“Just one more time.”
You know those words likely in the same capacity as I do, that infamous phrase you or one of your friends has said right before doing something borderline stupid which, more often than not, ends in either total embarrassment, injury, or both.
“Just one more time” is right up there with “Hey, watch this.”
It never ends well.
Let me tell you about the last time I said “Just one more time” to myself.
It was the day after Ocoee Fest outside of Chattanooga, Tenn. I didn’t know anyone to paddle with, but I refused to leave without hopping in my boat and at least getting on the water for a little bit. My solution? Hell Hole.
I’m by no means a playboater. I have a playboat, yes (a pretty yellow Dagger Jitsu that reminds me of a fat banana). I can sometimes, very occasionally, catch a wave and surf it for a second, but I’m no playboater.
There’s a reason Hell Hole has its name. Steep, turbulent, and kinda wild, if you’re not getting worked by the hole itself, you’re likely getting trampled by the herd of commercial rafts charging downriver. Doesn’t sound very appealing to an amateur playboater, right? But with roadside access, good eddies, a (relatively) clean washout, and early Sunday hours on my side, I thought to myself, “What do I have to lose?”
Surprisingly, or maybe not (as it was the Sunday after the festival), there were no kayakers parked at Hell Hole when I pulled in with the Jeep and Go. I thought I’d misunderstood the directions a boater had given me that morning, so I walked down to the river to check it out. Normally, Hell Hole is packed with kayakers sitting in both eddies, waiting their turn to surf. But today, with the exception of a few tourists and commercial photographers, the place was empty.
I looked down at my watch. It was almost 11a.m.
I told myself I’d surf until noon which would give me plenty of time to pack up and hit the road and (shockingly) be on time to meet my friends in Knoxville. I wasn’t feeling particularly excited to just park and play, but I wasn’t dreading it either. I know how my surf attempts usually go. I paddle into the feature, don’t make it the first few times, get really frustrated, charge hard, make it, surf for about a millisecond, get power-window-shaded, roll up with my helmet half off my face, and then sit in the eddy trying to re-orient myself.
In all, I normally have a good time, even if I repeat that process for an hour.
Which, is exactly what I did.
I tried to plug my bow down a few times and throw a loop. That, of course, only increased my violent window shades. After the first few runs, water was pouring out of my nostrils like a broken faucet, but I was actually having fun getting worked. Finally, after nearly a half hour of being the sole source of entertainment for the crowds standing on the bank, a few paddlers floated downstream and stopped to play at the feature. Their surfs were a little longer than mine, but not much better, so I relaxed a little more, finding hilarity in our useless attempts to throw ends down in the churning hole.
I pulled off to the side and got out onto the bank, emptying the water that had accumulated in my boat. I sat there for a minute on the rocks, watching the rafts come crashing through and cheering on the kayakers that stopped to surf. I looked down at my watch – it was already 11:45am.
Just one more time, I told myself as I cranked on the back brace. After all, I was on the river left side of the river and my Jeep was parked on river right. The only logical way to get to my car would be to surf over there.
Which I did.
And then I swam.
I don’t really remember how it happened. I do remember having a pretty decent surf, flipping, carping my roll once, twice, three times, then sliding upside down over the first ledge of the rapid behind Hell Hole. At that point, I’d run out of breath, lost my grip on my paddle, and was just done.
I pulled my skirt and gargled for air as I surfaced, sandwiched in between my boat and paddle. I watched my Freewaters float downstream away from me, but I couldn’t have cared less. A kind boater in a red Jefe helped nudge my floating shit show into the eddy at the bottom, told me he’d set my flip flops on the side of the road if he saw them, then peeled back out to join his crew.
I began my walk of shame up the bank, struggling to avoid the broken shards of beer bottles that littered the leaf-strewn ground. When I finally wiggled my way to the top, I hoisted my boat on my shoulder, took a deep breath in, and tried to shake it off.
Everybody swims, I told myself.
At least, that’s what everybody says every time I swim.
I sucked in my pride and began walking back to the car, delicately placing each bare foot on the smoothest patch of gravel. I had floated quite a ways downstream, and as the sound of rushing whitewater and voices cheering returned, I increasingly became more self-conscious.
Especially when I realized that I was on the wrong side of the river.
A bridge crosses the river, right over Hell Hole and into Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) property. Once you cross that bridge, the entire left side of the river is bordered with a seven-foot barrier of chain link fencing. Of course, I walked up that side of the bank and found myself trapped inside the chain link fencing. No one was around to unlock the gate for me.
I sighed. Could this get any more embarrassing?
I launched my boat and paddle over the gate, too annoyed to care how much plastic the chain link fence scraped from the bottom. I climbed up and followed my gear, disregarding the incredulous stares I got from the tourists that lined the bank. My skirt snagged on the gate as I jumped down, sending me flying back into the chain link fence instead of landing gracefully on my feet like a cat.
As if that wasn’t humiliating enough, a guy with a professional-grade camera and a beefy tripod came walking up the trail behind me.
“Man, I caught every bit of that action! Front and center!”
I don’t think I even humored him with a reply. I threw my boat on the Go, took off my skirt and PFD, and drove to Knoxville in sopping wet clothes and a soggy attitude to match.
Please, help me feel better about myself and share your “Just one more time” stories. I know you’ve been there, don’t be shy. We can revel in our embarrassment together. But maybe, per this awesome blog post I recently read on 7 Strange Questions That Will Help You Find Your Life Purpose, embarrassing yourself isn’t so bad after all.