Do One Thing: Whitewater Rafting

Do One Thing is an occasional series based on the well-known idea: “do one thing everyday that scares you”. These posts will explore fear and the subsequent outcome of trying something new.

I’ve always felt that the general population sees whitewater rafting as a fairly benign, family-friendly sort of outing. Anyone who’s visited an area where it’s popular has undoubtedly seen stacks of rafts piled high on trailers and vans full of excited rafters zipping down the road. Children love it, adults adore it. It can’t be that bad, right?

Despite all that, I’ve always been terrified at the prospect of barreling down a river engulfed in waves, the raft folding into various contortions as it bounces along, potentially tossing rafters overboard at random, where who knows what could happen. Swallowing river water? Hitting submerged rocks? Getting trapped underwater? Drowning? Death?

This was seriously scary business, and they let children do it?!

When I was young, my mom went to visit her sister in Arizona and they went whitewater rafting. She returned home with a bruise on her leg the size of a dinner plate and a massively scabby, scratched up knee; her battle wounds from being thrown out of the raft during a class IV rapid section.

I already have a serious aversion to putting my head underwater, despite years of swimming lessons as a child, and this horror story only confirmed my opinion that rafting was a ridiculous activity and no sane person should do it.

Fast forward to June 2016, when my boyfriend returned from a family reunion with stories of a rafting trip he’d done with relatives. We were planning a camping trip to Jackson, Wyoming, for the following month. “Wouldn’t it be fun to go rafting while we’re there?” he asked enthusiastically.

Though every cell of my body did not agree, I said, “Well, maybe…” After all, it was him who convinced me to try rock climbing, which ended up becoming a hobby I really enjoy. Maybe it’d be fun after all?

A couple of weeks later, we were stepping into the Snake river and pushing off in our inflatable raft with Mad River Boat Trips. We’d chosen to ride in a smaller boat, which promised a more intense experience, and I had real misgivings as our guide showed us how to shove our feet into the boat’s corners to remain in place when the ride got bumpy.

We traveled eight miles down river and went through five class III rapids, with mostly leisurely paddling in between each. I’m happy to report I didn’t get thrown overboard, and our entire party of six remained in the boat at all times.

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Into the thick of it. Paddling our way through Big Kahuna rapids. Photo: Snake River Photo

Facts:

1. The water was cold. So cold it took my breath away. So cold I felt like I was doing a polar bear plunge each time we dropped into a bowl of waves and a wall of ice water enveloped me in a frozen, just-melted-off-the-mountain kind of way.

2. The rapids were pretty intense. My boyfriend had insisted we sit up front to fully experience the action, but even as a rafting veteran, he said these rapids were much crazier than anything he’d experienced in the southeastern United States.

3. If you shove your feet too far into the crack along the side of the boat, your feet will go numb. Just sayin’.

4. It’s possible to have fun and be terrified at the same time. It’s a fine line between comfortable and get-me-out-of-here, and this trip rode that line all the way to shore. Each time we approached a big section of rapids, my stomach dropped. I just didn’t know what to expect. There is no way to predict how the waves will hit the boat or what direction it (and you) will move in.

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Moving through Big Kahuna. Photo: Snake River Photo

It’s like this: As the water hits your face, you’re blinded, and in that moment, you wait for the sensation of being lifted off the raft and deposited in the water, cold and disoriented and hopefully not being thrashed to death.

But then somehow, you’re still in the boat, and the water is still splashing you but not as much, and you paddle, paddle, paddle, and then it calms down, and you’re still alive. And the sun is shining. And you’re on the river in Wyoming, and you’re facing your fears, and all in all, it’s a very good day.

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