PLATOON – A Big “Oopsy”

Plan your float!  Know where to start, where to finish, and what’s in-between.  And don’t make assumptions.  This is why you use a professional outfitter isn’t it?  That’s our job, to plan your float and inform you of what to expect.  What can possibly go wrong?

So I was leaving work one Tuesday evening.  All our boats and tubes were in and the parking lot was empty.  This was years ago, before the age of cell phones.  As I was locking the front gate, I did notice two olive drab painted busses idling quietly at the boat landing across the river.  Out of curiosity I drove across the bridge to see why they were there, it was so out of place.

The driver said they were waiting for a platoon of fully outfitted National Guard troops doing a training exercise on the river and they should be finishing any time now since they had started around noon.  What were they paddling?  Rubber rafts.  Where had they started?  He didn’t know, some bridge, he was only the driver.  Knowing the next bridge up river was a distant 28 miles (and the river level was low) I pressed him for more information.

He indicated that the second lieutenant in charge planned to do a ten mile float.  The bridge in front of our base in Bentonville was to be the finishing point.  So he instructed the driver to drive ten miles up river from Bentonville along the parallel road, then turn right until reaching the river again and start the float.  Mistaken assumption #1:  ten miles of road equals ten miles of river.  It does not.  The road is engineered to go straight.  The river follows the lowest point of the valley which is never straight.  That ten miles of road actually covered thirty-five miles of river.  Mistaken assumption #2.  there are no obstacles.  Oh, you mean like that 18 foot high power dam with no portage path around, or that partially washed out low concrete bridge choked with debris?

I cheerfully waved goodbye as I bid them adieu.  Not my boats, not my customers, not my problem I was thinking.  “See you in the morning”.  I heard later they actually hooked up around midnight about half way through their route.  I’ll bet they were some tired puppies, and not too happy with Lieutenant Assumption.

a scenic look at the calm river Downriver Canoe Company Shenandoah Valley River

Some years later I was paddling a canoe near where the soldiers had ended their ill fated float and ran across the receiver of a military M14 rifle minus the stock, stuck barrel first into the muddy bank.  It was in terrible condition and obviously would never shoot again, but It made me wonder if this was a relic of that incident.  The Army tends to frown on soldiers who miss place their weapons I have heard.

Today that souvenir hangs proudly on the wall behind our counter along with a 12 gauge Remington 270 shotgun and a Red Ryder Daisy BB gun also recovered from the river.  And at the end of the counter is our “Jar of Shame”, a large glass jar full of car keys, cell phones, cameras, binoculars, knives, and all sorts of stuff recovered from the river.  “Don’t take it with you if you can’t afford to lose it or get it wet”.

I think our most unusual river find was a 1950’s era Naval 500 pound aerial bomb (currently hanging on our front porch).  It’s totally empty, and you can just read the letters “practice bomb) on the outside.  We speculate someone had it in their yard as a lawn ornament and a flash flood washed it into the river.  Nonetheless, we like to tease children by striking the nose with a hammer to see if it will go off.  “Hold you ears” we caution.  

When she gets exasperated with me my lovely wife suggests tying it on top of my car and driving into DC at a high rate of speed taking bets on how far I will get.  But in this day and age, that ain’t happening.