Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Tricia Vs. The Colorado River

I was coerced into white water rafting while on vacation last week. I’d done it once before, but honestly that was more of a boat ride than a rafting trip. The river was calm and sedate during that trip. My daughter, whose idea it was to book another rafting trip on this vacation, promised me it was only a little more intense than the last trip, but nothing too scary. This from the girl that spent the majority of her elementary years up a tree. WAY up a tree. My inner Fraidy-Cat said, “DON’T DO IT!” I should have listened.

When we arrived at the rafting place we were told to don our safety equipment: life vests and helmets. HELMETS?!? What?

There were seven of us: Dave and I and the girls and Bent and his boys. We all loaded into one raft with Ben, our guide. We were given a few instructions that were promptly forgotten by the teenagers who were so eager to just get going already, and enough with the rules please and thank you.

So off we go.

Right out of the gate (or off the loading zone?) we ran into a few issues. Mostly me sitting with a teenager in front of me and behind me, on one side of the boat and the three of us could not get a rhythm down. Also, Bent and Dave were sitting on the same side of the boat. The two heaviest guys. This to me seemed a bad idea from the get-go but our guide said it didn’t really matter where we sat.  He’s the expert, right?

He hollered a few commands telling us when to paddle and when to stop and which side to paddle when (problematic when it takes a few seconds to remember which side is the left and which is the right). We seemed to be doing okay. We went over a few rapids without incident and were gaining confidence. The river calmed and Ben pointed out a giant rock up ahead called The Tombstone. The Tombstone was the size of an SUV sticking out of the water on the right side of the river with another smaller rock, this one merely the size of a small compact car, sticking out on the left. We were to go in between these two rocks . It was important to make sure we went, just so, in between these two rocks. We watched a few other rafts go in front of us and it seemed doable.  So, off we went.

We kept getting closer and closer to The Tombstone. Ben was yelling instructions like, “LEFT SIDE PADDLE!!!” and then, “HIGH SIDE!! HIGH SIDE!!”

(This is the river while very low. You can see The Tombstone off to the left.)

 It was at this moment that time stood still. I remember the side of our raft, my side, coming up onto that giant, SUV sized rock. I remember looking over the top of it to the other side and briefly wondering if we were going to flip, or go over the edge. Neither seemed a good option. Then Ben yelling, “OH CRAP!!” and yeah, he didn’t really say ‘crap’ but this is a G rated blog. And then it goes blank. Nothing. Big, empty hole in the memory.

Next thing I know I’m under water. I don’t remember getting there. I don’t remember seeing anyone else go in the water. I don’t know if the entire raft flipped, ejected all of us, or just me. No idea. All I can think about at this moment in time is air. When I finally got my head back above water (thank you eversomuch life vest!) I began to gasp for air, only to get mouths full of water. As I tried to stand up or swim, because, you know, AIR, I started whacking my legs on the rocks. HARD. There was no getting any sort of footing. I was flying down the river,  my legs and feet were taking a beating from the rocks below while my head was barely above the rapids, and I was breathing more water than air. It was at this point I realized I was helpless. I could do nothing to save myself and yes, I was probably going to die right there in the Colorado River.

(The caption that accompanies this photo at the rifting site I got it from is as follows: Glenwood Canyon offers some of the best white water rafting in the state of Colorado. Deep within the canyon, enthusiasts will find a ten mile stretch of the river that is the most frequented section of the Upper Colorado River. The Shoshone section of the river offers BIG water adventure with miles of action packed white water with no fewer than six challenging class III-IV rapids, including the infamous Man-eater, Tombstone, The Wall, and the SuperstitionsSEE?? I'm not exaggerating!!) 

Suddenly I hear, “FEET UP! FEET UP! FEET UP!” over and over. My brain finally turns itself back on and I remember them telling us that if we found ourselves in the river we needed to assume the ‘nose and toes’ position. Meaning head above water, on your back with your toes up. This has the obvious benefit of keeping ones legs from being beaten to a bloody pulp by the rocks in the river bed, but it also positions your head a little higher above the water and angled back so you can breathe. That was handy. The downside to the ‘Nose and Toes’ position is that you are now offering no sort of resistance to the water’s current. I took off like a bullet!

Suddenly I notice Bent and Ian near me. It was Bent who was yelling ‘Feet up!’ at Ian and I because apparently his brain still works when under the influence of massive amounts of adrenalin, and mine and Ian’s do not.  No sooner had I seen Bent, then he disappeared. I didn’t know where at the time, but later learned he flew past me down river. The current brought Ian close enough to me for a second that I could grab the back of his life vest. I had no idea where any other members of my family were and there was no way I was letting go of Ian’s vest.

Suddenly a rope appears before us and I hear a man yelling for us to grab the rope. I look up and see him standing on shore. Apparently they keep a man on shore at this area for just such an event. However, there was a flaw in his plan. Three of us grabbed the rope at the same time and he almost got pulled in so he had to let go of the rope. Now instead of helping, we’ve got this giant, long, thick rope threading all around us making it even harder to keep our heads above water.

