Monday, July 23, 2007

I Swear I Left Him By the River

I don’t do water.

I’ve had a terrible and pervasive fear of drowning since my teenage years. Wading up to my knees is the best I’d done since right around 1990. Boats I’m fine with, but anything that asks me to be in a position where my feet aren’t touching something hard--no, I don’t care for that very much at all.

Fear met dreams, though, in the form of my wife, who has wanted to go white water rafting since before we were married. She took a class last week on health and wellness, and as an extension of that one of the field trips offered was a rafting trip down the Clark Fork River in Western Montana. She knows that I’m a hydrophobe, but this is something that she really wanted to share with me, so after a lot of prayerful consideration I went with her.

Yesterday we made the drive to the river with some friends of ours, both 6th grade teachers. After getting fitted with our PFDs and grabbing our paddles we walked down to the shore and got in the raft. I’m taking deep breaths the entire time, but the rest of the group is as happy as could be.

The first little piece was no problem. Nice, flat water, a leisurely float down the river. Saw some ospreys. Life was good. Then, just like in the movies, you hear a sound, a soft rumble, off in the distance.

“Alright,” says our river guide, who looked like Matthew Mcconaughey’s younger brother, “Here comes the first big one! Paddles ready, feet locked, and here we go!”

Oh, hell no. There’s rocks sticking out of that thing, man. This is it. Beloved teacher dies in Clark Fork River, kids weep. You can’t honestly expect an out-of-shape landlubber like me to......

“Paddles forward, GO!”

I found that focusing on the paddling and less on the rocks was a good way to think about it. Man, did our guide ever know the river; he took us through the rapids without even blinking, then stopped the boat so we could watch the other rafts in our group come through.

Exhilarating actually means something to me know, because that was the most adrenaline-inducing experience I’ve ever had. Walls of water crashing over the side, the raft turning and leaping and buckling and hovering and sliding and contorting. After the first rapid I looked at my wife, and she was loving every minute of it. Truth be told, I was pretty excited myself.

After a couple of rapids we got to a calm stretch, and most of the rest of the raft jumped out to swim.

Deep breath.

There’s other boats all over the place. The water is calm. It’d mean a lot to the Mrs.

Deep breath.

Toe in the water. Feels OK. No one appears to be dying. I’m guessing the guides can swim.

Deep breath. Foot in. Leg in. Up to the waist. Let go of boat. Float.

Oh. Oh, my. I’m floating, and I'm not dead. It’s been a long, long time.

Long story short, it was a neat, neat day, and I’d love to do it again sometime. The only thing that I regretted was floating through one of the rapids, because that was too damn fast and the only time I couldn’t keep my head completely above water, but otherwise it was a great experience that I’d recommend to anyone.

Next up: scuba diving, bungee jumping, parasailing, hot air balloon ride, and fire-walking. Hoo-ah!

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