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ALPINE EPIC...

Where the bloody hell was she? I ran up and down the side of the gorge struggling through thick undergrowth. Jane's Spud kayak and paddle had bobbed off downstream out of sight, but stuff the boat...finding her was the priority. From a restricted viewpoint, I'd just managed to glimpse her swimming out of a boily stopper and it looked like she'd managed grab a nearby rock, so I assumed that she was out of the water somewhere on the far bank. But if so, where? Just when I was beginning to imagine the worst, thankfully she emerged from the trees opposite, looking a bit dishevelled and confused. She grinned and pointed to her spraydeck, a signal I couldn't understand.

Jane had a slalom racing background which showed in her strong and precise paddling style. It was not her error of judgement (read: cock-up) which had led to her swim, but mine. I'd made the "It looks all right, just follow me down" assumption for the umpteenth time in my paddling career. Staring at the bow of my playboat outlined against high Alpine peaks and the sky for the third or fourth time in a hundred metres, I realised that we had reached the first grade 4+ bit. Oops. Through fluck and law I survived the rapid but I looked back upstream just in time to see Jane being viciously looped back into the first nasty stopper. I hopped ashore and fumbled for my throwline. It was shortly after that she vanished from sight...

Having retrieved my boat, I ferry glided over to Jane. She assured me that she was fine, and quickly forgetting who had put her in this situation, I launched into, "Trust me, I'm an Instructor" mode as I blathered on about how we would get her across the river to the road. I planned to pendulum her across a flat bit and demonstrated patronisingly how she should walk backwards into the flow and lie on her back as she swung across. Jane listened with admirable patience, but seemed bemused and detached for some reason. I crossed the river again, and after a ludicrous interlude where I realised that my throwline was too almost short (it did match my boat though) Jane was hanging on and ready to be swung across. She strode forwards into the river. I bellowed in a self-important sort of way for her to enter the river backwards as I'd instructed. She ignored me and did it her way. No problem, she swung neatly across the Trisanna River and clambered ashore. Before I could speak to her, she had literally shot off into the trees and was gone. Something wasn't quite right, but for the life of me I couldn't put my finger on what it was.

It was only much later, in a bar, that someone took me aside and whispered that the stopper Jane had swum in had somehow stripped her from the waist down, boots, shorts and all...

Mark Rainsley.