I got an email this week that caused the pit in my stomach to swell. This pit only forms in fits of nervousness, or thinking of those times of nervousness, even as I write now. I remember having it when I went bungy-jumping out of a hot air balloon during the summer after I graduated. Every time I step on stage, it’s there to varying degrees. I remember it hitting with particular force when I asked a girl I liked to go out on a date with me. (Fortunately, I had John Tudor on my side that day.) It also hits whenever I go rafting, which is how this blog entry started.
The email concerned an article on an experienced rafter losing her life on the rapid known as Blossom Bar on the Rogue River. A group of friends and I rafted down that same section of the Rogue River back in 2004. A friend, Scott Eggimann, put it best, “There but for the grace of Shiva….”
Blossom Bar. This was the one rapid where we had to be our best. The waters were calm leading to a take out point where we could scout the rapids. Most of the folks were in a raft. A couple were in kayaks. I was the pilot of our oar boat. I had to provide the power and the steering for Rich and myself for this rapids after a long day in the sun on the river. My first class IV rapid by myself. Even now, the self-doubt creeps inside of me, as the pit grows more anxious.
We scouted. We read the recommended way to attack Blossom Bar. I wondered deep inside if there was a way to portage around. A way to just pick up and avoid this danger. There wasn’t.
The raft went first. They didn’t make it to the correct side and got stuck behind a rock as they tried to figure out what to do. I watched. I waited. The pit grew.
The raft took the other way. They got through. The kayakers went next and made it down on the recommended side with no problems. Now, it was my turn.
Excuse me while I take a deep breath. My fingers tremble as I write this. Even searching for the images from other rafting trips on this same rapid heightened the rawness of my nerves. I don’t know why rafting causes this anxiety. This was my third trip rafting trip with this group of friends. I’d also been canoeing twice in the Boundary Waters as well as several different canoe trips growing up in Missouri. I’m a strong swimmer. All I know is that thinking about this particular rapid still unnerves me.
Rich and I climbed aboard and pushed off into the Rogue. I pulled as hard as I could to get to the far side of the rapids.
We ended up right at the same rock as the raft before us. We had to take the less than optimal route.
The rest of the rapid is a blur. Rich had out a paddle and was trying to help. I yelled at him to stop as he was altering our path and my control. “Control” is overstating quite a bit, as we were at the mercy of the river. We bounced off rocks, my oar got stuck on a rock and bent in half, but didn’t break. Then, as quickly as it began, we were through and our friends applauded us on the downstream side.
As I just wrote that, an ease settled over me. The rapid was over. We made it. I don’t know how. We just did.
I’ve grown to trust that pit. It lets me know when I need to be at my best. However, my best was not good enough. In this case, it came down to luck. I don’t know how luck works, I’m just glad it was with me on that day. I wish it had been there for the kayaker last week.