From The Yukon News , August 4th, 1999

Cheechako combats the Gums of Worry
by Jillian Rogers
News sports reporter

As the canoe listed to port, I thought I was prepared. I thought it was no big deal.

"If it tips, we go for a swim, that's all," I kept saying to myself.

But as soon as I felt the frigid Takhini River water, every bit of common sense disappeared beneath waves of panic.

No, hysteria is actually a better word to describe my state at that moment and during a couple of subsequent moments.

The adventure began when my colleague, Amy, asked me to join her and four others on canoe trip down a "mellow" river.

I'm sure the Takhini is just that to most northern river runners. And with all my canoeing experience, on the calm lakes of eastern Ontario, I didn't even think twice about saying, sure.

After a short, ungraceful struggle with a defiant canoe and Amy's K-car, we set off.

We joined our party at Rod's and Monica's house.

After being asked where my extra clothes were, a twinge of worry tingled along the back of my neck for a split second before it vanished.

We loaded up and tied our stuff in. Tie it in?

By this point, I was feeling like an amateur, to say the least. Paddling on Ontario's Charleston Lake for an hour or two every weekend just doesn't pass for experience up here.

It was decided that because Amy and I were both inexperienced, maybe it would be in our best interests not to canoe together - I'm convinced that's why I'm still here to tell this tale.

So, I set out with Nancy, an experienced canoeist. We practiced eddy turns and I started to feel confident.

An hour or so later, there was talk of stopping for lunch. I was casually informed we would stop after we went through the Jaws of Death.

Jaws of what?

I was told not to worry, the jaws didn't start until after the rock garden, which made me feel a lot better.

That, and knowing my job, because I was in the front, was to alert Nancy of any rocks, and push us off any, if we got to close. Twinge.

Now before I go any farther, I should tell you that these rapids, which I was told are a high class two or low class three, are also called the Gums of Death and the Gums of Worry.

I guess because they're not considered to be a big deal.

I disagree.

Upon entering the rock garden, we realized the water was high and we really had nothing to worry aboutäUntil our canoe took in a little water which, according to my partner, we shouldn't have. Twinge.

We rounded a corner and there they were, The Jaws of Death. A lineup of canoes was waiting to brave the rapids.

So, we parked our craft and carried our gear down the portage path to the gravel shore at the bottom of the white water.

We scoped out the rapids and it was decided we should stay to the right, where the water was calmer.

As long as we didn't hit the protruding rocks, we would be fine. The other side was wild, with rooster tails and fast swirling water.

We watched as two canoes and a kayak came smoothy through the rapids. Then it was our turn.

Monica and Amy decided to go first and I was relieved. It took them a while, but finally we saw the red boat come barrelling around the cornerä over to the left side.

They hit the first rooster tail and Amy cheered.

At the second, Amy sat straight up and pulled her paddle up to her chest (the exact opposite of what we were told to do).

The third and final big wave was the beginning of the end. Their boat had taken in too much water and that's when it started to sink.

"I think we're sinking," yelled Amy.

"No we're not, just keep paddling," Monica screamed back.

Meanwhile, the red canoe was no longer visible, but they were still paddling. The canoe finally turned over underneath them and they drifted downstream. Twinge.

"Kick, Amy, kick," Monica yelled in a desperate attempt to get them to shore.

The canoeists who had gone down before us jumped in their boats and paddled off to rescue Monica and a stunned Amy.

Rod and his paddling partner John arrived next. They calmly zipped down the wild river, doing everything right.

They made the trip look so easy. Even if we did tip, it was hot and I figured I wouldn't mind cooling off.

As Nancy and I walked back to our canoe at the top of the rapids, I couldn't wipe the nervous grin off my face.

I was excited, mostly about the forthcoming opportunity to tell my friends and family back home all about my riverine accomplishment.

We boarded the boat and pushed off.

"Are you ready?" asked Nancy.


The first couple of waves proved to be all I could handle, though I don't remember much about our final moments afloat.

Apparently, as water dumped over the front of the canoe, I turned around and looked at Nancy.

I guess that's when I lost it. We tipped, and as my head emerged, I realized what had happened.

I gasped for breath but the shockingly cold water made it impossible for me to think clearly.

Nancy pulled me over to our, now upside down, canoe. The relentless waves felt three metres tall.

According to Nancy, I grabbed at her and she had to push me away. We went over the rooster tails coughing and gasping.

And finally, it was over.

I floated downstream for a minute before I was towed to shore by Rod and John.

After everyone made sure we were OK, the jokes began. At first I just stared off into space, but then I began to see the humor.

After all that, I'm really looking forward to taking lessons.

©1999 The Yukon News

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