Thursday, June 10, 2010

My Tilley experience

The short Story...
While on a rafting trip down the Colorado River, my Tilley blew off my head and disappeared into a whirlpool. We searched in vane for its return. I resigned myself to wearing my dumb 'ol knit cap to ward off the sun for the remaining 2 hour float.
Just before take-out, my Tilley bobbed to the surface next to the raft and, with no small effort, we retrieved it.
My Tilley is back home!

The Long Story...
I had my itinerary set for a week to visit with my son, Matthew, daughter-in-law, Annie and my grand daughter, Penelope in Gunnision Colorado. I packed, as usual, at the last minute throwing what i think i needed into a carry-on. The only thing i know i take is my Tilley. Though i throw it in as casually as everything else. 
The main purpose of the visit was to see my, now, one year old grand daughter. Secondarily, a river trip down the WestWater part of the Colorado with my son.
At this time of year the flow is up. We read flow rates of 17000 cubic feet per minute and going up. By the time we got to the river the flow was 26000cfm. When it is 17000cfm the rapids are fun and challenging with exposed boulders to get around. At the higher rate the rapids smooths out. Not as challenging but just as much fun. The main difference is the duration of the rafting experience. Low flow slow river, high flow fast river.
The weather was hot and cloudless. My Tilley protected my pink top as it has done on countless other expeditions.
The entire trip was uneventful on the top of the river. We made it threw the rapids wet but stayed on board. Then tragedy struck.
As we moved to the end of the canyon with several miles to go until the take-out, the wind came up with a vengeance.The canyon acts as a shield from the wind until you get close to the end, then it becomes a funnel, channeling the wind down its length. My Tilley and i have met wind before and won each encounter. We don't like to use the strap because it is not conducive to my chiseled, weathered profile but pulling it down on my head, tight, works very well. 
High water on the river means speed on a float and water that churns. eddies, whirlpools with standing waves that appear and disappear on, what you would think, should be a smooth surface. The boat, rather than floating straight downriver, twists and turns in 360 degree twirls while moving from one shore to the other. The boat oarsman is either rowing to compensate for this movement or sitting with oars at the ready ...waiting for another change.
After the last set of rapids I took over to helm the last several miles of calm water to the take-out. The wind still blew but we defeated its advances almost every time. This time i didn't move quick enough.
I sat down to the oars and as i did the wind blew one quick puff at the back on my head. My Tilley was broadside to this puff and took off. Landing several yards astern of our craft. I knew it was all right. My Tilley landed crown up and floating like a proud sailor taking a day off. I pulled left to block my Tilley with the boat and began to slow our rate to allow the Tilley to catch up with us. My son at the ready to pluck the intrepid sailor from the river. As we waited, the river opened up a small whirlpool and swallowed my Tilley. Gone!
It is not easy to fight the river's current especially at high flow rates. We could do nothing but hope Tilley would surface where we could see it and affect a rescue as we continued downriver. The minutes dragged by with no sign of my Tilley. The whirlpool did it's dastardly deed and disappeared along with my Tilley. The sun didn't care about my tragedy and kept it's relentless beating so i had to switch to a knit cap. I kept an eye out for my Tilley while moving downstream to the take-out three miles away. Knowing that it is gone.
The river at this end of the canyon to the takeout is flat and wide. It has three or so islands of willow that strain some river flotsam. Did i tell you at high river there is a lot of flotsam? I mean a lot! Along with the islands, stone outcrops, tree roots and other shore anomalies create other places for flotsam to get stuck.  The heavy stuff, tree branches and trunks get through by shear force. Light items get caught, plastic bottles, twigs, Styrofoam and maybe a Tilley. Only by catching the proper river current can flotsam make it through this area. Boats do it by the keen eye of the oarsman making corrections throughout the trip. 
I was that oarsman for this leg. I pushed and shoved. slowed and sped just to keep the boat in a centerline down the river.Our river speed was anything but constant. Sometimes i had to pull hard from the shoreline lateral to the flow and sometimes pull with the flow to miss a river obstruction. Always wistfully, gazing upriver in hopes of seeing my Tilley but knowing all the pit falls and problems with staying together for three miles.
After the last bend in the river we have a mile to the take-out. The procedure for landing at the take-out is to hug the take-out ramp shoreline where the flow will be slower then the middle of the river. When you reach the ramp you pull hard out of the shore flow and glide to the ramp. I am in the middle of the river about a half mile from the take-out when i begin this maneuver. I look to my right oat to put it in and there is a round, white shape just under the surface. I set my son to investigate while i push the boat toward the shape. It is My Tilley!!!
As soon as we know it is my Tilley we see it too far to reach so i try to push the boat closer, this causes the river to change ever so slightly and My Tilley and river flotsam spurt ahead. The best option we have is for my son to take the helm and me to stretch for the hat. My son pulls and pulls. I have this idiotic smile on my face, the smile of an adventure. I see the hat it is closer! I hang on to the chicken line, a rope around the boat and stretch.... way out. I have my Tiiley! I am happy!
I have no thoughts in my head but I have my Tilley. Thank goodness Matt has done this before. He knows to keep in the moment. He realizes the boat ramp is abeam of him and we are three quarters across the river.
He starts a pull like never before. He has to fight the highest current and not go downstream while crossing the breadth of the river. Our car is here and the next take-out is miles downriver. I sit helplessly at the bow with a rope to tie off the boat when we finally get to the shore. Then maybe, drag the boat back to the ramp. Matt pulls. The shore gets closer. The ramp doesn't move right or left. Matt pulls.
It seemed like hours but it was minutes as we moved across the center of the river and landed square on the ramp! One of the boaters behind us landed and wondered what kind of move he did. It was awesome! The likes of Matt's pull is not seen at these take-outs.
And i had my Tilley.
During the float i had discussed the importance of my Tilley. How it had a warranty to be replaced if it ever failed.. and yes "it is in my will to Matt"! When it first slipped into the whirlpool we started writing a letter to the Tilley people wondering if the failure of the Tilley to float was cause enough for a new hat. I would have another Tilley replaced by warranty or purchase... whatever. 
Now i write about the adventure and the fact that My Tilley does float so we will wait for another day to test the warranty. Matt, the greatest oarsman of Westwater (he is my son you know!) has not the refined taste to enjoy the subtlety of My Tilley... maybe my daughter will enjoy it. Sara...?