Reflections of a Trip Leader
by Leonard Hulsebosch
The newsletter section of this web site contains 40 years of Houston Canoe Club newsletters. Amidst those many publications are buried a lot of gems of wisdom, that are still just as valid today as when they first appeared. The following article is a follow-on to last month's article by Mr. Hulsebosch.
On a river, things are not what they seem to be. Many river hazards are hidden just below the surface or disguised so that only those with an understanding of hydrology can understand them. The classic example is a small river with its recirculating "drowning" pool, so innocent looking - and so fatal! Slumber Falls on the Guadalupe River is a real example of this type of hazard. Therefore, safe river running comes in part, from making the effort to see past the surface of things. Rivers also disguise their power. Moving water seems so forgiving until you wrap a boat in midstream. We often forget that "water is not compressible - boats and people are!"
It is also easy to forget that while kayaks and canoes are splendid tools, beautifully suited to navigating white water, humans are more likely to sink then swim!
Because rivers are so easily underestimated, whitewater appeals to that part of each of us we shall call "Fastwater Fred." Fred is athletically inclined, somewhat dim-witted, but daring - sort of a rash jock type.
Outfitted with a P.F.D., helmet, wet-suit, throw line, river knife, bailer (all to protect him from various hazards), Fred may still approach the river with a devil-may-care attitude.
That attitude is dangerous because it affects his ability to perceive the scope of the world about him, including the world of nature and the nature of an accident.
Accidents have peculiar timing. They occur precisely when we think they shouldn't. It's a "Catch-22" - if accidents happened when we thought they should, they wouldn't. Many accidents happen just before we gear our caution up of just after we have geared it down.
How can we avoid most accidents? Analyze those others have had - send away for the "Best of the River Safety Task Force Newsletter" - $2.95 + $1.00 handling. ACA Box 248, Lorton, VA 22079. This excellent book contains instructive summaries of accidents others have had. Try to relate to each situation. It is necessary to learn from others mistakes. You won't live long enough to make them all yourself!
Next, do some thinking yourself. In a river crises there's so little time to respond. If you want to make a difference, be prepared to - beforehand.
Finally, approach the river with the right attitude, one of respect and understanding, one of awe of its great beauty and latent power.
Leonard Hulsebosch (right)