Down the Drain

Swimming rapid kitchen sink

Swimming the Kitchen Sink.

I crack a crisp PBR while pumping up the double-ducky. This bright-yellow inflatable kayak is robust, instilling false confidence. I climb into the bow and Corey takes the stern, amused by my assuredness. We slip into the cool, clear waters of Bear Trap Canyon.

Sipping beer, I giggle through the first several miles as Corey fights to keep us upright. The sun is hot and it feels good to be splashed by cold water. I’m not a river person, but I’m starting to fancy the idea.

I sit comfortably on the back of another raft with Chris at the oars. I’m wetting my line and occasionally my whistle. The fish are wary, but I don’t mind. I’m happy to be soaking in the sun.

Meanwhile, Dingus One and Dingus Two float by in their inflatable ducky. They’re giddy. Are they having more fun than me?

We pull the boat ashore above the Kitchen Sink rapid—the hardest section of the Bear Trap, lending the run its Class IV designation. I’ve got that old feeling like I’ve got something to prove, and I run with it.

Corey and I scamper up the bank to scout. I home in on a pointy, triangular rock at the end of the rapid. Go left of the triangle rock. Easy peasy.

Our designated lunch spot is immediately beyond the Kitchen Sink. Jamie and Ian set up with cameras. When I sense we’re getting ready to embark, I move to assume my position in the back of the raft.

Corey intercepts me with giddy eyes and a grin. “Wanna go with Jack in the ducky?” He knows he has a way of convincing me.

Here we are—two woefully underqualified paddlers heading straight for one of Montana’s most notorious rapids. I’ve got an hour more whitewater experience than Adam, so I offer some wisdom: “If your spidey-senses are tingling, GO FOR IT!” Unclear at best; must be the beer talking.

The boat’s lopsided when we hit the first drop and we flip immediately. I have a few seconds to contemplate the situation. The current pulls steadily and there is no chance of escape. This is going to suck. As I plunge, the world turns to an aerated texture of light green.

We’re at the mercy of the river. My lungs fill with water. After a few dark, cold seconds, I plant my feet on the riverbed and hurl myself back to the surface. When I go for air, I find none. A rescue rope lands in my hand, but the swing will pull me through a patch of rocks. I let go, back into darkness.

My main motivation is the fear of embarrassment that would come from dying in front of my co-workers. I continue to fight for air but am forced to settle for mouthfuls of water. I see the end in sight and resolve that I’ll make it through.

I’m drowning—gasping for air with my head underwater. The crew stands at river-right, watching with mouths agape. Mike launches the throw-rope within arm’s reach, and I realize I’ve lost the paddle. I thrash and feel plastic with my fingertips, then cling tight. The rope is long gone.

Adam is way off right; he’s screwed. The boat plunges down the final drop and I follow. A sense of calm arrives as I’m pushed underwater for the last time. The boat is near. I’m alive. Everyone is going to be astounded.

I pull the boat to shore, crawl out of the water, and flop onto my back. The sun once again warms my skin and I breathe.

I just swam the entire Kitchen Sink—a feat few paddlers can lay claim to. I slog to shore with my tail between my legs. I hear a concerned voice: “You alright?”

“I’m fine. Now get me a beer.”