September 02, 2023

Taken By the River

The last time I kayaked the Elysian Valley section of the Los Angeles River, I celebrated a certain victory—not falling in, despite some rocky patches and rough waters.

But at the time, I noted that the river might change its mind and have other plans for me the next time. 

And that ended up ringing true, when I returned a couple of weeks ago to shoot a video for KCET's SoCal Wanderer YouTube series

I came in all confident, having kayaked many other waters since I first joined LA River Kayak Safari in this area, a.k.a. Frogtown, as one of their first customers in 2013. In fact, the thing I was worried most about was riding a bicycle down the bike path from the meetup spot to the put-in spot.

I started out a bit wobbly at first, but even after not having bicycled in 10(?) years—well, you know what they say. 

Kayaking was a different matter. 

I can't take all of the blame. I know how to paddle, and I swim often enough to have some good upper body strength. 

But I wasn't prepared for the rush of water after a super-wet winter, with a current so strong, it tried to sweep me away. 

Now I understand why when it rains in LA, even just a little, the city has to rescue so many people (many of whom are homeless and living on or next to the river). 

The first time I fell in was right after I tried to launch, having put my butt down in the open-top kayak seat successfully. But when there are rapids knocking your vessel around, it's pretty easy to tip over. 

I took it in stride. After all, I'd never fallen out of a kayak before—ever, anywhere—so I might as well have gotten it over and done with so I could move on and not be afraid of it. And the water was surprisingly clean and fresh, probably because of all the movement and very little stagnation. 

The thing is, the falling-in-the-drink part of the adventure didn't end there. 

I bit it once more, that time with my boat landing on top of me, in a mini capsizing event that helped me live out my own tiny version of The Poseidon Adventure

The third time I got baptized by the waters of the Los Angeles River, I'd misunderstood my guide's instructions as to where to go—and the nose of my boat basically ran ashore onto the concrete banks of the river, tipping me over. That time, the water was a little deeper, the bottom was a little rockier (despite being a "soft-bottom" section of the river), and the rockers were a little slipperier than before. 

I got knocked around a bit, losing my footing and getting carried off as my lifejacket slipped up and over my face, blocking my view and definitely not about to save my life.

At that point, I needed a minute to catch my breath—and I wasn't even sure if I'd be able to get back into the kayak again. We'd gotten the footage we needed—at least, I hoped we had—so my guide and I decided to just stop there. We'd made it under the Taylor Yard Bridge, but we still had a little ways to go before reaching the put-out spot. 

And although we'd probably overcome the most challenging navigation in the entire route, we weren't confident that it was safe for me to go the rest of the way. 

I'm a completionist, so I hated the fact that I was missing out on any of the adventure. But then again, I'm a big fan of bailing when something stops being fun.

So, maybe this was my rite of passage—bobbing along with the crayfish, smelling a bit like seawater when I got home soaking wet from head to toe (even my hair). I mean, I had it coming. 

But it was more than a bit embarrassing. 

Thankfully, you can't tell what went on "behind the scenes" when you watch our final video, which you can see in the player at the top of this post.

Thanks to Steve et al at LA River Kayak Safari for putting up with my drama and keeping me safe!

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