The Cast: Erich (above see level), Myself (below it).
“When you find your own strength beginning to fade, it’s best to rely on others.”
I was going to drown.
I had been there before.
It was going to happen this time.
So, I have been holding onto this story for some time, for no particular reason. I guess I was just waiting for the right time to tell it. On October 7th, Erich sends me a text with a link to a HeavyDSparks video. I hadn’t heard of these guys until that text message. The video was more than relatable. After watching it I decided to share the following tale. It’s time it got told.
The Crick was a preferred summer event. When the weather was warm, The Crick could provide all the fun a kid could need. It was cold and wet and an adventure almost every time.
At about thirteen years old I was still quite the small boy. By this time however, Erich and I had become good friends, but, had not quite begun our secret superhero escapades. Still, we were willing to find things to challenge ourselves for the sake of fun and excitement. Trips up and down The Crick were sure to provide just that.
Author’s note: So, real quick, if you are new to this blog you need to understand that I know what a creek is. The Crick was the name Erich and I gave to the large irrigation trench that cut diagonally through our town. It was an awesome thing. I recall many a time, as a small child, visiting my grandmother’s home and being in awe of the majesty that was The Crick. Its depth. The width. The speed at which the water would rush down it. See, there was an exposed portion of The Crick right near my grandmother’s home. It was at this section that, years later… well, spoilers. Just hang on. It’s what I had to do.
On one hot summer’s day Erich and I decided to take a journey in The Crick—upstream. Its rapid, cool-looking waters were more than inviting on this particular day. However, its speed made us a little apprehensive. So, we got some gear. Now, I may have mentioned this before but, I cannot recall for certain. So, I’ll do it now: If you’re going to do something stupid, do it safely. It’s a real simple life-saving motto. While you cannot prepare yourself for every possible event, you can take reasonable precautions. Do stupid safely. And now, back to the story…
My mother had a box full of wooden dowels from a previous project (like too many dowels to count). And, like a good mother, she would donate most of them to the cause of justice and the fighting of crime—she just didn’t know it. It was from this stash of sticks that Erich and I would procure walking staves for our little water-log jaunt. Also, we needed a rope. Honestly, I cannot recall what we used, or where we got it. The rope may have been from Erich’s home, or it could have just been a junk length found at my place. Either way, we had a much needed tether.
The need for the tether was obvious: The water was too deep and swift. We knew this because we had gotten into The Crick already (in a known calm & shallow spot) and had almost been swept away due to its sheer force. Full disclosure: We moved upstream about a foot and a half—in about a half an hour.
Over the years… the level of water in The Crick has varied. Sadly, these days it remains dry. However, on that summer day, it was high. On that day, it was higher and faster than any other day we had seen, or would see (including the day we went rafting down it). At any rate, our slow advance was due to simple physics. While the height of the water was higher than what we were used to, it was the speed that really hindered our advance.
We learned—in that initial attempt—that the water hit us at about knee level. Well, if you combined that with the velocity of the water, the resulting splashing effect created a spray of water about our legs that went up and terminated at about chest level. That splash was like a solid wall that pushed us backward with more energy than we could have expected. It was very surprising. And, if we were to step into anything deeper than knee-level, well…
So, yeah, a tether was nice to have.
After we had collected our gear (two wooden dowels and a rope), we—once again—descended into The Crick. Chilly, rushing, waters wrapped around us quickly. And quickly we were grateful for the tether. Erich had gone in first, I second (obviously). Once I was in the water, Erich took his first step and slipped. Between being tied to me, his stick, his reflexes, and what I would like to call some assistance from on high, he didn’t go very far. Close call #1.
For this trek had descended into The Crick from a reasonable location of safety. Easy drop-in. Little rubble (rocks, tree branches, and such). More shallow trench depth. Good location, bad start (but, not too bad). That first minor slip-up should have sent up a red flag (but, so should have our test from earlier). Unfortunately, we weren’t carrying any with us. So, we moved on. Downstream.
As we ventured Northwest (it was either that or go Southeast—the only directions The Crick ran) we found that the water pushed us along quite nicely. We were making great time. But, the tether was always tugging on one of us. If the one in front moved too fast, the one behind got pulled along and then almost pushed over by the water. If the one in back didn’t move fast enough, the one in front would get pulled back while their feet would be forced forward by the water, then the rope would cut into their waist and they stumbled. We were not having much fun.
“Let’s turn around and head upstream. It’ll give us a much better workout.” Who’s idea this was, I do not recall. What I do recall is that we did just that: We turned around. Bad judgment call #1.
When we were moving downstream, we had taken turns being in the lead and the rearguard. I had been the last rearguard, which made me—by default—the new lead. I planted my staff into a pocket within the underwater deterus and rotated the rope tether around my waist. Erich did the same. The water wall that had assaulted us from behind now felt twice as big and twice as strong. Maybe it was our current location. Maybe we were more worn out than we realized. Regardless, we moved. “Alright. Here we go.”
Author’s note: I believe I have addressed this before, but I am going to do it again, here. Erich, Richard, and I would use play to train. We were those no-money, no-resources, Rocky-Balboa-chicken-chasin’, find-your-chance-whenever-you-can, there’s-fitness-in-everything, let’s-make-a-game-out-of-it, demolition-is-muscle-building, kind of guys. Play and fitness went hand-in-hand. So, for us, walking upstream, into a wall of water, was not just a fun activity, it was a way to get tougher and stronger. This was superhero training.
And now, back to our program…
I was unable to move. The water was hitting my legs and chest so hard that the water-wall was going into my face. I couldn’t see where to go, and, because I was so scrawny, I just couldn’t move forward. Apparently, you need muscles with strength to do things. Who knew? (this is why we trained)
“Why aren’t you moving?” Erich called out, over the roar of the water.
