Don't let those shadows bite ya!

May 19, 2013 

In the Columbus area, the word "kayaker" conjures up images of folks soaring down the new urban whitewater course in short kayaks, flipping upside down and banging their heads on all sorts of things under the water like rocks, old railroad irons and Jimmy Hoffa -- or as we're now billing it, fun!

I am a kayaker, but I'm a different kind of kayaker. I'm not much for banging my head on rocks or Jimmy Hoffa. I'm not much for being upside down in a kayak, either. I'm more for leisurely paddles on smooth waters where few boats can enter, checking out the wildlife and floating along effortlessly as I chew on a Slim Jim.

If you try to chew on a Slim Jim while kayaking Columbus' whitewater course, you might put your eye out. And if it's a spicy Slim Jim, you might burn your eye while you're putting it out.

I like to kayak in places other folks don't go -- either because they can't get their boat over that downed tree or because they don't want to get eaten by some elusive river monster. But I'm willing to cross that tree and brave the river monsters because I'm not exactly a social butterfly. More like a social rock, actually. I mean, I love people; I just prefer to experience them from a safe distance -- like through a telescope, or if I'm feeling very sociable, Skype.

Of course, if you want to kayak and avoid humans, you're not going to avoid critters, especially human-avoiding critters such as snakes, gators, me, deer and wild hogs. I've gotten to the point that I'm a little disappointed if I don't see an array of such critters on my kayaking excursions. My wife, however, is still trying to understand the allure of critter-infested waterways.

She loves the peace and quiet of unexplored creeks and stagnant sloughs, but she has a tendency to let me go first in case I am attacked -- in which case she promised to go for help just as soon as she's through taking pictures and posting them on Facebook. (Little does she know that she can't tag me in a Facebook picture of me getting eaten by an alligator without my approving it!)

This past weekend, we went kayaking up a place called Turkey Creek. We launched in an area that apparently hasn't had contact with society since the 1860s judging by the amount of Confederate battle flags on their Civil War-era RVs and trailers. And it just got scarier from there as we paddled upstream, over logs and brush, through spider webs, under pterodactyls, past gator slides and into areas that haven't been seen by humans since Hernanado de Soto's 1540 concert tour with its opening act, a young and up-and-coming Willie Nelson.

It was here that I tried to stir up an old friend, an 11-foot gator I encountered a few years ago, by cruising through lily pads and banging my paddle on the water. But all I managed to stir up was a few yellow flies, three huge gars and two birds with the wingspan of a Delta jet. This had her so skittish that her biggest scream came when she saw a shadow approach the side of her boat, just before she realized it was the shadow of her own paddle.

She had grown paranoid, so it was time to head back toward the closest thing we'd seen to civilization, and I'm not sure I've ever seen her so happy to see rebel flags flapping in the breeze. We went past there into calm and more public waters, where she was finally able to relax. And, once relaxed, she came upon a big, fat water moccasin. Since I don't do snakes, we decided to call it a day.

It was all kind of symbolic of the world today (from Turkey Creek to the Pacific Ocean) with all the fear and paranoia out there today about the gubment coming to git yer guns, death panels, spy drones and the war on religion.

Only when you stop screaming over shadows can you spot the real snakes in the grass.

Chris Johnson is an independent correspondent. Connect with him at or

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