CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Every once in a while, a story comes along that leaves us scratching our heads and saying, "What were they thinking?"Case in point: The bizarre account of two Maryland men who decided to channel their inner Huckleberry Finns and raft down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers - on a floating boat dock without steering or propulsion.The good news is that they survived. Natural Resources Police officers plucked them from the Ohio before they became hood ornaments for a barge tow, thank goodness.The incident occurred June 18, a rainy day in the Parkersburg area.According to a Division of Natural Resources news release, a local 911 dispatcher called the agency's District 6 office to report two individuals drifting down the Ohio "on a runaway floating dock."Two officers - Capt. Dave Trader and Sgt. Chris McKnight - launched a patrol boat and headed out into the river to check out the situation. They found the dock drifting in mid-channel near the tip of Blennerhassett Island."At first we didn't see anyone on the dock, but upon closer inspection we found two males huddled, wet and shivering, beneath a camouflaged tarp," Trader said. "To add to the problem, we saw a barge approaching our location from the south. We quickly gave the men life jackets from our boat and told them to put them on."The two men reportedly were too fatigued to tie off the rope the officers tossed to them, so McKnight jumped from the patrol boat to the dock and helped them secure the line. Trader and McKnight towed the dock to nearby Belpre, Ohio, where Belpre City Police officers helped complete the rescue.
The dock turned out to be from the Little Kanawha River, which flows into the Ohio at Parkersburg. The two Marylanders, identified as 22-year-old Tyler Jennings and 21-year-old Quinn Porter, apparently had cut the dock free from the riverbank and had planned to ride it downriver to the Mississippi.It should come as no shock that the Belpre cops found drug paraphernalia among Jennings and Porter's belongings.Trader and McKnight charged Porter with failure to have life jackets aboard the dock. They charged Jennings with possession of fishing tackle without a fishing license. At the time this column was written, Belpre police hadn't yet issued charges related to the drug paraphernalia.It's hard for me to fathom just how the two Huck Finn wannabes thought they could ride a square wood-and-oil-drum platform more than 800 miles. Without a sail, a rudder, oars or a motor, they were completely at the mercy of the river's currents.During high flows, helical currents along the banks steer floating objects toward the river's middle, which is precisely where riverboats and barge tows tend to operate. Jennings and Porter were fortunate the two DNR officers got to them when they did. A few minutes later, the barge coming upriver quite likely would have run them over.One also wonders how they planned to negotiate the 14 navigation dams that lay between them and the Ohio's confluence with the Big Muddy. Without steering, propulsion and a radio to navigate with lock operators, "locking through" would have been impossible.Judging from the circumstances, though, rational thought had precious little to do with the men's decision to embark on their ill-fated journey.
Let's be really, really, really charitable and call it a "youthful impulse."Yeah. We'll go with that.