I didn’t set out to endanger my own life today, but that’s what ended up happening.
Some time back, Augusta cleaned up the aqueduct between the Augusta Canal and Lake Olmstead and dubbed the area Aqueduct Park. Whitewater rapids spill down a long stretch from the canal into a swimming area that’s also fed by a trickling waterfall on the other side. That pool drains off towards Lake Olmstead, a body of water the size of a pond that sits near the Augusta GreenJackets’ minor league baseball stadium. To get to the park, you either have to travel the Augusta Canal trail by foot or bike, or drive in along a gravel and dirt road from Sibley Mill.
I’d ridden past the area many times on my bike, and even taken a few pictures of the waterfalls and swimmers from up top, but I’d never climbed down to the pool. After the park was established, some trees were cleared, making the climb more inviting. This morning, desperately wanting to swim after my run and having few options–the Family Y doesn’t open until 1 o’clock–I clambered down rocks and dirt to get to the inviting waters below.
I’d cooled off considerably thanks to the air conditioning in my car, so to get back in the mood for swimming I hiked around the aqueduct area and took pictures. I tried to capture the beauty of the place–the rushing waters feeding in from the canal, the old brick tunnels now closed off at the end, the blocks and sheets of slate over which trickling waterfalls painted smooth, wet paths. By the time I was satisfied, I’d warmed back up and was quite ready for a good swim.
Stripping down to my swimsuit and exchanging my tennis shoes for flip-flops, I carried my towel over to where the rocks gradually descended into the pool, laid the towel where I thought it would be most convenient, and then started to step down the rocks to the water.
This was my first mistake.
The rocks were smooth, wet, and covered with slime. As I felt myself slipping, two thoughts occurred to me: one, that the water was very cold, and two, that flip-flops didn’t provide very much traction. I scooted down onto my bottom to try and slide into the water without falling.
It was then that I recognized my second mistake.
Filled with enthusiasm, and perhaps overconfident after successfully climbing all over rocks and waterfalls, I’d chosen to enter the water right next to the canal ingress. Right next to where the barreling flume of water was churning into the pool.
As I sat slipping on the rock, trying to pull off one of my flip-flops, the surging water caught me, thrusting me out and down into the pool. My flip-flop was instantly sucked away. As I struggled to keep my head above water, arms pumping downward to thrust my face out of the rapids, I thought, “If I drown here, like this, I am going to be pissed.”
My efforts were not in vain. I was never completely submerged. At first there was no ground beneath me, and I thrashed in terror to stay afloat, but then, suddenly, I found myself dashed upon the not-at-all smooth array of rocks that makes up the bed of the aqueduct pool.
“Ow,” I said. And then, “Well, I’m stupid.”
As the water continued to push me, gentler now that I was out of the direct path of the flume, I pulled off the other flip-flop for no logical reason, and, holding it, fought my way around the pond. The flume sent water churning in two directions: to the left, off towards Lake Olmstead, and to the right, forming a clockwise eddy circumscribed by the pool. I was caught going right, thankfully. The flume’s strength decreased little by little as I was pushed further and further away; I braced myself on rocks to keep myself steadily on my bottom.
Eventually the water no longer had the strength to push me, and I maneuvered myself to shore–to the spot where I should have entered the pool to begin with. There, the water merely lapped at the rocks and dirt as its final whirlwind strength was sapped away.
“I survived,” I said.
I took a barefoot walk back around the shore of the pool, hoping my flip-flop had washed up somewhere, but it was nowhere to be found. I resigned myself to throwing the other one away…but first I would wash the mud off my feet, clean out the shallow open scrape the rocks had left on my right knee, and get back into my sneakers. I was moving my shoes over to the rocks–the calm area–when I saw it. My flip-flop had somehow been deposited on the rocks right next to the flume. Perhaps during my flailing, I’d actually flung it backwards.
I laughed; somehow finding the other flip-flop was more of a relief than scrambling to shore. Maybe my brain took it as a metaphor of getting out of the situation in one piece.
I washed and dried my feet, tied on my sneakers, retrieved my wayward flip-flop, and began the hike back up and out of the aqueduct.
As I was leaving, a man walking his dog came down the pass. “Wow, I haven’t seen it rushing like this in a long time,” he said.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “It’s crazy!”
“It used to be like this all the time when I was a kid,” the man said.
“Oh, yeah.” He gestured back up to the top of the flume. “We used to slide down the rocks.”
“Wow,” I said. If that was the case, then kids have been doing essentially what I did today for decades.
Maybe my life wasn’t really in danger. I hope that is of some comfort to my mother, who is probably horrified that this happened. Sorry, Mom.
I’ve learned some good lessons. Don’t walk down slippery rocks, especially in flip-flops. Don’t enter a pool fed by rushing water right next to that rushing water. And it probably wouldn’t hurt to get a good idea of the depth of a body of water before swimming in it.
All that said…I did have fun, and I’ll probably swim there again. :)
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