January 16, 2011
Several weeks ago my paddling buddy Bill and I headed up to Broken Bow Lake, Broken Bow, Oklahoma for a 3 day paddle trip. Weather reports indicated a major cold front was due over the weekend as we prepared for cold weather as usual for a winter trip. We drove up late on Thursday and car camped at Carson Creek State Park. The night was mild but by morning, lake conditions were choppy and we were at the southern end near the dam at the widest part and the windiest. We were paddling my Old Town Discovery 169, a 17' plastic canoe.
We broke camp and drove north to a more sheltered put-in where the lake narrowed back down to the Mt. Fork River. By late morning we had departed with food and gear for the weekend in a grey mist that hung like a shroud over the mountains. Bill and I paddled in mild conditions at this northern end of the lake as there is less exposure to wind and wave. We only paddled about an hour and decided that just in case conditions got a little crazy for our return trip on Sunday that we'd have a short paddle back. Looking back now I can see that it was a smart move and one that I feel came from a Divine Source, such as my guardian angel that was looking over us.
Bill found a wonderful wilderness campsite as we got busy pitching the tent, collecting wood for the evening fire, building a fire ring and general camp duties. As usual, I brought my cast iron dutch oven and made my mama's chili. One of my favorite parts of the day is the evening meal as Bill and I sat around the fire sharing and the conversation with us usually comes around to talking about God. Bill is Catholic and I was baptized Catholic and was confirmed in the Catholic church but don't attend the Catholic Church any more. Bill understands my conflict with the Vicarious Atonement and other church doctrine so we avoid these issues and talk about God's Love and of the need to pray for it's infusion into our souls and of our gratitude for His blessings in our life. As we were sharing on this higher level I kept noticing how windy it was getting.
On Saturday morning the cold front hadn't arrived yet as it was due that night however it was too windy to do a day paddle as we had planned to paddle further south as I wanted to show Bill another area of the lake that I've frequently camped and paddled in. So we beach combed looking for rocks and driftwood and I enjoyed shooting some landscape photos and a few macros of plants and rocks. All day the wind was building as it was too windy for a campfire for risk of a forest fire. We hunkered down and retreated to the tent and listened to the mounting winds all night long.
Sunday morning it was howling outside the tent as the temperature was most likely in the high twenties but the wind was the real issue. We looked out at the water and white caps crested two foot waves and we had to paddle thru this to get back to the truck. I was a little concerned because Bill has only paddled with me twice and that's his total paddling experience. I knew it would be a hard paddle but little did I know just how hard it would get. The pace picked up as we packed the boat as we both had to get back home for work on Monday and we had no choice but to paddle thru this tempest. I've paddled this lake for over 15 years and this was the highest wind I'd ever seen. I later learned it was a sustained wind of 25mph and gusting to 35mph and there was no other boats on this huge lake.
Bill and I are men of faith and prayer as we both approached this challenge with determination and confidence that we could do this with God's help. As we cast off I immediately felt the power of nature as it was difficult to gather momentum as we were paddling into the wind but on the other hand this is the safest position for the boat to avoid broaching (rolling over). The scariest part though was the many tree stumps that stuck up above the water several feet from the original damming up of this river channel some 50 years ago. The wind was blowing us into this thicket of stumps as we were at great risk for capsizing. I found myself screaming at the top of my lungs for Bill to switch sides, "paddle left....paddle right as he constantly switched sides as he manned the bow as we navigated these treacherous waters. Several times the wind was so strong that it nearly ripped the paddles from our hands as we held a death grip on them. Our main goal though was not getting sideways to the wind as it would have rolled us over into the frigid waters.
We made a turn on the lake following what we thought was the main channel as it was a major effort to work our way into what became a cove with a dead end. Just before we made the turn a thought came to me that we should not turn left but I listened to my paddling partner who thought this was the way. I learned another lesson to go with my gut feelings because often this is guidance from one of our guardian angels.
We got back on track and made it to the truck without mishap. Of all my paddling experiences this had to be one of the hardest. Looking back I see where I misjudged the weather by not researching wind predictions as I was thinking about rain and extreme cold. Actually neither of those are as important as wind on a lake. Another lesson learned about the power of nature and the power of the will and faith to overcome odds and challenges. Neither of us was intimidated by the experience though as just the other day Bill and I were talking about our next trip in February.
Keep the paddle wet.