Submitted June 10, 2009

Last minute decision to canoe a 6 mile length of river

I have a story I can share, but let me open by saying it never should have happened in the first place. Preparation is a necessity even in a last minute decision to canoe a 6 mile length of river. During March of 1980, I threw caution to the wind and jeopardized my life and the life of my girlfriend by not correctly sizing up the situation. Having more bravado than brains (and too much beer), I was cajoled into entering the (Minnesota) Snake River with my girlfriend at the entry point near Highway 61 around 12:00 noon in a borrowed canoe and was told it would be a three hour trip to the takeout point where the Snake enters into the St. Croix River. I was somewhat familiar with canoeing and could negotiate a waterway that was freely moving. And, it is located around an hour north of the Twin Cities and should have been nothing more than a quick afternoon trip. With us were two guys who were considerably more skilled at canoeing and possessed white water experience. They made their way with relative ease through the unusually low and slow running river and worked as a team while my girlfriend and I struggled. As they faded in the distance, the other husband and wife couple were struggling ahead of us as well but still put distance between us and them. I finally resorted to getting out of the canoe and dragging it off and on over the rocks and realized I would have never put us in the position we were in had I not been drinking.

It was unusually warm that day and the temperature was around 86 degrees F. This contributed to the false sense of well being we were under. I had a book of matches in my pocket and little else. My girlfriend was wearing a surplus orange survival suit which did fine for her until she had to get out of the canoe and help me pull the canoe, and the sewn in feet began to fill with water. At about mile 4, I got out of the canoe and stayed out, dragging it. My body temp was dropping and I realized the air temp was dropping as well. In the space of 45 minutes, I estimated it had dropped to around 30 degrees F. I didn't have a lay of the land but realized as darkness fell we needed to build a fire fast. We got out of the river to the north, and as the sun was setting all I could see was an endless stretch of state forest. I went for my matches and found them soaked and useless. I have to admit panic began to set in when I saw my girlfriend crying and pulling at the survival suit. Not wanting to explain her possible demise to her family due to my stupidity I turned and scanned the south side of the river. I saw a glimmer of light at the top of the bank and pointed it out to her, and we crossed the river in the dark to the south side. We made the 20 foot climb up the riverbank and found the light was indeed a yard light for a small 4 season cabin. I determined in my heart if nobody answered the door, I was going to get in one way or another.

As I knocked repeatedly the door opened, and after seeing our desperation the guy stepped aside and let us into his home. He put my girlfriend into his shower and while she was warming up, began dialing the Pine County Sheriff. I explained our situation and the deputies arrived shortly after he called. We were taken to the landing site and found the married couple in the same straits as we were. They were in sight of the landing when their canoe capsized, throwing them both in the water. The current picked up drastically at that point, and her husband reached out and grabbed her by the shirt just before she was swept under a large ice plug at the point where the Snake empties into the St. Croix.

Once I made it home it was my turn to shower. I couldn't feel my feet and I was hypothermic. After about 30 minutes in the shower, my body began shivering uncontrollably and didn't stop until about 30 minutes after I climbed into bed with a sleeping bag and around 4 wool blankets over me. I slept nonstop for 17 hours, and felt like I was beaten with a baseball bat. The feeling didn't come back to my feet for a couple weeks.

This event should have made a profound impression on my life, and it did. I have learned to:

1) Examine every situation for the potential of harm.
2) AVOID situations of where I have no control or understanding
3) Realize and believe some people don't have your best interests at heart. Evaluate their intentions.
4) Be prepared for any eventuality. I should have possessed a small waterproofed pack with matches, lighter, flashlight with extra batteries, small AM/FM radio, space blankets, poncho liner, poncho, fire starter, change of clothing, a winter weight jacket, hat, gloves, a stout pair of shoes or boots instead of running shoes, energy bars, small stove with fuel and a container to heat it with. A small tent in this situation may have been appropriate. A packable firearm. A cell phone may not have mattered.
5) Know the area you are going to be in, and have a map with you.
6) Live my life without imposing on anyone due to lack of preparation on my part.
7) NEVER let alcohol or any other substance impair my ability to evaluate what lies ahead. I don't drink anymore, and if I did drink and had the opportunity today I wouldn't agree to get into the canoe, Period!

The SARDINE CAN Survival Kit would have been a good one to build around in this situation.

By the way, my girlfriend and I eventually did get married and are still to this day.

Thanks, Dan Glanz

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