
Then my revere came to an end. I pulled to shore near the intersection of Front and Ross. The water was two feet deep on the left side of the kayak, five or six feet on the right. My landing point wasn’t the usual flat spot at the bottom of a steep bank. It had moved halfway up the bank, five feet from the top. I stuck my paddle into the mud to hold the kayak and proceeded to pull myself from a sitting position to a kneeling position.
This is where the old coot affliction I’m saddled with kicked into high gear. My head thinks it still resides in a 17-year-old body, but the body knows my head has missed the mark by 50 plus years. This condition has gotten me into a lot of trouble over the years and today it got me dunked into a cold and muddy river. The mishap sent the kayak downstream, the paddle upstream and me into the drink between them.
I snagged the rope attached to the kayak and grabbed the paddle as it floated back toward me and tried to gain a hold in the mud covered bank. All I got was a handful of slime. It sent me into a panic. Not because of any physical danger. No, my panic was mental. I was afraid I’d have to ride the current to a point closer to downtown Owego, where the landing area is old-coot-friendly and be forced to walk home along the busiest street in town. A drowned rat, dragging a kayak behind him.
I did that gig, about ten years ago, when I’d flipped a canoe, trying to ram it onto shore with force rather than with skill. It was just another conflict between my mental age and my physical age. I was desperate not to repeat it. And, luck was with me.
I managed to dig a solid handhold in the mud – and then a foothold. I slowly clawed my way to the top, pulling the kayak behind me. I’d already tossed the paddle above to safety. Then the rope broke and kayak slipped into the water with me following close behind to retrieve it. Then, I repeated the whole process.
I shook off the water like a dog coming in from the rain, emptied the water out of my farmer boots and headed for home. Only a few drivers witnessed my condition as I waited for them to pass so I could shuffle across the street to the safety of my driveway.
For a day or so, I’ll accept the fact that I’m an old coot in an old man’s body. But soon enough, I’ll relapse, and my affliction will take over and I’ll face the world thinking I’m a 17-year-old. I can’t imagine what adventure that will bring my way.
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