Let’s go stand-up paddle-boarding at night on the river! they said. It will be fun! they said.
At the Walgreens ‘just over the hill’ from the river (Thomas and Power) buying water before we headed to the river’s edge:
Check out kid, Anders – So where are you guys going tonight?
Us – We’re going paddle-boarding on the the river! Fun, right?
Anders – Oh yeah? I had some friends do that as their Prom date last month.
Us – Really? That’s so cool! What a fun and unique Prom date!
Anders – Yeah… well-
Sarah (my sister) – Don’t tell us they found a snake or a dead body.
Anders – …OK…
Us – WAIT, WHAT?!! Which one???
Anders – Well you told me not to tell you-
Sarah – Was it a snake??
Anders – Uh, no.
Us – DEAD BODY?!
Anders – Uh, yes. They had to wait for the police to come. They were stuck there for hours.
Us – !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
That’s how this whole experience started. I’m unapologetically terrified of a couple of things: creatures that live in water and the dark. These fears are probably a result of the combination of too many horror novels when I was an adolescent and the constant barrage of nature documentaries and animal reality shows about natural bodies of water with the word ‘Monster’ in the title playing on our TV by Jason and the boys. I’ve been emotionally scarred by Stephen King, PBS and Animal Planet.
That said, I do my best to suck it up because fraidy cats have no fun. When we got to the river, it was a dusky 8pm, and I was feeling confident about the experience, despite the ominous prelude by Anders, the Walgreens checkout voice of impending doom. I mean how likely was it that we’d find another dead body? Seemed like probably the Prom couple had taken one for the team and filled the dead body paddle-boarding quota for at least a little while, right?
We ditched our shoes, valuables and clothes in the car and walked barefoot through a tiny, unlit parking lot down to the edge of the water where another group was exiting. You guys will have a great time, they promised.
When we mounted the boards and paddled out to the middle of the river it was still light enough to see what color the boards were, but the light was quickly draining away. Within 15 minutes most of the sky and the water were black. This probably should have been when my survival instincts kicked in and I said, Nope, nope, nope… Imma go home and drink wine and watch the rest of OITNB. You nutjobs can swim around in the dark muck with godknowswhat, but sometimes paddle-boarding makes you feel like you’re The Messiah, walking on water. We were five ladies on an adventure! We were brave and enjoying the quiet and beauty of the wilderness at night! This was fun!
As we started off, against the current, the gal who owned the boards and was leading the excursion, explained several things:
1. The kids who found the dead body were using her boards when the incident happened. Probably the worst part of the detailed story was how the kids had flagged down a boat to notify about the body (they didn’t have cell phones on them) and for a brief period of time the boat owners decided the right thing to do was get the kids in the boat and tie the body to the back so it didn’t float away. Go ahead and take a minute to go over in your head how, exactly, that would work.
2. Last week when she was out at night with a group a fish had jumped up on the board of a chick, who FREAKED THE FUCK OUT, and fell in the water.
3. The river is really shallow and there’s lots of moss, so we should try to stay away from the mossy sections so we didn’t get stuck. Not that we’d really know where those are. (Also moss kind of feels like a dead body when you poke it with your paddle.)
4. We shouldn’t worry about the loud splashing we’d occasionally hear. It was just beavers. (BEAVERS??!)
I had worn a headlamp, but quickly realized when it was on it both attracted bugs and blinded me when my arm passed in front of the light as I was paddling and it reflected into my eyes. So I left it off and it just served to made my head sweaty.
At that point I was doing ok and mostly keeping up with my sister, whose Native American name would be, Is Good At Everything. Things were ok when I was in the middle of the group and the random splashes were off in the distance. It was fine! This was fun!
And then a ‘beaver’ (or some kind of large, murdery supernatural water creature, either/or) jumped out of the water DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF MY BOARD.
Let’s just get one thing clear: I’m that girl, in the horror movie, who gets killed within the first 16 minutes because she screams so loud it would be completely annoying to have her around any longer than that. I can’t help it; I’m a screamer. It’s instinctual. It’s probably one of those recessive traits that’s mostly selected out because it’s fucking irritating and once a man finds out you do it he’s 70% likely not to want to procreate with you, but I can’t help but shriek bloody-murder if you scare me.
And that beaver? SCARED THE FUCK OUT OF ME. My throat still hurt from that scream Tuesday morning when I woke up.
Things went rapidly downhill from there.
I was flushed with adrenaline and terror, so I couldn’t make my legs and arms stop quivering. The trees on the side of the river began to look ominous and occupied (by hungry animals? river people with banjos? dead bodies?). I tried to keep up with the group, but eventually fell behind.
And then I fell FAR behind.
Like so far behind I could only see the very last person, 50 yards ahead of me, who was also pretty far back from everyone else.
I began paddling harder, trying desperately to figure out what I was doing wrong. Should I dip the paddle down deeper? Was it facing the wrong direction? Was I just a pathetic weakling at the back of the herd who was meant to be picked off by a predator as a warning to the rest of the group? Yep. Probably the last part.
Sweat streamed into my eyes and I got caught in a current dragging me both backward and into the completely terrifying silhouette of trees on the shore that likely eat people. I dug my oar in and paddled furiously, only managing to remain stationary, staving off imminent demise until I eventually exhausted my physical resources and was dragged back into the hellmouth.
Far ahead I could hear the members of my group discussing going further. Let’s just go a hundred more strokes, I could hear them decide. Just go a little faster, they yelled back at those of us lagging.
This was when I lost whatever shit I had that was trying desperately to stay together. I just wanted off the goddamn river. I wanted to be anywhere else on the planet. The darkness felt oppressive. The moss just under the surface of the water was clearly evil. The wispy clouds blocking out the stars were coming for me. There were murderers or monsters lining the shore. River sharks waited for me under my board. The splashing beavers were aggressive and probably rabid. The dead bodies were preparing to rise up, pull me from my board and hold me under the water until I would submit and join their ranks. THINGS WERE NOT OK.
I yelled to the rest of the group, “I’M GOING AS FAST AS I FUCKING CAN! I CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE. I WANT TO GO HOME!!! I WANT TO GO HOME!!!”
I feel like you think, right now, that I’m probably exaggerating, because you know me and that’s what I do. I’m somewhat hyperbolic. But you can poll the other gals on the trip and they’ll tell you that I, a 36 year old mother of three, grown-ass woman, had a nervous breakdown on the Salt River because I’m afraid of the dark and beavers, and everyone had to turn around and go back due to the fact that I could not deal.
It is what it is.
I calmed down somewhat once the group was surrounding me, but then we spent another half hour or so paddling up and down searching for the exit point, and I can tell you with great assurance that I’ve NEVER BEEN MORE RELIEVED than when I stepped on the dry dirt. Even though it was still reallyfuckingdark and I was pretty sure I was going to step on glass/scorpions/hepatitis before I got back to my car. At least I was away from the zombie beavers.