TWIN FALLS — I arrived at the Snake River shoreline while cottonwood trees shedded their fluff. The tiny particles settled onto nearby kayaks nestled in the grass at Centennial Waterfront Park and the late day’s sun warmed the air.
College of Southern Idaho Outdoor Recreation director John Twiss and coordinator Christa Gessaman readied boats and paddles while their boating students approached the shoreline.
Twiss greeted the paddlers in typical gregarious fashion as the last couple arrived. The evening was shaping up perfectly for a sunset paddle on the Snake.
While still buckling our life jackets and selecting boats, Gessaman delivered a briefing on water safety and we carried the kayaks down to the river.
Twiss and Gessaman did not doddle since the wind had picked up considerably, hinting that this might be a short trip.
Once on the mighty river and grouped together 100 yards from shore, we plotted our course and set off with the wind at our backs. The expansive Perrine Bridge towered over us and the lake-wide river provided ample space to paddle on either side.
Sloshing back and forth in the waves, we snapped selfies as we closed in on the bridge. Paddle, coast, paddle, coast — travel was smooth and fast. The river was alive with boaters as far as the eye could see, and we banded together before paddling underneath the bridge. Finally, we had reached our pinnacle.
Then the chaos erupted.
As quickly and calmly as the paddle began, the journey back became immensely arduous, wet and far from serene. Spinning our boats around proved extremely difficult as wind gusts caught the bow, nearly dumping a couple of us into the chilly water.
Fear shadowed the crew under the Perrine and strokes became harder and harder with the wind cresting white caps beneath our boats. Looking around at the others, smiles had turned to hardened focus.
One, two, three, four... five... six strokes. It felt like we had only moved 6 inches, yet we pressed on. The sun was directly in our faces now with waves breaking over the hull, providing another challenge as we paddled against the approaching storm.
One crew member had drifted into the middle of the river, but still said she was enjoying the paddle as I passed her. Her energy rapidly waned, however, and Twiss and Gessaman came to her aid, tying her vessel to their own boats. As a trio, they paddled back slowly as the gale force winds whipped dust into the air.
Further down river, I caught the rest of the group. We stayed together, paddles digging deep into the water, and rowed for the shore. Blown off course slightly a couple of times, then regrouping again, we rounded the bend.
Sighs of relief wisped away in the wind, but no one thought of each other as weak because we all had shared the agony. Seeing Centennial Park in the intense sunshine was a sight for sore arms and we knew the death paddle would soon be over. We were out of the water when the final trio paddled up to the dock tired but safe from the ferocious wind.
With the last of our energy, we heaved the boats back to the grass landing and portable flotation devices piled up, while the water dripped from our pants and bodies. The temperature had dropped 10 degrees and the sun had nearly set, but spirits were still high as we parted ways.