OUR DAY LOST ON THE RIVER
A true survivalist yearns for the adventure that would test those skills. But when a true test leaves you lost and unprepared as I was, you question your glamorous idea of even surviving at all. Today was that kind of predicament. And it was only a matter of time before Brady discovered what I had realized two hours earlier; no one was coming to find us.
Brady lay motionless with one arm, bent at the elbow, over his eyes. His other arm held his glasses tightly on his large protruding belly. Clouds were quickly moving in, but the sun still bore down on us. My reddened skin stung with every movement and I tried to imitate Brady and remain still. I knew that I couldn’t possibly fall asleep, but hoped that Brady already had. How would he handle being lost? I was sure he would go into shock.
“Charlie, did you purposely take us down the wrong way at the fork in the river?”
Brady’s voice startled me.
“Of course not, I thought it was a shortcut.”
“Then why are we lost?”
“It wasn’t a shortcut.” I laughed insecurely and propped myself up on my elbows to see Brady’s reaction. He didn’t even crack a smile. “Seriously Brady, I just thought it would connect with the main river again.” Brady did not respond to this, either. I wanted to tell Brady we would not take shortcuts if he paddled more, but I couldn’t. He had refused to be in the same canoe with anyone else, after all.
“Are you mad at me Brady?”
“No!” He opened his eyes and looked straight at me. “I’m just wondering how we’re going to get out of here.”
“How about we go back the way we came?” Brady gave me a disgusted look and closed his eyes again. “It’s just a joke.”
“I know.” Brady was calm and did not need my attempt at lightening the situation.
“Shouldn’t we gather firewood?” I was already on my feet moving toward the woods.
“Why? Are you hungry? What would we eat?” Brady didn’t even bother opening his eyes.
“I just want dry clothes before it gets cold,” I answered.
“Did you bring matches?”
I reached for my wallet where I had stowed a match for emergencies. My pockets were empty. Not wanting to get my wallet wet, I left it at camp. That same excuse applied for having brought nothing in the way of survival.
“We’ll use your glasses,” I said.
“The sun’s almost gone, but go ahead.” It was now obvious to me that Brady was no help at all. Why was I lost with the laziest person alive? “What time is it?” I asked.
“Don’t know,” I repeated. “You seem to have enough time to keep track of the sun. Can’t you tell time by it, by now.” I knew my anger was irrational, but voicing my hasty discontent seemed logical given the circumstances.
“See those dark clouds? I give them half an hour. It’s gonna rain,” Brady pointed.
I mused at how he could still just lie there. “Then we’d better find shelter—something to cover us.”
“The canoe,” Brady offered.
“What?” I quickly glanced confused over at the canoe, but it was safely placed where I had left it.
“We have a canoe,” Brady repeated.
“What are you talking about? You want to cover the canoe?” I asked.
Brady just laughed.
“What?” It seemed ironic that he hadn’t laughed until I was now most serious.
“We’ll turn it over and sleep under it.” Brady straightened his face.
Of course! Why hadn’t I thought of it? I supposed that while I was concerned with things we didn’t have, Brady had calmly considered what we did have. For the first time I was glad Brady was with me, even if he had swamped our canoe countless times with his awkward lack of balance.
One question nagged at me: how lost exactly were we? Maybe we could walk out just over the nearest embankment. It was harder and harder to convince myself to stay put—as survival guides would recommend—especially when I wasn’t even convinced anyone would report us lost. And by now we had drifted so far from where we had last been seen. My mind ached, so I tried to stop concerning myself with these bad thoughts. But I couldn’t seem to think about anything else, except for how I was too drained of energy to do anything about it anyway.
My hands were sore and callused. My thumb was raw from rubbing against the oar: every stroke formed blisters then removed them. The inner part of my legs had developed a rash from the friction of wet swim trunks on dry skin. I lay down again, resting my sore lower back on the sloping bank of the river. I couldn’t remember being more physically tired in my life. It baffled me to think that Brady hadn’t complained about any discomfort. I almost hoped he would. He had to be hungry. I was starving, even though I said otherwise.
I watched as the sun vanished behind the clouds. Then the clouds overtook the entire sky. It was probably only a few minutes, but seemed as though hours had passed. I lay there in silence until a large clap of thunder shook me from my resting place. In one motion I whirled around to my hands and knees only to find Brady sleeping peacefully at the top of the bank, where the sand met the woods. I smiled as I remembered earlier that day; Brady had slept in that same way, while I paddled.
Pulling with all of the energy I had left, I brought the canoe up the riverbank and collapsed next to my friend. It began to rain, so I flipped the canoe over and leaned it against a tree with Brady underneath. There was just enough room for me to climb underneath on the other side. I removed my wet shirt and strung it overhead on one of the supporting rungs of the canoe. The pitter-patter of the raindrops on the canoe grew louder and eventually woke Brady up.
