Shortly after we hit the cold water of the river, Mike and I scrambled to our feet. We were standing in fairly shallow water with the canoe perched on its side, full of water. Most of the time when a canoe capsizes it is in shallow water because that is where the most current is. Anyway, the canoe was so heavy we had to bail water out in order to get it turned back over. Finally, we were able to get most of the water out of the canoe and drag it upon a gravel bar in the middle of the river. Miraculously, the only thing we think we lost from the canoe was my tackle box. Of course my truck keys were in it. We could not see any of our stuff in the canoe due to the extreme darkness. We had to determine our losses solely by feeling for the objects such as rods and reels.
It was 10:45 pm and Mike and I were sitting on a gravel bar in the middle of the river with water rushing downstream to each side of us. It was so dark that we can’t even see each other’s faces as we stood right next to each other and discussed our dilemma. I said, “Mike, neither one of us are hurt. We can just sit right here in the middle of the river till first light and then canoe right out of here. I have enough stories that I can keep them rolling till daybreak.” We were unharmed and that was definitely the safest thing to do in my opinion. Mike McGill, however, brought up a very important and true fact. He said, “The problem is nobody knows where we are or if we are OK. We have got to get out of here before someone gets hurt trying to find us.” I totally agreed. The worst thing that could happen to us would be for the fine folks of Trigg County Rescue and other citizens to have an accident looking for us. With that in mind we decided to soldier on.
THE OBSTRUCTION and THE BLUFF
We reentered the water at 10:50 in total darkness. We canoed until 11:30 when Mike called out from the front of the canoe. He said, “There is something big across the river and it looks like it is totally blocked.” We had reached our stopping point. It looked to us as if two giant trees had completely blocked our way. We could not see a way around either side or through the middle. As best we could tell in the darkness, our choices were as follows: Stay in the canoe all night, climb what looked like a huge bluff on the right or climb what seemed to be a 20 foot bluff on the left. We chose the later option. The bluff was rock and straight up. We could see the silhouette of trees along the top of the bluff. We determined that there would be a system of tree roots running down the bluff and we could grab the roots (even though we could not see the dark roots in the night) and pull ourselves up to the top. Mike McGill said, “You think we can do that?” I replied, “Sure, go ahead and give it a try.” The courageous McGill took off and worked his way to the top of the ledge. Once to the top he threw himself over and I heard him yell as he had landed right in a thicket of briars. Now, it was my turn. I climbed slowly, testing each root’s strength as I went. Meanwhile, Mike had walked to the edge of the thicket surrounding the river to see what we were facing. He could not tell just yet. I worked my way to within 3 feet of the top of the bluff. By this time Mike McGill was walking back to see if I needed a hand. As he was approaching the bluff, his feet got tangled in ground covering vines. He fell head first toward the edge of the bluff. The first thing that hit the ground was his teeth as he was unable to break his fall. I heard him groan as I was still hanging from the side of the bluff. I said, “Mike, are you OK?” Meanwhile I finished my climb and threw myself over the top into my own set of briars. We both got to our feet to find Mike McGill bleeding from his chin and mouth. His fall had landed him just inches from the top of the bluff. We then fought our way out of the thicket surrounding the river. When we emerged from the thick brush, we could not believe the scope of what we saw.
We were trapped between the river and an endless field of corn as far as the eye could see in any direction. This was not the poor corn I had witnessed all summer due to the drought. This was river bottom corn ranging from 8 to 9 feet tall. Every stalk was huge. We had the feeling that we might be on Stan Baker’s Riverbend Farm but we had no way of being sure. Even while out of the river, we were in total darkness. It was a moonless night.
The only option we had was to walk the perimeter of the corn next to the river. We chose to continue walking downstream since we had not heard the slightest noise resembling civilization while canoeing from upstream. The time was midnight.
Oh, by the way. Our wives had been communicating since 7:30 pm. Dorris McGill HAD been able to make out what I said on my one and only scratchy cell phone call. Dorris had been waiting and looking for us on Hardy Road Bridge since 8:30 pm. She was not alone. Police Chief Hollis Alexander was with her. The search and rescue team had been called and assembled.
Tune in next week to see if we made it.
OT: I appreciate all of the great advice I have had since this ordeal, especially the advice from the fine gentlemen at the Cadiz Restaurant.
OTT: A big hello to all the members of First Baptist Church in Richmond Ky. Former Trigg resident Bill Fort is Senior Pastor at First Baptist Richmond. Many of his congregation are loyal readers of Coach’s Corner.
Enthusiasm Makes the Difference
Mike Wright is the head coach of boys basketball and cross country at Trigg County High School. Emails concerning Coach’s Corner can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.