The Royal Gorge, in Colorado, is home to, I think, the highest suspension bridge in the U.S.
The bridge is over the Arkansas River.
I lost a paddle there, mostly because I’m stupid, but that’s another series of stories.
I kept my life, though, and got a story out of it. You get to decide if the story’s worth telling.
I once told it around a campfire for an hour or more. The story was aided by others around the fire with me- folks I can’t ask to come here and help me type now. Maybe I can keep you as entertained as they seemed to have been with tales of scootching and cussing and swimming and all. It involves kayaks, a hat, a paddle, some fine friends, a flooding river, a black tailed deer, an incline train, rocks, a ladder, and an expensive dry top. Ready? Here we go:

On a motorbike trip around the West, I watched my father’s favorite hat sail off his head and drift aaaaaaaall the way down from the Royal Gorge Bridge to the Arkansas river far below. I timed it. It took 91 seconds. I’d like to point out here that throwing things off the bridge would get you a $50 fine. Losing your $50 hat off the bridge to a rogue breeze is free. The few of us on the motorbike trip watched carefully until the minuscule black speck hit the water far below. I was the youngest in the group and had 20/15 vision back then, and I was the only one comfortably able to still point to it as it hit the water and was instantly gone.

A year later, I was back, only I was in a kayak and looking up at the underside of the bridge. I thought it would be funny to go back and tell my father that I had been right there in the spot where his hat hit the water, so I was looking off to the river-right hand bank, scrutinizing the area for the spot where the black hat hit the white water. That’s why I didn’t see the diagonal wave. That was the wave that shunted me to the left bank and smacked me up against a concrete wall. The concrete wall was the base of the incline train that travels from the river to the bridge and the theme-park area that snuggles parasitically up to it.

When your boat is being shoved sidewise into a concrete wall (especially if it’s a flat bottomed boat like, say, Perception’s Corsica Matrix…) and then becomes upside-down, you discover that rolling up on the open side of the boat makes the flat bottom slap uselessly into the concrete wall, whereupon you flop back over into the water- a classic low-oxygen environment. The ideal thing to do would be to, of course, roll up on the OTHER side of the boat, thus using the direction of the rushing water to help you right the boat and you can then paddle away into the frankly disturbingly large rapids that you’re about to sweep into. But I did mention that big concrete wall, right? Rolling up on the left side of the boat would have been ideal but for the vertical concrete slab. If I were one of those hotshot boaters we’ve all seen, met, and wished we were, I’d have calmed down, wedged my paddle between the wall and the boat, and muscled the boat upright until the force of the water ceased working against the boat and suddenly would work in my favor. I didn’t do that. I floundered around, trying to get the paddle turned correctly for another right-hand-side roll, lost the paddle, got seriously concerned about whether or not the boat was now headed for the rapid and not at all pinned against the wall any more, and I did that thing I usually do in the worst situations. I came out of the boat.

Now that I’m sweeping powerlessly and breathlessly down a flooding river toward a largish rapid without the aid of a boat or paddle… I’m going to take a break. We’ll come back to the exciting part in a day or so…