White Water, White Knuckles
I couldn’t tell you the name of our guide. The other guides called him Slovak. He was not from Slovakia, but Slovenia. Naming him ‘Slovak’ is a guy thing. Or a stupid thing. Or maybe both. Like calling someone from Ireland, ‘the Scot’. Or a big guy, ‘Tiny’.
Oh, he told us his name about a dozen times, but it was all foreign-like. And had a lot of syllables. And he had an accent. So, yeah,I couldn’t tell you his real name so let’s call him Slovak the Guide. Kind of a Game of Thrones name like ‘the Mother of Dragons’ or ‘the Hand’ or ‘the guy who got boiling gold poured on his head’.
Anyway, after hearing about the 22 ways we could all die horribly, Slovak the Guide took us to the center of the river and made us practice our drills. There were 2 father and son teams. Us. And 2 fit-if-hungover-looking guys.
Forward! Slovak the Guide yelled. Backwards! Right side, Forward, again! Hold on! Stop hitting person behind you with paddle! Forward hard! Joe stop falling out of boat!
I want to say we were awesome, that we took directions well, that we all paddled like a well oiled bunch of Spartans (and FYI, the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world wished we were a bunch of well oiled Spartans), but we actually sucked monkey balls.
This whole ‘rowing together’ thing is hard. The Prettiest-girl-in-the-world and I were in complete sync, but the guy in front of her, he had a random beat going on in his head. Row, one two, row, one, two, three, la-la-la, row, row. It threw us both off.
Our side of the boat ended up looking like a spider having an epileptic fit.
However, we rocked at the “Down!” command so I thought we’d be safe. At the end of the day, did we really need to row or just know how to hang on for dear life?
Then we started. Slowly at first, still trying to get that whole left side or right side backwards thing worked out. We were awesome at spinning the boat. If that counted for anything.
Then we drifted into our first rapids. White water surged around us and we tore through it, waves splashing over us, the freezing water waking the hell out of me. NOW I WAS FUCKING AWAKE, let me tell you. Forget coffee. If you ever need to wake up, pour glacier water down your pants.
Slovak the Guide was amazing at keeping us aligned and, frankly, afloat, while at the same time, letting us have the fun of splashing through walls of water. Mad kudos to the guy.
We passed through the first rapids without anyone falling off. However, the guy in front of the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world – an older, English gentleman – fell backwards onto her and bruised her hand up something fierce.
It was not a good start cuz you kinda needed hands on this ride, but she’s tough, that one and refused to let a little pain get in her way.
When we reached a deeper, less murderous part of the river, Slovak the Guide told us we could go over the side and practice floating or holding on to the boat or just see how cold the water would be. The Prettiest-girl-in-the-world declined, wisely, but me, being the same guy who once zapped himself with an electric, fly swatter to see what if felt like, thought, hey, why not?
Holy hell, it was COLD!!!
3 exclamation points cold. Even in the wetsuit.
You have no idea how cold it really is until you actually get in. My balls immediately shot into my throat for protection, and my whole body went into shock. My heart thundered in my chest, my muscles refused to move because all of the blood went to protect my brain (and to my penis, I hoped, to stop it from freezing solid and falling off.)
And even in this mild part of the river, the current was POWERFUL. Mad respect to the river, man. You are pretty much powerless against it.
When blood returned to my muscles and I stopped screaming like a girl, I swam back to the boat and tried to claw my way in. But my wetsuit boots had filled with water and the current kept dragging my lower body under the boat. So, unable to use my feet to kick up, I just couldn’t muster the strength to haul myself in.
This was not a proud moment. Getting out of a pool is one thing. Getting out of a raging river, well, that is quite another thing.
I finally had to admit defeat and ask for help. The Prettiest-girl-in-the-world and one of the fit-now-no-longer-hungover guys hauled me out of the water like a drowned cat. As I climbed back in the boat, I knew one thing for sure. I was not going back in that water, again. The river was not my friend.
