Gypsy's Travels


Sunday, July 29, 2007

Travail at Greune

For several years, my middle brother, J, and his wife, N, organized an annual camping trip to the Guadalupe River just upstream from Greune (pronounced Green), Texas. Various members of our families would show up at various times for the day or overnight or the weekend. It was a wonderfully flexible time. Some of us camped in trailers or tents, and some stayed in (shudder) local motels.There was always plenty to do and J was sure to have a raft and / or canoe and some inner tubes. Our last gathering there was several years ago. The water in the river ran high after the previous weeks' rains so it appeared calmer than when the river fought with the rocks on its journey south. As usual, we were ferried up stream with our raft where we would put in and float down to our campsite. The swollen river provided an easier and faster journey than usual so several of us chose to continue rafting downstream. The raft was one of those large, grey ones from a military surplus store and provided plenty of room for the 5 of us, J, N, 2 young children (about 7 years old) and me. The trip downstream from the campsite was a lazy ride on a slowly moving body of water that offered few obstacles.

We were a little lazy as we floated downstream, allowing the river to carry us along. There were no rapids to add excitement and we began to understand why this part of the river was not as popular for rafting as the upper part. About an hour into our extended journey, the pace of the river picked up and we began to see people along the banks. They were shouting and waving, so we waved back. They tried to yell something to us but we couldn't hear what they were saying. They seemed very friendly.
Suddenly J shouted, "PADDLE HARD!"

We had just rounded a bend and were faced with a bridge across the water in front of us. We all paddled as hard as we could but the raft was in a current that carried it mercilessly forward even as we reached the edge of the current. Thanks to the recent rains, the usual 18" clearance under the 100 year old bridge, had been reduced to about 3"! People on the bridge above us were shouting and reaching down to us. J, N, and I braced our feet against the bridge and stiffened our legs, but we could feel the relentless power of the river's current pushing against us from behind. We watched as the 2 children were pulled to safety onto the bridge then the river won the battle with the raft. The raft overturned and was swept under the bridge dumping N and me out in the water's fury. I went under water, still clutching my paddle. I surfaced below the bridge, beneath the raft, with no air space. My immediate thought was that I was about to die and I felt sorry I could not say goodbye to my family. It was an eerie feeling to be below the surface of the water with a strong current and no sound, knowing I was in my final moments.

Much to my surprise, I surfaced on the other side of the bridge, still clutching my paddle and being swept along by a stiff current. I saw a man in the water extend his hand to me and I tried to reach him, but he was standing in still water and I was being swept away. My paddle was torn from my hand and I turned to see it floating swiftly away, around a small bend, folowing the angry river. I also saw strong trees to the other side of me and I managed to make it to one of them. A hand reached down to me and helped me out of the deeper water . I wrapped my arms around the tree and held on tightly saying a small prayer. The helping hand belonged to my sister-in-law who was clutching the other side of the same tree.
When my brother arrived, he tried to talk us into letting go of the tree, but it took both of us a long time to gain the confidence to let go and wade across the remaining water to safety. J had managed to step to the bridge just before the raft went under, only getting one leg wet. Both children had been pulled onto the bridge and were not only safe, but dry as well. N and I were soaked.

Apparently, being swept under the bridge is not too unusual an occurence. My mother bought T-shirts for N and me that announced "I survived Gruene Bridge." Recently, a man was not as fortunate as N and I. He was caught in debris under the bridge and drowned.

The bridge at Greune is an historic structure built in 1909. It is understandable that the citizens want to keep it even though it is narrow and is frequently blocked by high water. Since 1997, there have been attempts to make changes, but the Texas Historical Commission says removing the bridge will have a “detrimental” effect on the Gruene Historical District. TXDOT engineers say safety is the number one issue.
I wonder who will prevail.

5 comments:

  1. Don "TexasDirt" Haney31 July, 2007 06:38

    Hello,

    I am Don "Texasdirt" Haney wanted to say I enjoyed reading this post and glad you made it OK. Thanks for the link to my blog (texasdirt.wordpress.com/2007/07/26/gruene-river-bridge-history-or-safety/)

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  2. You're welcome, Don. Thanks for sharing!

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  3. I think I was actually closer to 11 or 12 because I remember what I was wearing... and, sadly, it wasn't a PFD!

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  4. We've coma a long way, baby! That wouldn't happen today....

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  5. Wow! That is quite a story, very well-told. I'm glad everyone made it to safety.

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