I guess it's time to share 'the story' with everyone since it's getting around anyway.
I have been writing a post, about perspective, in my head for 2 or so weeks. The way I see myself and the world around me and what actually matters in life, and how in the grand scheme of things how utterly insignificant the amount of time we are here is, compared to the span of all time and the size of the universe. Once my mind gets going it's kinda hard to reel it back in.
Then last Friday we got tipped on our heads. Literally.
Jasey finally calmed down at work enough to take a day off so that we could go do something fun as a family. We'd been trying to plan this for at least a couple months. The day after the 4th was as good a day as any and it gave him a very long weekend, something he never gets.
We threw around a few ideas as to what to do. Tri-rail to Miami and go to zoo or aquarium. Take the kids to a movie, go bowling, go to a baseball game. Just something new or different or that we don't get to do often. We settled on canoeing. Jasey and I both love to canoe and kayak and there are so many places to go in South Florida. We had never taken the kids but they had to start sometime.
We went to the Loxahatchee River up in Jupiter. They told us the water was a little high but other than that is was ok. We got the canoe and headed down to the launch site. As we got there the skies opened up, but it's Florida and cleared up quickly. There was a little bit of lightening off in the distance but it passed and we were good to go. We brought a few fishing poles, some snacks and the kids camp chairs for them to sit on so they could see better. We loaded up and shoved off.
We could tell the water was flowing pretty good but there was no problem. We came to the first dam and as they said the water was high enough that we didn't have to get out and walk the canoe which was kind of a relief with the kids. We passed the dam no problem and continued on but as we got further down the river it started gettting crazier. The water was getting higher and the current was getting stronger and we didn't have much time to maneuver the twists and turns, when we could even find them. So we decided to turn around about half way down the river. We didn't want to get all the way to the end and have to fight the current all the way back, who knew how strong it would be by then.
We turned around and had a few good laughs as we got carried this way or that, but nothing that wasn't manageable. As we made it back to the last bend before coming up on the dam again I heard a splash and a few screams. I looked upstream and saw an old man in the water fighting the current that was dragging him downstream and underwater at the same time. He was about in his 70's. Then I saw another man get to him and start dragging him to bank but they were both having trouble. Next I see another man swimming to the two men from around the bend and a flipped canoe floating towards us. We let the water carry us and the flipped canoe to the opposite side so we could stop the canoe from getting away. The third man then swam over to us after he helped the two guys out of the water.
I hung onto an overhanging tree to hold our canoe steady and Jasey hopped out to help the man empty the flipped canoe and right it again. Then Jasey got back in our canoe and the man got back in the other canoe and we all headed back upstream to the dam and the two stranded men. The two men got to safety and the third guy, (who I now realized was not with the other two men, he was there with his wife and daughter and they happened to have stopped at the boardwalk alongside the dam so were there when the two men went over) got back into the other canoe and we all started to paddle back up and over the dam. The guy went in front of us and flipped again half way up the dam. The current was much stronger by now than it was when we first crossed the dam going downstream. We managed to keep him and the canoe from floating back downstream and decided to make it to the boardwalk instead of paddling over the dam.
That is when all hell broke loose.
It wasn't a rash decision. We all made the decision together and it was the best plan. We carefully headed for the other side. No one is exactly sure when or how it went wrong, but just as we approached the boardwalk and we were only inches from where we needed to be, we flipped. The only thing we can figure is that the angle of our canoe mixed just so with the flow of the current and it was not a good mix.
I was in the front of the canoe, closest to the boardwalk and also in the least strong part of the current. I popped up almost immediately and my eyes landed on the bag that had been under my seat so I snagged that then managed to snag the plastic bag that had my phone in it (no lectures on having my phone in a canoe, I'll get to that later) I also ended up with two of the paddles in my hands, still not sure how. I turned and saw AJ right next to me as we started to get carried downstream. A little ways away I saw Jasey and on the other side of our canoe I say the other guy.
I look around frantically and immediately started screaming her name and "where's Ryan!?!?!" Which got Jasey screaming the same thing. Next thing I know he yells her name and takes off in one direction towards the side of the river. I thought he saw her, but I couldn't so I kept looking around trying to push out the thoughts that were creeping into my head, 'she can't swim, she's underwater, I can't see a thing, she's being swept down the river.' I hear Jasey scream her name again and head back the other way towards the canoes but I still don't see her. AJ is already out of my grasp but I can see him and he is being slowed by the canoe and is grabbing onto it. I'm trying to swim against the current to the boardwalk but am making no progress, still screaming Ryan's name. I hear the man's wife on the boardwalk telling me not to panic and I'm thinking I can damn well panic if I want to because if Ryan is gone I don't think I'd every let myself get out of this river.
I have no clue how long any of this took and I'm sure it was a matter of seconds but they were the longest seconds of my life. Then in less than one more second it all changed again. I heard the man yell, 'she's here!' and turned to see him flipping our canoe back over and there she was, somehow still sitting in her chair (that part still baffles me). It was relief but not totally because I still couldn't get to her and AJ and the guys were still in the water being carried away. At some point in all of this I had managed to grab onto a vine hanging into the water so I was floating about 15 or 20 feet away from the boardwalk but not being carried any further. Jasey, the kids, the other man and both canoes were carried down the river and around a bend, the same bend that we were at when we saw the first two men go in and where we managed to stop their canoe in the beginning of all of this. That same spot is where they managed to stop. They unloaded the canoe of what was left, dumped the water out of both, righted them and got back in.