In the next second I hear, “SWIM TO SHORE!” My foggy, water-logged brain harkens back to the instructions we got before we got in the boat. I remember the guides saying if all else fails and we hear the order to ‘Swim to shore’ we’d better hop to it because there is something worse coming up that we don’t want to be caught in.

Now I have a choice to make. Let go of Ian’s life jacket and swim, or try to swim and hold on to him and possibly we both end up in whatever undesirable thing is coming up down river. This was a true conundrum. Ian is my nephew! He’s just a little kid! There is no one here to help him but me, I can’t let go of him. How could I live with myself?? In the time it takes me to have these thoughts, Ian who is not in fact a little kid, but instead a very strong fourteen year old young man that is actually taller than I am, takes off like a rocket for shore. Let me tell you, that boy can swim! Once my moral quagmire was all cleared up, I too took off toward shore. As I did this I saw Dave about fifty feet upriver from me also swimming madly toward the shore. That was relief, because up until that point I had no idea where he was.

Finally, finally, I made it to the rocky shore. Ian was a few feet to my side and Dave was clambering up the rocks upriver.

Here’s where thing get even more interesting. Turns out, my body does not handle large doses of adrenaline well. I am standing on one flat rock just a foot or two above the waterline, leaning on another, larger rock. I have my hands firmly planted on the waist high rock in front of me, and I am stuck. Totally and completely stuck. There I stand, hands and feet firmly planted and gasping for air. Gasping.  As in, hyperventilating. This was not an, ‘I just exerted myself and I need to catch my breath’ kinda thing. This was a full on, freak-out, crazy-unhinged-lady, panic. Yes it was.

There was one rafting guy above me on a rock and one right beside me. I have no idea where these guys came from. I think they were there when I was climbing up out of the water. In fact, I bet they helped me up out of the water but I didn’t actually notice them until I was standing there in freak-out mode.

I could see Ian. I could see Dave. I’d seen Bent earlier. But I had absolutely no clue where Evelyn, Annika, or Martyn were. This probably contributed to the panic. I very much wanted to ask the gentleman next to me who, by the way, had a very firm grasp on the side straps of my life vest, ‘Excuse me, but do you know where my children are?’ but I’m pretty sure what came out was a strangled ‘kids?’ in between gasps.

He replied, “All the guys are out of the water.”

This was  helpful, because it assured me of Martyn and Bent’s safety, but it did not tell me where my girls were.

So I tried again, “Excuse me, but could you please tell me where my daughters are?” but I think it came out, “Girls?!?”

To which he replied, “They’re  out. Everyone is out. Everyone is safe.”

The relief I felt was almost physical. In fact, just knowing that took all the fight out of me. I decided that I was just going to go ahead and sit right there on that rock for the foreseeable future thank you very much. I’m pretty sure those two guys saw that too because they started nagging me about moving. As in, up the rock ledge to the sidewalk above. Yeah, whatever. I was still gasping for air as hard as I had been when I crawled out of the water and now my muscles were jello. There was no way on earth I was climbing those rocks. But darn if those guys weren't persistent!

The guy on the rock above told me to give him my hand and he’d help me up the rocks. I looked up at him and through my gasping, hyperventilating, breathing I told him he was really going to have to help me because my muscles were not working very well just then. Like those guys were not fully aware of the totally compromised, unstable, crazy lady they were dealing with. Though those guys looked a bit on the small side, they must have been quite strong. They had a hold of me just about the whole way up and I’m pretty sure if they’d not been there I’d still be sitting on that rock today.

Once I got to the top, I just plopped right down in the dirt under the shade of a nearby tree. Very unladylike. I sat there gasping and gasping away. I think there were a lot of people standing around me at that point. All the other rafts had pulled to the side and the guides had gotten out to help get us all out of the river. Then Dave appeared, looking a little worse for wear himself with his bloody legs and knees, but darn him, he had all his faculties working just fine. No freaking out or hyperventilating for him. Next was Bent to appear, also just fine. They joined the chorus of people telling me to take a deep breath and try to calm down. Gee, thanks! That’s helpful! I hadn’t thought of that!

My breathing must have finally slowed to a semi-normal pace because they rafting guys began talking about getting back in the rafts? Um, what?

I looked at Dave and said, “I’m not getting back in that boat.” The raft guys begin to tell me that that was the scariest part and it’s all smooth-ish sailing from here and really it’ll be okay and I think someone said something about horses and being thrown and getting back on, and that was just totally unhelpful because you can’t DROWNED on a horse!

Again, I stated to Dave, “I’m not getting back on that boat.’ I don’t think they realized it took about all my effort and concentration to breathe normally, and they wanted me to go back to rafting? Nuts! These guys were all insane!

