Panting, we reached the other side and grabbed onto some low branches since, we discovered, there was no shoreline. We hung there for several minutes. It was then that we realized we would have to swim back to the sandy beach on the other side.
Could we make it?
The only other alternative was to ease our way down to Mink Shoals by clinging to the low branches, walk across the Shoals hoping no one would see us in all our glory, then ease our way back up to the beach. It was a no-brainer. We would have to forge our way back across the river.
Larry and I clung to those tree branches for probably 15 minutes. The sun was lowering in the sky and we knew we would have to make our move. Finally, it was do or die, sink or swim. Besides, it was getting near suppertime, and, like all teenage boys, we were always about to die of starvation.
We let go of the branches and began to swim as powerfully as we could. Each arm stroking, both feet kicking. About halfway across, I looked up -- the beach seemed to be miles away. But we kept going, yelling encouragement to each other.
Then suddenly, the beach was only a few more strokes away, and within a couple of minutes, Larry and I pulled ourselves up onto the warm, welcoming sand. Exhausted, we lay there for nearly half an hour like a couple of beached whales.
When we finally regained some strength, we put our clothes back on and headed for the house. We turned around for one last look at the river and to congratulate ourselves that we hadn't been killed. It was then that I thought I heard the Elk River giving a deep, quiet laugh as if to say, "Almost got ya ... didn't I ... but you won."
Larry has been gone many years now. I'm in my 70s and will also be leaving at some point. However, the Elk River was here long before us, and will be flowing long after we're gone. But, if I play my cards right, maybe ... just maybe ... I'll get to come back now and again to see how things are doing ... and to have one more swim with Larry in the Elk River.
John Maxian lives and works in Maryland. He can be reached at johnmax...@clearchannel.com.