I was being pushed back and forth by the current, but luckily my vine was holding. The mother in me wanted desperately to let go and go to wherever the others were, but logic wouldn't let me, so I floated for a while, starting to become more aware that it was possible I could be dragged under by a gator at any moment. I still had my two bags and two paddles and was not willing to let go of anything I had managed to save from the water. I figured out my plan and got situated. I waited until the water carried me closer to the side of the river and swung my feet up to catch onto a branch hanging nearby so I could grab onto the tree and work my way upstream towards the boardwalk. I was still quite short of the boardwalk after I had reached the end of the tree so I planted my feet on the tree and pushed myself towards the railing. I almost missed. But managed to grab just enough to drag myself in.
I know now that they were just around the bend but I had no clue where they actually were at the time. We yelled to each other once when I was still in the water so I knew they were pretty close and everyone was ok. Then after I got out we yelled again so he knew I was out of the water. I heard AJ yell to me and he told me that Ryan was ok but she wasn't saying anything. A couple more times I almost jumped in to swim to where they were, but knew that Jasey would be none to happy with me if I did.
I felt like I was waiting on the boardwalk forever before I saw them come around the bend. It was wonderful to see them rowing towards me, even the other man who rowed back with them in our canoe, and I would have done anything the make sure they didn't flip or float back down river again. I have a bruise on my upper arm that we think is from Jasey grabbing onto me when they got to the boardwalk so they wouldn't float away. We waited on the boardwalk for a while to relax and collect ourselves. The man went back and got the other canoe, we helped him up the dam and then he rowed over to the two men that had been on the opposite side of the river this whole time. An ambulance came to take the old man and a worker from the canoe outfitter came to paddle their canoe back to the launch site. We decided to paddle back instead of cutting off where they took the old man out and figured now was as good a time as any. AJ said he did not want to go back in the canoe nor did he ever want to go canoeing ever again. Ryan just took a step back when I got in and started shaking her head. We did push them but explained we were taking the canoe back so we could head home. It was a relatively quick and easy paddle back, though everytime the canoe rocked AJ would make a little noise. Jasey said Ryan feel asleep on the cross bar on the way back.
So, my sunglasses, the kid's camp chairs, AJ's fishing pole and Jasey's sunglasses, wallet and phone were all sacrificed to the Loxahatchee River Gods that day, never to return. I did manage to save the bag with my phone in it but it was not a dry bag so my phone did not stay dry and sticking it in rice is not a trick that works when your phone has been water logged by rushing swamp muck. Our car keys were also in the bag with my phone so luckily we were able to get home that day. Jasey's phone and wallet did survive the initial dump and were in his pocket but in the debacle that followed they popped out and sunk.
I meant to ask Marshall if I could borrow one of his dry bags but forgot and since no one really plans to tip the canoe they are in and it was going to be a fun easy trip with two young kids I thought, oh well, no big deal. Jasey and I also both almost left our phones and what not in the car when we went but we had the Jeep, which is completely open and then you second guess yourself and think well what if we need them for some reason. Even the snacks, I was going to leave those but who knows how the kids are going react, how long we will be, you don't want anyone to get dehydrated. Then we played the 'What if' game. What if we had gone to the end of the river, we wouldn't have tipped when we did but we also wouldn't have been there to help the other people. We may not have tipped at all but the current could have been even stronger than it was and what if we had tipped anyway and there was no one there to help us. It goes on and on.
I could not sleep that night, I was worried about goodness knows what and scared that I would have nightmares about the whole thing. (I will have to share my nightmare from a few days prior to this, but will wait as I don't think I would be able to handle sharing both at the moment.) But as crazy as it was it all boils down to the fact that everyone is ok and as crappy as the whole thing was it could have turned out so much worse. It was a very physically exhausting day but it was 100 times more exhausting mentally. It's been 3 days and I think we are finally moving past the staring into space stage. The kids will randomly talk about how something sank in the water (usually our phones, though AJ is very upset about his fishing pole) and they've been building boats with blocks and crashing and sinking them, but there have been no bad dreams and for that I am thankful.
So this definitely falls under the category of 'perspective' that I had been planning on writing about before. I can dwell on the fact that I was not as calm, cool and collected as I would like to think I would be in a situation such as this. I can tell myself how stupid I was to second guess myself and not leave my valuables in the (open) car. I can beat myself up over the fact that I couldn't grab AJ before the current carried him away from me. I can be fearful about what could have happened to Ryan. I can go crazy with anxiety about how it could have affected Jasey and myself. But when it comes down to it what does that matter now!?
My family is safe and I was able to hug them all again. Nothing else matters in the world.
It goes without saying that today, and everyday, I am thankful that my little family is safe and I can give them hugs and kisses.