I have been looking back and sharing a few happenings that I have been a part of during my many years of guiding hunters. My most prominent memories are the ones where I or someone I was with escaped some form of danger. Avoiding certain injury or death might be appealing to read, but there is also a lesson behind every story. I am hopeful that anyone reading this will understand that glorifying such things is not my intention.
One of my scariest moments ever occurred while I was guiding on the Talkeetna River in Alaska. I learned a lot of lessons on one particular day. I also realized that we as outdoorsmen rely on chance more than we realize.
I had had some experience running jet boats up small shallow waters, but I had never really operated in a super-dangerous situation. Of course all cold water rivers in the west are dangerous, but I am really talking about rapids and tree sweepers. I had made some solo runs up a particular nasty stretch of water to educate myself and to eliminate any surprises. Guides are responsible for other people’s lives sometimes and this was one of those times.
As I left the boat ramp with three souls on board, my first giant obstacle was a 90 degree turn up river at a junction where two rivers flowed into one. I would be approaching downriver and turning up into an incredible flow rate. If I did not execute this maneuver perfectly, I could swamp the sled and we would all be swimming for our lives. It was a lot of pressure but I had done it plenty of times, empty.
As I started us into our turn, I quickly realized that the extra weight was not good. I laid the throttle wide open and I picked up some rocks in the impeller due to the heavy boat being closer to the rocky bottom. In the middle of the turn, I lost power and there we were, relying on chance to make it through the moment. As the boat switched ends, I tried not to panic. I noticed a small sandy beach spot downriver and I hoped that I could shut off the outboard, clean out the screen and restart all in time to make that beach. If we did not make that beach, we would be swept downriver towards certain death. We were supposed to be traveling up river, not cascading downriver out of control.
I had to reassure everyone and get my task done in record time while concentrating on what I was doing. I would have to ignore the river until I restarted. It was tense and I was sweating for sure.
It all worked out that day. I was lucky enough to get the boat started. I was lucky enough that I did not cause other people harm, and I was lucky in other ways that I cannot remember. No matter how hard you prepare for a situation, we all know that nature can throw us a curveball at any time. In this case, I threw myself a curveball from not anticipating the extra weight in the boat.
I still wake up sometimes in a cold sweat thinking about that day. Chance is not reliable and chance is not our friend, so never rely on chance any more than you are forced to while hunting.