Tuesday, July 7, 2009

White Water

Many years ago during the summer after El Nino my friend Anne was working as a river guide and asked me if I'd like to go on a 2 day white water rafting trip with her for free. I had never been before and thinking of the tumultous water I had seen in every Mountain Dew commercial I asked how hard it would be. She said, "Oh... about a level five," and, since I assumed she meant on a scale of 1-10, I said sure. Anne left out the fact that a level 5 would be described as etremely difficult with long violent rapids and dangerous drops.

I checked out the company's website and was a bit disturbed by the description of the rafting experience which was something like, "Enjoy a ride down the heaving, pulsing current of the river that will end in a wonderful explosion." It seemed a little weird, but definitely didn't sound like a bad thing so off we went to tame the Kern.

The river was really beautiful and we hit a few rapids along the way that were exciting, but not that scary. After we stopped for lunch and continued on our way the river became more and more wild and I was starting to wonder if the trip was such a good idea. Then we hit a rapid named "The Devil's Asshole" and the trip took a turn for the worse. Everyone in the raft was thrown overboard and I ended up trapped underwater, stuck in something called a hole. As I looked up at the sky through the foot of water over my head I calmly thought, "I'm drowning", then curled into a little ball and popped to the surface. I continued through the rapid and saw my raftmates all clinging to the sides of the rock canyon we'd been dumped in trying to claw their way to safety. I made eye-contact with Anne and reached for her to save me, but then realized I'd yank her back into the water if I grabbed her, so I quit reaching and just floated on past her. Later she told me, "It was the saddest thing I've ever heard. As soon as you realized you were stuck in the water you moaned and we could hear it all the way down the river. It sounded just like PJ Harvey." Needless to say, I lived and eventually made it downstream to a group of rafters who had gone through the rapids before us.

That night in our camp I had the choice between heading back in one of the cook trucks, or sticking it out for day two. I decided not to let this be a bad experience and went back into the raft the next day. Hungover and a bit gunshy, I still did pretty well handling the rapids that day. Now that I knew what to expect I was actually doing pretty well, until we hit one HUGE rapid that flipped our raft known as The Tank over and we all went swimming again. This time when I hit the water's surface I was able to cling to the side of the raft through the rest of the rapid and haul myself back in. After that I demanded that they pull the raft over and let me out. I was in a pretty steep canyon and had to climb out up to the highway where I hitchhiked back to the basecamp. I figured I'd rather get killed by some weirdo on the highway than fall in the water again. As I waited for everyone else to come back from the river a man arrived with pictures from one of the rapids. I guess he sits at the top of the canyon and takes pictures of people shooting the rapids that he later sell to them. He showed me my picture of the second swim and all I recognized were my two legs sticking straight out of the water. I still regret not buying that picture.

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