Who knows…what the thunder and lightning will bring,
Maybe the storm will cover my dreams,
Maybe the sun will shine no more;
Who knows…which way the wind is blowing, and when we look back on these things,
we won’t cry no more.
-Zac Brown Band
Part 1 – Denial
It seems like such paltry returns for so much work. We went down to the lower Pecos looking for three kayaks, one canoe, some pelican cases and a bunch of dry bags—all taken from us by a flood on the river, but the search turned out to be a bust. In the end, we never found the owner of the ranch across the river at the weir, which meant that despite having a place to put in the canoe at Lewis Canyon, we had no place to it take out, and that essentially killed our plan to paddle the river to the weir. We did find a few things on Lake Amistad that belonged to Scott, but even many of those were ruined from sitting in the soupy canebrake for months.
Hindsight’s always 20/20 and looking back now, I know I was still in denial over the whole flood and over the loss of the kayaks and all our gear. But denial is a powerful emotion and there was no convincing us not to go. Just ask my wife.
I genuinely felt we stood a good chance of going back down to the lower Pecos and tracking down some of the Pelican cases and maybe even the kayaks. But I didn’t count on the vastness of its shoreline, the gigantic rock fields that could easily hide a kayak, and the never-ending mesquite thickets lining the bank (which would have forced us to search by foot). There was simply too much river to cover in one day, and so we abandoned our plans to paddle the eight mile stretch between Lewis Canyon and the weir. After a few days down there, I came away feeling like once again the river had had her way with us.
Part 2 – Lucidity
But since that second trip in early August, I’ve had lots of time to think about things and it’s provided some clarity. The truth is that even though the Pandale trip ended badly, and we lost everything, we were damn lucky in so many respects. None of us were seriously hurt, despite being trapped by a 30-year flood; and our call for help (via sat phone) aided in the rescue of another kayaker, someone younger and less experienced than anyone in our group. We also caught a huge break with Dan’s cameras and got a lesson in humanity from two San Antonio bass fishermen who found the Pelican case containing the cameras and went to extraordinary efforts to find us.
We also met some incredible folks during the search, men and women who invited us into their homes, and advised us, fed us and sometimes even put us up for a night or two. People like Ike Billings, the gentle giant with a fast bass boat and good heart; and Austin Jackson, who’d never met us, yet gave us directions to his ranch and the combination to his gate so we could climb back down to the river; and the young Border Patrol agent, who patrolled the vast ranches that lined the river, and who graciously agreed to lead us back to the Jackson Ranch; and then there was Emilio, who introduced me to half of the people of Comstock during our search, and his lively wife, Lupe, who fed us some of the best Tex-Mex I’ve ever had.
Of course, we got to know Howard Hunt a little, and his son-in-law, Miles Gibbs, even better. Both were sympathetic to our plight and very gracious to let us onto the Continental Ranch to search for a way on and off the river. Despite a busy schedule, Miles spent the better part of an afternoon showing us the vast ranch, answering our questions and leading us to Lewis Canyon and then the weir. He even gave us a tour of the 4,500-year old petroglyphs that are carved onto a wide, limestone ledge near Lewis Canyon. I contacted Miles recently and I asked him about the mountain lions. He said the dogs never found the lion, but the killings stopped.
The Ozona campers are all doing well, according to Dwight Childress, who I recently spoke to. When I asked him for his thoughts on the flood, now that he’s had some distance from it, he said he’s fine with it, really. He and his friends had just gotten caught in that moment, he said, just as my group had been. There was no way to know we were in the path of a flood of this magnitude, he continued, and his only real regret was that they hadn’t driven the trucks out of the river canyon the night before. “I knew better than to spend the night on the river,” he said, “and I still did it.”
Dwight also mentioned that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department finally forced the insurance companies to pay for the removal of the four trucks from the Pecos river, and that all four vehicles were pulled out of the river canyon by a bulldozer a few weeks ago–but that’s another story.
Part 3 – The Living
As for the four of us who paddled the ill-fated trip, after Dan’s cameras were found, I think Scott fared the worst in terms of material things lost—his Pelican case alone contained over $5,000 in camera lenses, and that doesn’t include a lot of other gear he lost like the GPS unit and all his camping gear.
We never found his canoe, but ironically I received an email a few weeks ago from someone who’d read our story, and he informed me that the new 2014 Google Earth updates showed what he believed to be Scott’s canoe on the western bank of the river, a couple of hundred yards downriver from Lewis Canyon. He sent me the GPS coordinates, which I quickly typed into Google Earth, and sure enough, there it was, Scott’s faded red canoe sitting in a mesquite grove. Scott has pretty much written off the canoe and so it’s still there, where it’ll probably remain until the next big flood.
Speaking of Scott, he only lives a few hours from the lower Pecos, and he’s actually been back down to the river with his young son a couple of times now since the flood, paddling their kayaks. They’ve been day trips, but you can see a lot of the river’s beauty in one day if you have a kayak and know where to look. Of the four of us after the flood, Scott was probably the most physically battered and emotionally beat down, so I was proud of him for getting back on to the river again.
Ryan lost his kayak, camping gear and a lot of camera equipment; he also lost his wallet which not only had five hundred dollars in cash to pay for the trip’s logistics, but also his credit cards, drivers license and social security card (he’d needed it for work recently and had forgotten to take it out).
You may recall it was Ryan who had the premonition about the trip, and unfortunately, it proved to be far worse than he ever imagined. A few weeks after the flood, his girlfriend’s father, who was a good friend and mentor to Ryan, died in a motorcycle racing accident. A few months later, there was a shooting just outside his apartment in which Ryan rushed out and came face to face with the shooter. He escaped unharmed…but I’m sure Ryan’s glad to have 2014 behind him.
Part 4 – Acceptance
As for Dan and I, it’s been quite a ride since the flood. We received a huge outpouring of support from the kayak fishing community in North Texas and a lot of positive feedback about the stories I wrote of our trip. A few months after the flood, we were offered spots on the Mountain Sports fishing team, and that put us back in kayaks—nice ones–and that’s taken a lot of the bite out of our losses. We’ll forever be grateful to everyone who supported us through the flood and its aftermath.
Although we didn’t find much in terms of material things, the search proved to be a bonanza of writing material for Lone Star Chronicles. I have enough notes scribbled into my pad to fill a book with stories of the river, the flood and the adventures it gave birth to. It was probably put best by Lusca, a buddy of mine on the Texas Fishing Forum, who said of our search, “You guys are going to more trouble than I think I would to retrieve your boats, but the people you’re meeting and the sights you’ve seen and are sharing with us…has me anxiously awaiting the next chapter on your journey.”
I plan to post the remaining stories as stand-alone Pecos Journal entries, which have proven to be somewhat cathartic for me to write. As I mentioned in the first chapter, if you believe in the five stages of grief– denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally, acceptance—I think it’s fair to say that I spent a lot of time in denial, but I accept it now. Finally.
Lone Star Chronicles – Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Fish