“I can’t. I can’t see. I can’t find a new spot to step. Everytime I move my staff, I start to slip. I can’t move.”
New plan, Erich moved around me and took the lead. That took some time. When he had reached me, we dammed up The Crick. The force of the water wall was almost unbearable and unbeatable to overcome. Somehow, Erich did it. He got around me and began to move upstream. With him in front of me to change to the flow of the current, I wasn’t hit as hard by the force of it all. I could actually walk now. This was helpful to us both.
It didn’t take long until we were both becoming exhausted from the effort. Our plan was a success! Obviously. After all, It was our plan. So, it was bound to succeed. We weren’t the failure type (see here, here, here, or here to contradict that last statement). After some time straining against our new current situation, we felt we needed a short reprieve. Unfortunately, the edges of The Crick’s walls were too far away for us to reach to climb up. We would need to get to a bridge or some type of overpass. “There’s a spot dead ahead,” Erich yelled back toward me. Poorly chosen words, or just prophetic? Your guess is as good as mine.
We got close and quickly discovered that Erich could not climb out while still being tied to me. Now, the tether was a good idea, it had kept each of us—at different times—from shooting downstream. Right now, however, it was keeping us both in. I had reached another spot where I could not move forward. The rocks were too slick and the water was too strong. Erich had tried to move to either bank, but could not reach the top from where he was. We would have to untie.
If we untied the tether, we figured that there would be an extra length of rope (since it was no longer tied around our waists). This way, Erich could extend it to me, and I could be pulled toward the bridge and climb out. We thought it was a solid plan. Bad judgment call #2.
Erich had reached the bridge with minimal issue, the rope still attached to him—but not me. Time to toss me the end and get me out. No problem. Except, it was. With it untied the rope was not long enough, we had misjudged the distance. Oops.
“I don’t know”
One solution was to attach the rope to the end of Erich’s dowel so he could have some extra length. Unfortunately, as he had climbed out of The Crick, the dowel had fallen back in and shot downstream before he knew it was gone. I could have handed him mine, except that I was using it to hold myself in position. I had tried to find purchase with my hands on some of the nearby rocks, but, they were oddly more slimy than usual and I couldn’t keep hold. Plus, when I leaned over to try and get a better hold, the water almost pushed me right under. This was a no-go.
“O.K. Here’s the plan,” Erich began. “I’m gonna come over to your left side and toss you the rope from there. Then, pull you over to the bank and you can just climb up. Sound good?”
Yes, it did.
Erich tossed. I reached up.
He tossed again.
Third time’s the charm, right? Wrong. On the third attempt I overreached—to ensure that I could grab it (it was a very short rope)—and in doing so, I slipped and disappeared.
I was gone from sight and thought to be soon gone from this world. The water raged over me and pushed me quickly downstream. This is where God stepped in.
I hadn’t gone maybe ten feet before I grabbed onto a bit of metal. See, this particular spot—as mentioned before—was near where my grandmother had once lived. As a small child, I had spent many an afternoon staring down, into the rapids of The Crick on my summer visits to her home. And, I had spied that same bit of metal that I was gripping just as many times. It was just a solid piece of twisted something (it reminded me of a roadside delineator) that had been cemented into one of the banks for some previously unknown reason. However, on this day, I knew its purpose: To help save me.
My hand had somehow found it and instinctively wrapped tightly around it. My arms had been previously flailing about in an attempt to hit upon anything that could help me. This bit of metal was just that. Unfortunately, it was below the water level. Then, with the added force of the stream (as previously mentioned), the water just ran right over me and pushed me under even farther below.
Luckily, the water was clear enough that I could open my eyes and witness Erich running back and forth in what I could only assume was an attempt to locate me. He had as much luck in finding me as I did in finding air. In other words, I was drowning and Erich was clueless (not his fault, I mean, really. what would you have done in his place? yeah, you would have been clueless too).
Eventually, he did spot me, but I still wasn’t getting air. Even though I was face-up in the rushing waters, I only had one had to hold the metal piece. It wasn’t big enough for both hands. Additionally, even if I could grab it with both hands, that would have pressed my face against the wall and I would have remained underwater. No, I was in the best position for rescue. Now, if only Erich could figure out how to pull it off before I died.
To this day I have not fully understood how it happened. Even Erich, upon his reflection, isn’t sure. Here’s what I do know: I was under that water. I was losing strength. I was running out of air, and not able to get enough new air to stay where I was. I did sort of ‘bob’ up once in a while and get some air along with plenty of water. Also, if I let go, there was a good chance, due to the rocks and other such debris, I would bang my head and be dead. My life would be over.
Every second under just reassured me that I was about to be another statistic. One of those “Youth dies due to (insert foolish choice here)” kind of statistics. Then, out of seemingly nowhere, a hand grabbed mine. My left arm had been flailing wildly about in the hopes that it might find anything Erich would put forth, and then latch on. He had put forth his hand.
Erich heaved me up and out of the ditch. Once out of the rushing waters, I scrambled up the side of the bank unsure of exactly what had just happened. I sat there on the bank—in that same spot I had stood so many times before—now soaking wet, coughing up water, and gasping for breath. Erich had just saved my life. The both of us just sat there for a while, our minds a whirl with what had just occurred. I should have died but, I didn’t.
When water levels were low enough to safely make a test, we leaned Erich over the edge to see if he could reach the spot where I had been. He couldn’t. His arms were not long enough. There is no physical way he could have made that save. Yet, he did. The only explanation that we have is that of divine assistance. And, you know what? I’m good with that.
I owe both Erich, and the Lord, for my life. And, I am grateful to have them both in it.