Evelyn and Annika appeared about then to check on me. I was still sitting in the dirt concentrating on the whole in and out of the air thing while the rafting guides tried to conspire with Dave to get me back in the boat. Dave was able to help them to understand that was never going to happen. I think he said something to the effect of, ‘You don’t know my wife. I promise you, she’s not getting back in that boat. That ship has sailed, so now we have to figure out how we’re going to get her back to the rafting place, sans watercraft.’ That man knows me well. Even Annika said to the guy trying to convince me to get back in the boat, ‘You might as well give up. You’ll never get her back in that boat.’

Once everyone had consensus that ‘Tricia Will Never Get In Another Raft Ever In Her Life,’ they broke the news that we had to walk one mile to the nearest place the bus could pick us up. Lovely. The river ate my shoes so that was going to be a fun walk. Because Dave can still think quite clearly under the influence of high doses of adrenalin, he asked Evelyn to give me her shoes since she was getting back on the boat. Now came the point where I actually had to stand up and begin my mile walk in my sopping wet clothes on jelly-legs.

Dave helped me up and the rafting guys (including the owner who had somehow appeared) put forth one last attempt to talk me into rafting, bless their hearts. The girls and Bent got back in the rafts and Dave and I headed down the path to the bus. Let’s just say it was a very slow walk.

As we got closer to the place where the buses were waiting, our rafting guide Ben, and the owner met us. The owner asked us if we’d noticed any other bruises or cuts or injuries now that the adrenalin was wearing off. I looked down at my shins and saw the cuts and bruises there. I’d already noticed that, along with the blisters I was getting from walking in Evelyn’s wet shoes. So I said no right about the time I noticed a softball sized bruise on the inside of my upper arm. The guide looked at it and said that happens a lot, not noticing injuries until much later. But of course, as soon as I noticed it, it began to HURT.

Once we got to the place where the bus was waiting, I noticed all the rafts parked down in the water below. They’d been waiting there the whole time we’d been walking! I didn’t know they were going to do that. I felt terrible for making 4 or 5 giant rafts of people wait while I meandered down a mile long path on my jelly-legs. After one last, futile attempt to get me back on the boat, the rafts took off, this time with Dave as well. He got back in the raft to finish the trip and I went with the owner and another raft guy on the bus and back to the rafting place.

The one guy kept trying to get me to eat a cookie. He kept offering and I kept saying ‘no thank you’. The very last thing I wanted was a cookie but he was pretty persistent. Finally, when I climbed into the bus and sat down he handed me the cookie and told me that I really should eat it. That adrenalin can make blood sugar drop and if I don’t get something in my system I might get sick. So I took the darn cookie. I managed to eat about half of it on the way back, but that is all I could manage. It made me queasy. A chocolate chip cookie that I could not even finish made me queasy. Clearly, I was in a very bad way.

Once we got back to the rafting place I changed into dry clothes, put Evelyn’s shoes back in the bus so she would have them when she was done rafting, and I went and sat in the car and waited for the rest of them to return. I’ve never felt so exhausted or wrung out in my entire life. It took me over 2 hours to stop shaking and at least an hour for my breathing to become normal again. Adrenalin is a funny thing.

On the way back the owner/bus driver and I got to talking. He told me that we had what they call a ‘Bus Stop’. Everyone gets off but the driver. Our guide managed to stay in the raft and keep it righted after we were all ejected. This was a very, very good thing because he was able to immediately start pulling people back in the raft. Evelyn, Annika and Martyn were caught in a whirlpool type thing right by the boat and were swirling around, going under and popping right back up. Ben was able to pluck them out of the water pretty quickly, which is why I never saw them. Bent, Dave, myself and Ian were thrown right into the current and immediately shot downstream.

I told him that I really thought I was going to die. I’ve never been so afraid in my life. He said that while he is sure it seemed that way, we were really not in much danger. There were plenty of people nearby who knew just what to do and were trained for just such an eventuality. Perhaps. But I know panic when I hear and see it, and when Ben cursed right before we went into the drink? There was panic in his voice. And the guy up on shore throwing the rope? I saw his face. He was more than just a little concerned.

I also learned later that they had not had a boat flip or anyone go overboard in 4 seasons. We were the lucky raft whose number was up. Super.

I also learned that Annika was the first back in the boat. She told me that Ben was bouncing all around that boat like a flea, trying to snatch people out of the water. Annika said that she was saying out loud the whole time, “God, please save my family! Please get them out of the water.” I think that’s pretty cool. In a time of fear and panic, she knows just who to call on. I wonder what Ben thought of that.

All in all, it was quite an adventure. The kids thought it was the coolest thing ever. Even Bent and Dave thought it was pretty fun, you know, after the near death part.

Me? Yeah, my rafting days are over.


And ever.

And ever. 


1 comment:

gobudo said...

What an adventure!! Enjoyed reading about it.