There is a reason people fear the things they do. Something traumatic happens and we can't quite shake it. It's always there, lingering like spooky clouds ready to attack. One of many of my fears happens to be river rafting. Who would have known such a seemingly harmless activity, floating on river in hot sunshine, occasional rapids elevating the experience, could be so scary?
I have only been rafting three times in my life:
-On the Colorado River with a team of Russian exchange students (who, because of my yellow hair, referred to me as Madonna) and two certified rafting guides with all the tools of river survival buckled to their belts. Since I was young and probably stoned at the time, I do not quite remember the harrowing details, but I can tell you, I had a little pile of vomit tucked the back of my throat the entire time.
-Two years ago, a former colleague of mine asked my friend Johanna and I to float down the Ohiopyle River in PA. He insisted he was an expert on the art of river sports, so I trusted we would be fine if we took the normal precautions (wearing a helmet and lifejacket). A half an hour later, the raft flipped in a ferocious rapid containing a cluster of large boulders. My head bounced, under water, inside the boulders until the river's great force spewed me out into a bank of trees.
-On Saturday, my mate convinced me to partake in the sanguine sport of rafting on the supposedly more placid Clackamas River. "It's really mellow" he said. "You can drink beer and float and have a picnic. The water is calm. There is nothing to be afraid of"
"Sounds lovely" I said oblivious to the fact that there was record snow fall this year and record heat in the past few days, consequently, making the snow melt more quickly than usual, hence the river faster and higher.
After inflating the raft and securing all our goods, we launched into frigid rushing waters. Even if I hadn't been inept in river raft navigation, one of our paddles was broken, so my mate took the reigns into his own hands with one paddle.
The river flowed so rapidly, my mate didn't have a second to take a single sip of his newly opened beer. We had gone through a first series of mini rapids, had been drenched in glacial water, and the inside of the raft was filled.
"We can stop somewhere to dump this water out" he said, assuring me my feet wouldn't be submerged in icy water the entire trip. But stopping was not an option. All of the banks and islands where he usually would have stopped were flooded. Only tree tops alluded to land beneath.
"This is crazy" he said. "It usually takes an hour to get to this point." (It had been 5 to 10 minutes.)
"It doesn't look like we are going to stop. We can't stop. There is nowhere to stop."
"Ok" I said not thinking anything of it. The water inside the raft would eventually warm with the sun. We'd be fine. There were no giant rapids in this river. It was nothing like the Ohiopyle. Two hawks soared above our heads. I took a deep breath.
"They are waiting for us to die." I joked.
Before us were three possible waterways to take between three chunks of tree tops and the shoreline. We were Heading for the middle route, a slim route compared to the other two, when the water thrust us against the tree tops. "Oh no. We're fucked" he said as the raft flipped and I was propelled into sharp tree branches.
I can't recall exactly what happened. I was under water for a second, trapped inside tree branches, pulling my way through looking for a branch to hang from above water. I couldn't hear my mate behind me and panicked that he'd been impaled or decapitated by branches. The water beneath slowed my heart rate and for a second I thought I was freezing to death. Hanging from a branch with all my might, the water ripped my bikini bottoms from me. "Oh no" I thought "I need those". I hung there a few seconds longer assessing the branches before me in relation to the water. I feared if I let go of the branch, the water would catapult me into more branches and potentially kill me. My grip loosened. The water forced me to let go.
I looked back, screaming my mate's name, then finally saw his head. The river had pushed us towards the shoreline. With all my might, I swam to meet it, and pulled myself up.
"Are you alright?" my mate inquired.
"The river ate my bathing suit like a mad rapist. I'm nude. We are stuck. What are we going to do?" I had a momentary breakdown. I thought of helicopters flying in to pick us up. I thought of my vagina being broadcasted on the local news. I though of my bathing suit, flip flops, beer, and raft floating down the river like lonesome evidence of two people who were just trying to have a good time. I thought of the river and its wrath and couldn't help but acquiesce.
Moments later we were rescued by some meaty looking men and their much younger girlfriends whom attempted to refrain from glancing at my crotch. I assured them "It's fine. it's just a vagina, and at least we are alive. At least we are alive."