Father’s Day Canoe Trip

For the summer of 2017, I was the victim to two entirely separate river disasters. I’ll save the second river story for next time; the first took place on Father’s Day weekend. Rob arranged a trip for the three Wojo brothers and our dad to drive down to Kentucky to see some historical sites from our ancestors, as well as a bar that my dad used to work security while stationed in the army at Fort Knox.

Chris arranged for us to stay two nights at a beautiful historic mansion nearby, and each of us had a room to ourselves. The lady that ran the mansion, told us some of the horror stories that took place there in the 1800’s. Legend has it that the owner’s daughter cut her wrists and bled all over one of the bedrooms before she died. She wouldn’t tell us which room, leaving each of us convinced that her ghost would slip out at night and cut our throat in our sleep. The other story involved burning a newborn baby in the fireplace. My dad slept in that room. He would have slept better if he didn’t keep waking himself up with intermittent bursts of screaming.

 The second day was supposed to include a bike ride to see more of the area, but of course my dad got injured again (his ankle this time), so we decided to go canoeing on the Green River instead. Four Wojtowich boys drinking beer in two canoes—what could go wrong?

We started out trying to outpace a bunch of kids and teenagers so we could reach some level of tranquility by ourselves and away from their obnoxious music. It was a lot of hard rowing at first, but it was worth the effort. Except for Rob complaining about the flies and constantly swatting them away with his oar, it was a perfect day on the river with green forest on both sides and a couple of beautiful waterfalls that we passed by as well. Apparently, that was enough to make Chris have to stop and take a leak himself.

Once he got back into the front of the canoe with my dad in the rear, Rob and I started off down-river again. For some reason they couldn’t seem to get going, so we called back to see what the hold up was. A sudden realization finally dawned on my dad. He looked up to Chris and said, “Don’t you think we might make better progress if you turned yourself around instead of facing me?” Chris looked up at him with this startled, confused look on his face before they both started cracking up, realizing that they were paddling against each other and just going around in circles.

After a couple more hours of rowing, one of them started wondering if we might have missed our exit point or took a wrong turn or something. I reminded them that we were on a river and definitely would have noticed if it forked into two different rivers. Besides, the guys at the desk told us to exit just after going under a bridge that we couldn’t miss, and we definitely hadn’t gone under any bridges yet. For some reason, they weren’t so sure and kept getting more anxious as time went on. I just kept laughing at them until we finally spotted the bridge about an hour later.

Chris and my dad arrived at the pier first. My dad had a tough time getting out of the canoe with his ankle brace, but Chris was able to safely pull him up to the pier. But then after sitting in the canoe under the hot sun for five hours, he felt really dizzy and unsteady when he stood up. Chris had to hold on to him as they walked off the pier.

As Rob and I made our approach, we noticed that the current began to pick up speed, so we had to aim and time it just right. We only had one shot, or we’d end up way further down on the bank with no way to haul up the canoe. As to why they decided to put the exit point at precisely the area where the current suddenly becomes faster that it had in the past five hours, I have no idea, but we were up for the challenge.

I steered from the back while Rob was supposed to reach out for the pier. Just as we got close enough, he suddenly popped up and, assuming it was as shallow as the bank he stepped out in earlier, sunk his entire leg into the river! Our canoe tipped over enough to start filling up with water as I yelled out, “Rob, what the hell are you doing!” He tried to balance himself and get back into the canoe, but it was too late. I felt it slowly careening into the water until it finally flipped over, dumping us into the rushing river along with everything in it. We tried to hold onto the canoe, but the strong current pulled it right out of our grip and drifted downstream.

We grabbed whatever else floated around us like the cooler and oars and seat cushions. Thankfully, the canoe got lodged on a shallow boulder not too far away, but one of the oars got away.

Rob took off to chase it down, swimming while he could and skimming over shallow rocks until he finally snagged it. He had trouble swimming back upstream against the current with an oar in his hand, and the banks were too steep and muddy to climb up. By grabbing hold of tree trunks and boulders in the river, he gradually made his way back. But then he had to tackle the canoe and wrestle it back to the pier as well, which actually proved to be easier than it looked.

My foot started hurting pretty badly from a sharp rock or something I stepped on in the river bottom. I was afraid it might get infected and wanted to get out of the cold, muddy water as soon as possible. With my hands full, I stepped onto the bank and spotted a wooden walkway up ahead. After about five minutes, I realized the walkway led to the opposite direction. I tried to walk back toward the pier but was hindered by a steep ravine that looked impassable in bare feet. I finally decided I would have to trudge back to the pier through the mucky river, against the current.

Meanwhile, Chris was dealing with our unsteady dad who said he felt like he was going to pass out as he walked him up the hill. Worried that Dad might be in trouble, he found a place for him to sit down and then returned to see what happened to us. But when he stepped onto the pier, we were nowhere to be seen—all he saw was our capsized canoe, jutting up vertically out of the water about hundred yards away. He stared silently out across the river with his hands on his hips, wondering what to do, feeling incredulous and helpless at this sudden turn of events. In that moment, he assumed the worst and thought to himself, “What the hell am I going to tell Mom who begged us not to go? That Rob and Scott drowned in the river, and Dad died walking up the hill from another heart attack!”  

After a couple minutes, he saw each of us beginning to slowly make our way back against the current. Thankfully, we all made it back to the car intact, and our dad gradually began to feel better after a while. Besides losing our shirts in the river, the only casualty was my waterlogged phone, along with all the pictures I took that day–again! We were supposed to call the crew and let them know we were done to haul back our canoes, but we couldn’t get reception. Rob took off down the road, hoping to find reception or a phone but after a half hour, he still hadn’t returned. Now we began to wonder if he got lost or murdered by some redneck along the way, but he eventually returned.

We were all starving by this time, but Rob and I had to buy new shirts first. We stopped at some local store that displayed racks out on the sidewalk. Rob picked out a vintage Hart County black tee, while I picked out some other cheap shirt that was too small for me with a flaming guitar on it. Off we went to the restaurant, like tourists with big smiles and proudly wearing our new souvenirs.

The best part of the trip was after we had a couple more drinks and some bread in our stomachs; we each told our perspectives on what just happened that day. We started laughing out loud seeing our dad in tears as he told us about their canoe going around in circles and Chris’s confused expression, and then we all lost it when Chris told us he walked back to the pier and thought he was the only survivor. We couldn’t stop laughing hysterically despite everyone in the restaurant staring at us and wondering what the hell was so damn funny. We didn’t care, it was Dad’s best Father’s Day ever.

Happy Father’s Day everyone!!!

Published by swojtowich

I am a physician, story writer, husband and proud father of two sons. I enjoy travel, exercise, and reading/writing books.

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