Exhausted, panting, I grabbed my oar, and prepared for the rest of the journey. Ahead were 2 class 4 rapids and – according to Slovak the Guide – it was “not usual for person to fall in water.”
However, despite enormous difficulty rowing as one, we made it through the Devil’s Elbow and whatever the 2nd one was called. Likely something like the Rocks of Murderous Death or The Whirlpools of Doom. Nothing has a nice name on this river. Like the Blossom Bend. Or Puppy Puddles.
By the time we stopped for a mammoth lunch of a peanut butter bar and a glass of iced tea, I was getting the hang of rowing, of leaning out and using my body strength instead of just my arms. The Prettiest-girl-in-the-world did heroic rowing and rode the waves like a pro. I was beginning to think this was not her first time.
Then, after lunch and one more set of rapids, Slovak the Guide thought, hey, you know what, riding rapids isn’t hard enough – let’s make this super tough by getting all of us to stand up in the boat, and link arms. Then he told us to climb up onto the side of the boat.
Now, for anyone who hasn’t done water rafting or is simply loves to hear how cruel some people can be, the boat is an inflatable one. That means the sides are rounded, and slippery and a little skooshie. In other words, super freaking hard to stand on.
But we did it, the older, English gentleman desperately holding onto the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world’s arm like an eagle holds on to a salmon . OMG the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world had the balance of a ninja ballerina and somehow kept the older English gentleman and me from falling in the water. I dunno how she did it.
Now, that was hard, but swaying and shifting back and forth, we managed to do it. Then, because THAT wasn’t hard enough, he made us walk around the edge of the boat, a rubbery, slippery, bobbing, unstable boat on a racing river.
We had me on one side of the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world and the older, English gentleman on the other. One of the fit-now-no-longer-hungover-looking-guys, (Sean…Shane…Mike, something like that), kept me upright, but I couldn’t stop the older, English gentleman from pitching into the boat a few times and dragging the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world with him. She got more banged up, but being kinda stubborn, refused to fall into the water.
Somehow, I don’t know how, none of us fell into the water. Oh, we plowed face first into the boat a whole ton of times and one time when I fell with such epic grace, that I managed to bring the whole group down on top of me like a collapsing Jenga game.
However, Slovak the Guide was satisfied. If we weren’t wet, at least we were sore and bruised. That would teach us for not knowing his name.
Then we took on the last bit of the river. The older, English gentleman was getting tired and fell onto the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world a dozen times. He banged her up pretty good, but the worst was still to come. He decided he wanted to switch his head-camera from his son to himself.
Slovak the Guide kept shouting, “Hurry! Water coming!” but we went into the last rapids two men down, the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world holding his oar while trying to keep him from falling into the water and the fit-but-now-completely-sober guy and I trying to take up the slack. Man, I never rowed harder in my life or gripped any seat with my ass more.
But we made it through.
We survived, battered and bruised, panting from rowing, but alive. Slovak the Guide had steered us safely through all the obstacles.
The ride was so beautiful. The mountains towered above us. One wept two streams of tears. Bright lichen glowed in the shadows. Hawks soared overhead. Brilliant sunlight diamonded off of the water. The Prettiest-girl-in-the-world smiled and laughed and that made my heart happy.
Slovak the Guide told us there was a 2 day trip planned where, I kid you not, they would do yoga at the end of the day. I could barely freaking walk after a ride down that river and yoga would just plain kill me. I could hear the yoga instructor now. “Ok, everyone stop pull out your quinoa tofu bars and relaxe, that Joe guy has cramped up again and is crying.”
So, was it a success? Is this whole white water rafting something I would recommend? Did the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world have a good time?
Hell yes to all of them.
It’s not the possibility of a cold, slow, airless death that scares me, but the used wetsuits.
They have been worn by terrified people, no?
Yes, yes they have!