We loaded the tires onto Larry’s old Chevy Nomad, affectionately named Bertha “Queen of the north way” (a highway that leads to the north country from Albany), and Larry drove us to the starting point. I took one step into that icy water and thought better of it. That would later prove to be a fortunate decision. I became the designated driver; my instructions were simple. ” pick us up at Phileons’ (a favorite local college bar, famous for its pizza, that was next to the river). In retrospect, it was a disaster in the making. They set off with some sticks as paddles. What comes to mind Is, “What were we thinking?”. I drove to the pick-up point, parked Bertha, and walked onto the bridge just before Phileons. I was joined by my friend Mark and his girlfriend. Two minutes later, around the bend came our intrepid rafters.
The thing about streams in the Adirondack mountains in the spring is they are cold, clear, and mighty. The unsuspecting victims approached the bridge, feigning fear and laughing. I am sure they thought the raft would safely travel between the bridge cement uprights, but that wasn’t what happened. The bridge and current had other ideas. They hit the upright, and the raft was bent in half around the upright. Bubbles, Norm, and Marty, went on one side, and Larry went on the other. I looked down and saw that Steve, now pale as a ghost, was trapped, pressed by the raft against the middle of the upright with water breaking over his face.
Bedlam Brook out, both above and below, I learned that day I am not good in emergencies. The screams that came from below didn’t help. “Call the police! Call the police”, I screamed at Mark, “call the police.” he screamed back ‘I don’t have a coin.” No, there were no cell phones then. Looking back, we were running to and fro on that bridge, accomplishing nothing.
As for the life and death struggle that happened below for the three on the left side, I will let the narrative speak for itself:
Bubbles: “Where is Larry?”(screaming in a panic)
Norm: “you can’t help him now.”
Suddenly, Marty’s grip failed, and he was swept away. It was then also that Lester shot out from the other side. His body appeared to fly in the current.
Norm: “There goes Larry’s body (screaming)”
Bubbles said nothing, apparently in shock.
It was also then that my roommate, who had floated about 20 yards downstream, stood and discovered the water was less than knee-deep.
We quickly got in the car and drove back to the dorms. The victims went, still clothed and into hot showers; I saw none come out of their rooms for several days, and no one spoke of it again.
If you have an opportunity to visit the Ausable in the summer, it appears to be a lazy river. I’ve fished it then and loved it. In the spring, fed by the spring-melt, it has a whole different personality.