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Cataract Canyon Carnage! Toilet Bowl Disaster
*Why you don't wear fishing waders in whitewater*


She could have taken me. Any way she'd wanted to. Unlike some others less fortunate, she spit me back out and gave me a little more respect for her. I did some things right, some things very wrong and I had a lot of luck with me on my swim. A lot of things that could have gone wrong didn't. The wild Colorado could've taken me if she had wanted to but at the last second she decided she didn't need me. Actually the last millisecond is probably more accurate..

I thought I could make it down Cataract Canyon in my 6' fishing pontoon boat which isn't a whitewater machine by any means. I won't try it again on that boat because I don't even think the boat is capable of making big drop three, even if you hit the tongue of the current I was trying to hit just perfectly. The boat was just too unstable. The next time I do Cat I might even ride the J-rig through because I am being honest and telling you it scared me and it will take me time to get my courage back up on that stretch of rapids or on the Colorado. I made it through Big Drop One and Big Drop Two through careful and calculated maneuvering. On Big Drop One I was able to sneak around on river right and avoid the whole thing for the most part. On Big Drop Two I sneaked right through the center pretty much and had to get pretty close to the massive swell on the right, which was scary, but I didn't really rough it through, I just had to row like mad and get the boat where it needed to be. Big Drop Two was the biggest from my perspective on the water but Big Drop Three was her last test and she was not letting me pass without a fight for my life.

Big Drop Three is a horizon line. You can't see what's below because it's a big drop. The scale of the canyon also makes it look smaller than it really is I think but make no mistake about it, Big Drop Three is a force with which there is no escape. No sneaking through and avoiding it all, it is a force with which you must reckon if you want to do a full Cat trip. There's no easy way through but I chose the route known by guides to be the most likely for success in my situation. A little to the left then avoid the big rock on the right. Unfortunately, I didn't have to think about my route through for very long. More like the river just put me where she wanted there for a while.

As I approached the drop, I needed to make a slight correction behind me. No problem, just a stroke or so should do it. But the river was sucking so hard and so fast that as I pushed forward for a stroke, I realized I didn't have enough time to get the stroke I needed and the river was sucking way harder than I thought. So I stroked as hard as I could until I needed to straighten out and went for it where I was. As I rolled over the drop I thought there was a chance I could still make it through if I pushed hard enough and kept it straight but the river wasn't thinking that. It didn't care what I thought, it took my boat and turned me sideways and as I looked left I saw the rest of the boat get sucked in and I knew I wasn't making it.

I didn't have time to think about it, the next thing I saw was dark. water filled my fishing waders that I was wearing up with water and stretched them out probably ten feet off of me. I was being dragged by those things and getting recirculed in the hole. My life preserver was keeping my head end up and the waders acted like a bucket attached to my feet and were constantly being filled with water. Funny thing is, I knew when I decided to wear the waders that it wasn't a good idea. I couldn't remember if someone had told me not to wear them rafting or not but after I was being held underwater for several seconds I remembered it was the raft guide on my first rafting trip who told me that. I remembered him saying it clearly in the time I was underwater, which by the way was about 50-70 seconds. The video stops at 35 seconds and I had another about 30 seconds after the video ends before I surfaced. It's longer than I can normally hold my breath, about 50 seconds. When I surfaced I was seeing stars from lack of oxygen and one to three more seconds longer I am pretty sure would've killed me. I don't know if I could've held on for another full second or not. I honestly don't know.

For the first few seconds of being held under, I thought I was going to swim out of it like usual. But after making two attempts at swimming I quickly realized that it was using up my oxygen very, very fast. I knew I had to relax and save my oxygen because I knew I could be underwater for a while. So I relaxed. It was hard to do but I did it the best I could. That's when I remembered about not wearing waders and I also remembered about protecting my head so I tried to keep my arms above my head. I did hit a couple of rocks and with my bare head but luckily, I didn't hit hard, I just tapped a few. I don't even know how I got so lucky there.

Holding my breath and trying to relax and protect myself all at the same time wasn't easy. The reflex to breathe or to suck for air became greater and more intense. A couple of times the reflex just started to do its thing and I had to shift into maual override and stop the reflex and it was this part that was the fight for me. I knew I only had to take one big suck and it would be all over. Each time the reflex tried to kick in, the temptation to go into that darkness with a big breath of water got a little bit stronger. I had to decide right then whether to live or die and I decided I was going to fight it every step of the way. Literally I had to decide to do that. As I resisted the temptation to suck water, I thought of the people above. I knew they were all up there hoping for me and I thought of the idea of Ron telling my Mom that I had died on the river and I think it was that thought that really was the one. It would've crushed them both and hard as well as the other people out there who carre about me. I thought about those people and in my head was thinking that I was either thinking my last good thoughts of them, or I was using it as inspiration to keep holding my breath even if I died holding my breath I was going ot keep holding. I thought of how sad they'd all be. Even the dog I thought would miss me and I would miss them and it's love that gives the power to fight in situations like that I think.

At first when I went under, the water was thrashing like crazy and this went on for a good long while. But then the river slowed down or something. I don't know, I hadn't noticed. But looking back I was kind of just laying on the bottom for a while bouncing around and then all of a sudden the waders got caught in a current which started sucking me out of wherever I had been for a while. I felt myself moving and realized that I hadn't been moving for a while. Then bam. I surfaced... and I was still conscious. I was seeing stars and felt like I still might pass out, but I was conscious and above water.

I still had a long ways to go. The full swim, because I popped up not far from where I went under. Colin, a kayaker and guide in Moab was right there in front of me and he knew what was going on a lot more than I did. I really wasn't thinking about anything, I was still just trying to get air. I couldn't get a good breath of air because every time I tried, I'd crash through another wave. I kept trying and I kept seeing stars but I kept trying and eventually the stars went away. I knew the stars are the thing that happens just before I pass out so I was guaging it by that and trying to get rid of the stars. Colin was yelling something and turning around and paddling through and everything and turns out he was telling me to stop pulling him under. I was trying to use the back of his kayak to get up a little higher there for a second and probably gave him a hell of a deep ride and made him feel like he was about to go swimming. I don't think I would've gone that far but I definitely was trying to get up there for some air and I definitely pulled him down pretty deep. After I got a half a breath or two, I chilled out a little bit more. Colin asked me "Are you ok?" and for the first time in my life I said "I might be" or something to that effect. I rememeber I did not say "yes" though.

I got up onto the J-Rig and some girls helped pull me into the boat too. I was glad they did because I was still so low on oxygen that I remember it taking a lot of oxygen to get into the boat. It wasn't over yet. I was still huffing and puffing just as hard as I possibly could for a good half hour after this chundering. Sucking as hard as I could and it hurt. I felt weak and the only thing I could do was breathe. I couldn't even hardly speak to answer questions because I needed air too bad and like I say, for a good half hour. After that my lungs felt sore for a few days and sometimes I would get a pain in my head when I bent over but I fully recovered and will run cat again.

Next time I am taking a bigger boat and wearing my wetsuit instead of the waders. The waders was the problem and if you read this story, you'll probably never wear fishing waders on the river.