Monday, July 11, 2005

A River Runs Over Me

We saw our teammate, wearing an orange drysuit and yellow helmet, heading for the hole in the rapids, and there was nothing we could do about it. When he went over the edge we saw him disappear, then his orange legs came up, then he was gone again, only to reappear in the same spot this time head up. His next cartwheel flipped the “Boogie Board” he was riding up into the air, then it went down and we saw his feet again.

Orange, yellow, orange, yellow. Our teammate was caught in the hole on the backside of a rock in the rapids called, Devil's Toenail.

As he continued the washing machine effect the rest of the team sprang into action. The downstream boat started heading into the rapids and the rest of the team on the rocks scrambled to get to our spinning partner.

Then, as suddenly as it started, our teammate popped out of the hole and continued through the rapids and finally downstream into the calmer water.

Before the six of us launched on our boards to head through the rapids we discussed the river and what we should avoid. Although we were heading to a smoother section of the rapids, if we did not kick hard enough we knew we could get sucked into that hole on the way by.

I was bringing up the rear, and luckily got to watch each teammate take different sections of the rapids, including the guy that accidentally hit the now infamous hole. Not wanting to tempt fate any more then I already was, I veered past the hole just in time before the first rapids hit me.

What can I say about shooting a raging section of the river on a “Boogie Board”? It sounded simple enough in theory, but the simple part went out the window when the first rocks hit me hard from underneath.

If you ever have the urge to try this at home, I suggest giving it a pass and doing something less challenging.

In case you're not convinced, let me explain the sensation of going down this rapid while riding nothing but a slab of Styrofoam.

Your chest is pretty much protected with the board, and let me tell you I was clinging on to that piece of foam for all I was worth. My thought was that no matter what happened I knew that foam board was going to come out of the rapids, and I was damn sure going to still be hanging on to it when it did.

As I entered the rapids I began feeling a bunch of rocks bouncing down my thighs and smashing against my knees and shins. Probably similar to the feeling of laying on your back while being hit in the lower extremities with rubber mallets.

When the first dip came the ride had picked up speed. At this point you quickly realize that there is no way in heck you have any influence over this river. You're going where it wants you to go and there's not a dang thing you can do. Anyone who is foolish enough to think that they are going to control a decent through some hairy rapids using a foam board is drastically diluted.

Once that first drop hit it was pretty much just take a breath and hold on tight. I bounced off so many rocks that I lost count. It was like being a ball in a giant water pinball machine, except there were no bright lights or weird noises.

I can tell you that my legs, back and side took a good beating because I am now sore in all of those spots, with a wicked river induced Charlie-horse on my upper right thigh.

At one point I was completely under water, then a few seconds later (which really seemed like minutes) I was popped out and heading for a huge rock wall. I tried to get the board in front of me, which at this point was more instinctive self-defense rather then anything resembling calm controlled actions.

BAM! I hit that rock board first, snagged a quick breath and then bounced back into the boiling shoot this time upside down since the board was last used as a shield to my left side. I believe I executed an interesting underwater barrel roll, since I was tumbling in some sort of direction (hard to tell with your eyes closed underneath a whitewater rapid) and just hung on to the board. With my vest, wetsuit, and this little inadequate Styrofoam slab, I was hoping that the surface would once again appear and I could get another breath.

Seconds ticked by as you begin to think of things like, “What if I'm caught in some circulating hole and I don't even know it at this point”?

Just when all seemed hopeless, I felt the little board carry me back to the surface and out of the last of the rapids.

I gave the signal for OK to the downriver boat, then felt a pain in the lower part of my back. Rolling over, I leaned back and floated downriver on my back, not wanting to move for fear I really messed something up.

The boat drug me to shore like a piece of debris that had floated down the river due to a flood, and once I could get my feet under me I began testing out my back.

At this point my back began to feel better, but that's when the Charlie-horse pain kicked in.

Tonight, as I sit here and type this with some Advil coursing through my body, other muscles are starting to throb as well. I have a feeling that tomorrow (which is in 7 minutes) when I wake up I will be feeling the effects of my weekend on the river. The rest of the week should reveal even more soreness and pain, so I have that to look forward to.

Next weekend we have a dive scheduled. This is more my element, and why I joined the water rescue team to begin with. Diving is what I do best.

Now don't get me wrong. I enjoyed everything I have learned from the Swift Water Rescue course, and I now have the confidence to be more helpful on the surface in addition to my underwater skills.

The river is an awesome force, and I was going to approach this article with the river being angry, and a thing to be tamed.

In reality, this experience has taught me that the river is a beautiful thing to watch, and peaceful as it flows by just minding its own business. It's only when human beings are dumb enough to think that somehow they can usurp the power the river wields and bend it to their own use, that they quickly realize that we cannot hope to dominate the river.

I came to the river seeking knowledge, I left it humbled and respectful of this powerful force of nature. My only hope is that the river will indulge me when I get called upon to pull someone out of it that has learned this lesson the hard way.

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