Scott Swinehart was out fishing along the river a bit upstream from Mystery Creek Campground in early May. He had spotted a few items such as flip flops the week before as spring revealed some of last year's leftovers along the banks.
On this day however he caught a glimpse of what looked to be a wet bag, completely sealed and tucked beneath the bank.
Inside was a wallet containing the usual pieces of identification and so forth and also $49.00.
Scott contacted the owner, Jamey Nichols and when he got a hold of him said “I have some good news and bad news.The good news is I’ve got 49 bucks for you. The bad news is your driver's license is expired.”
The two talked and the wallet returned.
Having heard the finding version of the story we decided to reach out and see what the losing side of the story might be. Scott contacted Jamey who let us pose a few questions
Can you tell us a little about yourself? Where are you from, etc.
I'm from Stanton. I'm an adjunct professor of Psychology at Cornerstone University and also work as a specialized Interim Pastor, currently in Cedarville, MI. My wife, Michelle and I took up kayak camping a few years back. In our enthusiasm, our friend, Josh Herzog of Six Lakes gave it a try, too. He was already fond of backpacking and survival camping, so it was kind of the same but with a twist.
What were you doing on the River that day?
Josh and I set out on a two-day jaunt down the Muskegon River. We put in just below Hardy Dam with no real destination in mind. We simply wanted to enjoy a couple days and nights out on the river.
When did you realize the drypack containing your wallet was gone?
Instantly after I dumped. You see, I had spotted something orange earlier in the day and paddled to the other side of the river just to see what it was. Turns out we'd found a fairly nice (and fairly new!) kayak paddle hung up in some brush in the middle of nowhere. This spurred our curiosity along with a touch of avarice, and we began looking for "river treasures" as we paddled. Just up from Scott's about 100 yards, the river took a hard left. That meant the current ran swiftly against the opposite bank. As it was, a tree had fallen out into the water and quite a tangled collection had accumulated. I paddled over to check it out thinking I would simply sidle up next to the debris pile. I settled into the current and drifted sideways looking to land gently against the upstream side of the pile. Unfortunately, I was drifting faster than expected and directly into the tip of a pointy branch about the size of a baseball bat. It stuck out above the water about 6-8 inches and reminded me of a jousting stick. Since I wasn't interested in having my boat or my body impaled, I lifted the stick and the current wedged me underneath it. There it was. I was stuck. In no time, the accelerated rush of the current was splashing into my cockpit. I was filling up fast! In my effort to escape, I capsized in an upstream direction and immediately discovered the power of the undertow. Everything I had on my deck that wasn't lashed along with everything behind my seatback was washed out and sucked under. I was wearing a life jacket, so I was fine.
Was there a search?
We took a little time to search but it was to no avail. Josh looked for anything that might pop up downstream and I pushed my boat to the island directly across from the pile. I emptied the water from my boat and laid out some things to dry before I swam back to the debris for one final look. It was to no avail, and I determined further searching was hopeless. The river had carved a very deep hole at the bend as the current dove below the accumulated debris. I feared that an attempt to find anything below the surface would be perilous given the force of the current and the likelihood of downward pointing branches that may have snagged a host of other sorts of river debris. We paddled on lessons learned--always be mindful of the way centrifugal force can turn a river from gentle to aggressive.
What was the reaction when you heard from Scott?
Stunned, really. I had already gone through the work of cancelling my cards and restoring my lost license. I'd written it off as gone forever. The dry bag Scott found was the type a person might use for a cell phone. I have a few of them and use them for lots of things including my wallet and chewing gum. Evidently, that particular bag weathered the winter quite well, practically fusing itself together. Scott had to cut it open to see whose wallet it was. My chewing gum was still fresh, and the wallet was bone dry. As it turns out, Scott found the wallet only about 100 yards from where I capsized. I had about $50 bucks in cash and offered that Scott could take what he needed to cover shipping costs, but he didn't. I got everything back and made a friend in the process. He chided me that I should get another of the same bag since it was so resilient but that I should look for a model with a GPS.
Scott’s honesty as well as the effort put forth to find the owner may have delivered the 49 dollars to Jamey, but it also delivered a good story.
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