Last spring I volunteered as a doula for a friend. They unexpectedly paid me back with a free whitewater rafting adventure on the Colorado River. Let me start by saying that I am a little afraid of water–ranging from full on fear to a healthy respect, depending on circumstances. Because of some of these fears, I’ve only been whitewater rafting twice.
I am also not a strong swimmer. However, my thinking is that, when it comes to a river, only really, really strong swimmers could pull themselves out of a strong rapid anyway. So, I decided to put on my lifejacket and hope for the best.
The weather was colder than expected and a heavy rain the night before caused the water levels to go up significantly. It was cold. The rapids were intense. But, the guide was very experienced. He does this for a living and has done outdoor adventure his whole life. I was advised to stay on the gear boat if I was nervous. In all his life, the guide had never flipped the gear boat.
Day two, I was actually very calm. I knew Skull Rapid, a class IV rapid, was going to be the hardest part of the trip, but I sensed that everything would be fine. We stopped and scouted the rapid before going over. That meant scrambling over big, slick boulders. The rapid looked terrifying. In addition to the crazy big waves, there was a huge hole in the middle. We were warned that there were a few waves, reversals and such, that held you in place so you couldn’t swim out. Or, pushed you to the bottom of the river before spitting you out. There was also a huge, eerie eddy full of driftwood to the right that was to be avoided at all cost.
I’m sure you can tell where this story is headed. The raft that I was on tipped over. Half of the gear boat fell into the hole and then it flipped all the way over. I remember falling (though I couldn’t tell you where or in what direction) and relaxing (as previously instructed). I do not remember holding my breath or struggling to get to the surface for breath. I know that it all happened really quickly. I suddenly realized I was underwater and started to swim toward the surface. When I popped up, the boat was in front of me and after a quick scramble, I grabbed on.
I felt strangely peaceful and even warm (despite the fact that the water was actually quite cold). The experience was…spiritual. Because being pulled underwater in massive river rapids is one of the more frightening things I can imagine, I think it is quite possible that a few seconds have been blocked from my memory. I simply can’t account for the first few seconds of the mishap.
Would I do it again? Maybe. The important thing is that I’m really glad I did it. I’ve been a little wary about rafting even though I love it. This experience gave me confidence to do more rafting. I’m going to say yes more. Maybe I’ll stick to class III rapids and lower for awhile. But, my worst fear came true, and you know what? It was okay, and even awesome and life changing. So yeah, I’ll do it again. And, hopefully, again.