The Harrowing Tale of Nooking the Sack

On July 10, 2012 by Kim Wetter

We look all happy and excited and totally unaware of what’s about to happen

This last weekend, 13 friends and I decided to get a little adventurous (with the help of a LivingSocial deal) and go river rafting. We had been last summer and had an awesome time. We “Quack’d” through the rapids and shouted “Rufio!” at the top of our lungs. We conquered the tiny beast known as the Wenatchee better than anyone in the history of the world. In the immortal words of Tracy Brown (quotable as hell), “We were the most self congratulatory group on that river.” In short, we’re the best.

This summer, we decided it was time to challenge ourselves. The Wenatchee river is a class I/II rapid. The Nooksack river, however, was a whooping III/IV. It had to be done.

We started the day jacked up and overly excited by 11am. Our trip didn’t start until 1 but we were ready to go. Much to our disappointment, 1 o’clock meant roughly 1:30 and we had to “eat lunch” instead of bust up some white water first. When we were finally assigned our two rafting guides, we did a nice round of rock, paper, scissors to see who got to pick their guide (of the two assigned to us) first. I lost so the representative from Team District 12 picked the guide who sat next to us on the bus and convinced all 14 of us that he was the right guide. So they went to him and our team, The Mighty Ducks, would be riding with the leader of the rafting group and his dog. I should note here: they did not request team names and this was, in no way, supposed to be a competition, but, as always, we do things our own way.

We were told the launch was the most difficult section and we needed to pay attention to our guides very carefully. Obviously, a short way into the trip, Eric pops out of the boat in the middle of the Class IV rapids. He grabbed onto the back and our guide, who I was sitting next to, screams down at him, “Hold on tight. We’ll pick you up at the bottom. You’re in for one hell of a ride!” I can’t imagine how scary those words must’ve been as he clutched the lifeline on the back of the boat and pushed his feet underneath for safety. When the rapids slowed down, we pulled him back in and listened to our guide remind him to fall into the boat. Not out of it.

Things seemed to be going well. We managed to get through the class IV rapids with only a minor mishap.

Our guide was named Wes and he was roughly 400 pounds. His dog, Maggie, was also in the boat with us. When asked about Maggie’s safety, Wes assured us he hadn’t flipped a boat in six years and no one had ever flipped on this river. He also had us count out our strokes by saying “Ice cold beer,” “Need beer,” and “Fireball!” He’s obviously my new best friend.

I was so ready to take on whatever that river had in store for me

I was sitting to Wes’ left in the back of the raft. He turned to me and informed me that I was too dry and I should crawl up to the front of the boat and get on my knees and hold on tight. As he was our chief, I couldn’t say no. I got many face-fulls of water. I returned to the back when Wes told me it was okay to do so.

After being on the river for about an hour and a half, Wes points out the beautiful view of Mount Baker behind us. Several minutes later, with no notice, we hit a huge rock on the front right side of the raft, where Eric was sitting. Although it happened so fast, Eric technically did follow the instructions he was reminded of earlier and fell into our boat. His movement from left to right, as well as the current’s swift push of our boat against the rock sent the whole raft over, flipping us from the left to the right.

Now, if you remember from above, I’m sitting on Wes’ right hand side and he’s roughly 400 pounds. He lands directly on top of me and there was a rock catching my fall on the other side. I finally come up from under the water and realize I’m in front of the boat, which is now completely upside down. I try to swim up current to grab it and miss the line by inches. I turn to face downstream and try to remember our safety lesson: do not attempt to touch the ground and keep your feet up, in case you have to push off a rock. I see Eric floating well ahead of me and the raft in front safely scoops him up.

I am just getting a bunch of white water to the face and swallowing a ton of the Nooksack and coughing it up. The guide that had scooped up Eric starts yelling and I have no clue what he’s saying. Then, he throws out the life line and I grab the rope and start swimming to the boat with the rope in one hand, remembering to not wrap it around myself, as we were taught in the safety lesson. I get pulled into “Pirate’s” boat and sit down in the back, in total shell shock, trying to catch my breath (Eric would like to note here that he really wishes he had a picture of this shell-shocked moment in my life).

We pull over to shore and I am led back to our boat. Wes sees me and goes, “Kim, I’m going to be honest; I think I fell on you.” I couldn’t help but laugh. It’s hard to miss a 400 pound man falling on top of you. It then came to light that Maggie the dog had gone immediately to shore where we fell, about a half mile up. And that we couldn’t go get her. We had to finish out the last thirty minutes of our trip and then Wes would have to take a crew, relaunch and go searching for her.
The mood of the boat was bleak. The last thing I wanted to do was get back on the damn raft. The others felt as if we had done something wrong to cause the boat to flip. And now our guide’s dog was missing and he informed us he might’ve broken two toes trying to get back into the raft.

We landed safely ashore, said our goodbyes to Wes and met back up with Team District 12. They loved their raft guide and had invited him back to our campsite. We speculated whether he would show and figured he wouldn’t. They had Maggie to deal with.

It took about two or three hours for me to come out of my shocked, shaken state. By the time it got dark, guess who showed up? Wes and District 12’s guide, Island and Maggie! Turns out they safely rescued Maggie, Wes didn’t break his toes and they decided they wanted to party with us. Wes also told us he didn’t think we did anything wrong. The sun had gotten in his eyes and he was trying to navigate the river by memory, miscalculated and we hit the rock. But all was well. We passed around the Fireball and made instant friends.

Wes calls from across the fire, “Hey Kim, did you see what was in front of you in the rapids?”

“No,” I called back. “I couldn’t see anything but white water in my face.”

“Good,” he says. He then goes on to explain that the guide to pulled me in, Pirate, noticed me heading straight for a log, which would have swept me under. They don’t normally throw out the life line, as it is dangerous and people often get wrapped up in it, but he made the last minute decision to throw it to me because he couldn’t wait for me to float to the boat. Basically, he saved my life.

Let’s just say that I’m thankful Wes decided to tell me that after I was safely on shore and no longer shook up. I basically said, “Oh shit, it’s good I didn’t know that” and then passed the Fireball around again.

Now, all I have are bruises along my left side and the distinct painful feeling that Wes, or part of Wes, punched me in the face. My bruises will heal and my jaw will recover. The memories of Wes and the Nooksack will remain forever.

Wes also informs us he works at a bar called Double D’s in Kenmore and we promised to go visit him on a Wednesday night for karaoke. Details to follow on that adventure, for sure.

Rock on life. Rock on.

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