“Hey! You awake, Charlie?”
“Thanks for setting the canoe up.”
It was the first time Brady had thanked me all day. I tried to remember even once when he had helped turn our tipped canoe back over. He hadn’t. The slightest bump from a twig or a rock would send us flipping into the water. Then the same routine would unfold. I would flail arms and legs swimming as quickly as I could to catch the canoe. “Come help me,” I would yell, knowing full well that Lazy Brady wasn’t about to help. He would float down stream in a sitting position clasping his knees with his hands and just chuckle like a dumb oaf. Then, I would thrust the canoe upright, remove all of the water, and we would get back in.
Later the river became more shallow, when it diverged into two streams. We were slower than ever without a current, but we did not tip over as often. But then there was that slight problem of weight distribution. I rode high out of the water, while Brady dragged bottom, joking about being our human anchor. I resorted to paddling directly off of the hard ground. Otherwise I would spend my time splashing water with each stroke, sending the front of the boat back and forth; the back of the boat refuse to budge though, remaining wedged between Brady and the river bottom. Every time we got stuck it was almost as funny to Brady as when we flipped over.
“Brady, what do you think the other guys are doing right now?”
“Probably eating,” he laughed briefly. “No—they are long gone. In bed by now, I imagine.”
“You don’t think they are looking for us?”
“Maybe for you. Those guys don’t like me.”
I didn’t argue with him. He was right. They would sooner leave Brady behind, than be seen assisting him in anyway. He was just a source of practical jokes for them to have along. But what he didn’t know is that I had kind of taken responsibility for Brady not holding us up, and I was sure they weren’t coming for me, either. “Well, they don’t know you.” I consoled.
“Yeah, I guess so,” Brady shrugged.
I was glad he seemed satisfied with my answer but I knew the truth; they didn’t want to get to know him. Guilt rushed through me. In actuality, I had come on the canoe trip to distance myself from the Brady crowd, and get noticed by the popular crowd. Yet, somehow here I was left alone with Brady instead. Sure he was nice; but I didn’t want to be seen with him, either. A smile came over me; those earlier concerns seemed so frivolous now. Of the other four guys, I realized I was glad it was Brady I was lost with.
“Maybe the ranger will come for us.” It was as close to changing topics as I could come up with.
“Sure, to get his canoe back.”
I laughed, but then it occurred to me that he actually made sense, again. It put me at ease.
Sand proved to be firm in all the wrong places and harder to sleep on than I would have guessed. Rain poured down on the canoe soaking our legs, but our torsos remained dry. Not being able to get to sleep, we talked like old friends long into the night. At some point the rain eased up and we were too tired to talk any longer, but I remember feeling how everything seemed right again. Then the simple rhythm of the pitter-patter overhead lulled me away into a dreamy slumber.
The sun gleamed underneath the canoe waking me from my sleep. It was a pleasant morning. I rolled out from under my shelter to bask in the sun’s warmth.
“Brady, wake up, its morning.” He groaned a little, and I crawled over to him and nudged him. “Come on, this is no time to be lazy.” These words worked because Brady’s arm flew from his side and clinched my shirt.
“I’m not lazy!”
“Okay, then help me put the canoe back in the water.”
“Come on; if we go downstream we might find a way out.”
“Great idea Charlie, but…”
“I can’t help. My leg is broken.” Brady definitely seemed lazy to me, but I knew he was not a liar.
“You’re serious! When did that happen?”
“The first time we fell out of the canoe it pinned me up on a rock, momentarily.” Brady replied.
Guilt flushed through me once again, knowing all of the anger I had felt toward him. All along he laughed when we faced an ordeal; not even one complaint.
“I’m sorry.” Brady said.
“For what?” I asked.
“Not helping more.” Brady answered.
“You should be called Crazy Brady, then—if that’s what you think! Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I didn’t want to ruin your trip. You wanted to go so badly.”
I couldn’t have felt any worse than I did at this moment. “Brady, I’m sorry.”
I didn’t make Brady crawl back to the water like he had when he left it the day before. To think that I had watched that miserable sight of my friend slithering like a worm, and the whole time I stood there wondering how he could be so ridiculous with such a show. Now I hefted him into his throne in the back of the canoe and I pulled it back to the waterway. Before we cast off I took one last look at our resting grounds and admired the glimmer of raindrops on leaves. I breathed in deeply the fresh renewal of rainforest, and noticed a rainbow shimmering above the river ahead. Our casual float downstream was much more pleasant than the day before. A ranger stationed to intercept this possible errant path greeted us. He radioed the search off. But no surprise, missing canoes had indeed tipped the forest service off, not our so-called friends; they were too afraid to tell anyone that there were more canoes in their party and justified it with the curfews they never had a need to follow before.