On the second day of the record-setting flooding in Rhode Island, I called out of work because I could not drive out of my condo complex.
A fence in the rear was eventually removed to allow vehicular traffic, but the call had already been made. After pulling out some saturated furniture and carpet from my parents’ basement, I headed back home to explore the waterways created by the swollen Pawtuxet River. Here’s what went down:
I launched my kayak from the driveway of the complex, crossed Post Road, and headed “upstream” to Shaw’s Plaza. The water level was noticeably higher than the previous day…
I crossed over Warwick Ave and took in the scene from an Animal Hospital parking lot.
There were lots of people doing the same from I.M. Gans Liquor Store. The current was pretty strong over here so I paddled out and floated through a red light. Legal or not, I felt pretty badass doing this in front of police officers guarding the closed-off street.
After my first ever nautical traffic violation, I beached my ride on some bushes in a parking lot and again just surveyed the scene.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! The river was rushing across a main road over roofs of cars and several feet up retail buildings. Thankfully, the liquor store was on higher ground and still open. I paddled over to grab a six-pack.
I contemplated in front of the cooler for a while. What would be the most appropriate beer for this situation? My choice…
After stocking up the fun (kinda) begins, but not because of the beer (which I waited to drink until after getting back). With water levels ranging from 3-8 feet, I explored the Industrial Park behind the liquor store and eventually worked my way through the woods to the main part of the river. It was pretty calm when I first got on but quickly started picking up. I paddled by the Rhodes on the Pawtuxet banquet hall
and noticed the current getting stronger. I’m no expert paddler and my 12′ recreational kayak is not built for whitewater; so I did a quick turnaround and tested whether or not I could paddle upstream. I moved pretty well so I turned back around and headed downstream. “You know what’s ahead right?” called out a concerned neighbor from his back porch. “Yeah I’m good” I responded with thumbs up. “I’m not (planning on) going to the waterfall…”
“Dude you know what’s down there?” questioned a nervous neighbor further downstream. “Yeah I’m getting off soon.” The river was gaining more strength at this point so I decided not to push my luck and turned back upstream. I became quite concerned that I stayed in the exact same spot after paddling hard for a minute or two. Oh sh*t! I was on a kayak treadmill less than 1/4 mi. from class III rapids. My plan was to work my way back over to the Industrial park but a wall of large black culverts tossed around by the current blocked me out. I began frantically paddling and looking for safe egress from the typically calm Pawtuxet. I had checked the mouth of the river earlier and knew I could bail just before the bridge at the condos down the street. At this point I wasn’t going to give up that soon so I dug in and started pulling like my life (as it may have) depended on it. I started making some progress and spotted a boat launch across the river at the end of a side street. I may have been able to make it over there but I kept pulling instead. My heart was pumping almost as hard as the river now and my stomach was somewhere near my throat. “Come on! Pull!” I encouraged myself. I thought about how humans only use a portion of their muscular potential unless the body senses danger. I tried signaling for more by envisioning my kayak being tossed around like dirty laundry. After a series of intense strokes (no time for lily dipping!), I found my way over to the damn created by the big black pipes where the current calmed down. The only way out from here was behind an abandoned shed but the current whipped around the building with too much force for even my adrenaline-fueled power-paddling. Instead I took a breather and planned my next move: if I could get a little further upstream I could probably work my way through the woods into the parking lot of the Industrial park. “Let’s go! F*ck it!” One deep breath later and I’m shot out back onto the river, again pulling with a purpose. Got spun around a little bit but made it over to the woods and worked my way through fallen branches and prickly bushes. My paddle was getting caught up in the tight spaces and I was really cautious to stay parallel to the river so I didn’t flip. With an open cockpit you have to be careful not to let water rush in unless you plan on swimming under the boat. After bushwhacking a little more I finally made it to the parking lot for a few loud exhales.
Caught my breath, thanked the Lord, checked my pants, and hung out for a second. “OK, I’m done.” Nobody was around to hear that but me. Once my heart rate dropped below quadruple digits I casually paddled back to the driveway
and humped my kayak back to the condo. That beer was delicious!