Friday, September 21, 2012

Whitewater Waylay

Once you enter the gorge below the dam, there is no turning back. We’re sitting in a large raft on a Saturday morning. Right now we’re tied securely to the rocks. The dam begins to release water. We’re going to ride a bubble of wild water downstream. Are we thinking about the three and a half miles of river we’ll soon be paddling through?  Or the Class IV Whitewater we’ll be battling?  Maybe remembering last year’s rafting trip?  The one where the guide fell out, and when we pulled him onto the edge of the raft, the whitewater took his pants down. (Luckily I think he had prehensile toes, cause he caught them before the river took them.) Nope. Right now I have two far more immediate problems.

Whitewater Rafting in Maine is cold. I think everything in Maine is cold. It’s August and everyone is wearing full wetsuits. This is a summer trip with an adventurous group from work. This morning we all crawled out of our tents before dawn, ate some food and stood in line to get our wetsuits. And once again, when asked publicly for my weight, I lied. Some people are such slow learners. Once this suit gets wet, I may need the jaws-of-life to get out of it. The other factor contributing to my distraction is Juan. He’s the guy from work, the one I went out with whose car caught on fire. The one who tried to kill me mountain climbing, and who got me rescued by the ski patrol on our second date, yeah him. We work for the same company, but in different cities. Yet here he is - all great smile and looking pretty darn nice in his properly fitting wetsuit. Bet he didn’t lie about his weight.
We’re clinging to the rocks waiting our turn to release. My raft mates are starting to get nervous about the wall of whitewater coming for us. Except Juan, he’s talking about swimming. Seems Juan was on the swim team in high school. Figures. My coworker, Tari, is very nervous. Unfortunately when she gets nervous she starts to talk, a lot. So far she’s regaled us with tales of her visit to the Lady Doctor last week, the time she got arrested for shop-lifting as a teen and now she’s informing Juan that she probably can never date him on account of the way he ties his shoelaces. I’m not nervous about the whitewater, mostly because I didn’t wear my contact lenses and can’t see much. I do wish Tari would hush, though. Between her and Juan, my commune with nature is being infringed on. Then Tari informs the entire raft that I left my underclothes on beneath my wetsuit. This faux pas proves a huge distraction and lightens the mood in the raft. So glad I could help.

Thankfully it’s our turn and we’re off. Tari, Juan, and my underclothes are forgotten. Whitewater rafting blows your hair back and takes your breath away. Maine scenery flitting by is gloriously spectacular. Here is my muse. I’ve been looking for her!  We’re leaning partially out of the raft, digging those paddles in deep, obeying the commands of the guide and flying downriver through churning, swirling chaos. Surrounded by roaring whitewater, grey cliffs rise sharply on both sides, and there’s only whitewater in front of us. It smells like cold and pine. It is spectacular. There is a trick to keeping your balance as you plow through the water. I’m using shifting bodyweight to stay inside the tossing and turning raft. Right now I’m glad for every pound. The tight wetsuit is forgotten at this point, I think I’m too excited to breathe.

The guide roars instructions as we race through powerful roller-coaster-like waves. We are soaking wet and loving it. The rapids have names like “Big Mama,” “Magic Falls,” and we’re heading right into “Maytag,” named for the washing machine. Maytag is the piéce de résistance on a good day like today. With Class IV whitewater, this puppy is terrifyingly awesome. I’m listening to the guide’s shouts, digging in with my paddle as instructed. There’s whitewater everywhere, the people in my boat are hidden inside it. Then something very strange and confusing happens.  Suddenly I’m sitting on a rock right in the middle of the Maytag, and the raft is gone. I don’t know how I got here. Quicker than thought the rock is gone too and I’m in the rapids. At the time I was not aware that a giant wave had brushed me out of the boat as easily as though I were the lightweight I’d claimed to be. Then the entire craft upended and spilled everyone out, washing downstream, upside down and unmanned.

Of course we’re wearing life jackets, those huge beefy uncomfortable ones that strap between your legs. The problem is the water is sucking me down anyway, and when the life jacket pulls me back to the surface, whitewater is blowing over my head. It’s chaos but all I know is I need to breathe and there’s no air. Suddenly there’s somebody in the water with me. They wrap arms around me, lifting me briefly out of the whitewater. I climb up and over this person, to rise above the water. There is air up here. Thank God. Clarity returns with oxygen. The person beneath me is making strange sounds. It’s a guy and I’m drowning him, somehow I can hear it. Some small animal part of me is only concerned with oxygen for several breaths. Then I let go, and the whitewater takes me. I see the blurry form move away, Juan.

Whitewater sucks me down, and I go with it willingly. Strange detached thoughts drift through my head. I don’t remember being afraid, very accepting actually. Then I hear someone swearing a colorful rant at me. It goes something like this, “Swim @#%$#!!  Stupid!  For the love of @#!  SWIM FOR SHORE @#%!!”  Only it lasted awhile, and I knew it was directed at me even though I couldn’t see Juan. That dude is so annoying!  Wait. Swim?  Now there’s an option I hadn’t considered. But I try. Talk about swimming against the tide. After a bit I can breathe fairly regularly. I’m out of the worst rapids and am swept downstream a ways. Eventually I make it to rocks alongside the gorge wall. I hang onto a big rock and choke, puking water. I can’t recall inhaling that water, but coughing it back up really hurt. I notice Tari upstream, clinging to the wall. She slowly makes her way down to me, and kneels, smoothing her hair back. Looking at me with big blue eyes, she leans forward and says, “Oh my God, wipe the snot off your face, Juan is coming.”

Really?  We have to try to look good drowning too?  I’m not playing by these rules anymore.

That day proved to be my lucky day in several respects. As the second to the last raft heading downriver, we could have been stuck along that wall for a very long time. Fortunately the last raft saw us flip. The guide, a tiny blonde with gorgeous biceps, maneuvered her raft right alongside us and the three of us toppled in. Though banged up, everyone from our raft was fine. We met up on a beach downstream, and guides cooked us a massive lunch. Which I ate, all 5-6” and 140 lbs of me, deal with it, I do. Apparently Juan doesn’t mind it because he sidled up beside me with a bowl of granola. I ate the M&M’s out of it while he announced that I would have one spectacular bruise on my backside, though he used his own words. He’d seen me eject from the boat and land on the rocks. Thanks for sharing that with my coworkers, though. Then he turned those golden eyes on me and right in front of the marketing department asked if I’d be interested in meeting his parents, and I said, “Sure. I’d love to meet your parents."

So did you see that one coming?  And have you ever met someone in an unexpected way, and they had a big impact on your life?  Someone you sat next to on a bus?  Fender bender?   How did you meet your best friend? 
The Epic Slinky Dog Giveaway continues here at The Glitter Globe! (I ran into Slinky Dog while shopping for an Emergency Unicorn, by the way.) Please follow my blog, if you haven’t already. Right over there ---à where it says “Join this site” (or Networked Blogs). And be sure to leave a comment below, for a chance at your very own Slinky Dog! For every five new followers, a random name is picked from the comment section. Remember to check back to see if you’ve won, I will post winners here, and attempt to locate you. If I can’t contact you, or don’t hear back within a week, I will draw another name.
Photo Credit:  Stephanie Karfelt

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