The thing about whitewater rafting is that you’re not so much “rafting” as you are flying over a terrifying rapid while holding onto the raft for dear life and screaming. But nobody in my family knew that before we decided it might be a fun family outing to take during my brother’s and my summer break. We just signed all the waivers and sent in our registration like it was nothing and counted down the days until we’d get o hit the water. As it turns out, the water ended up hitting us. Hard.
When we pulled into the parking lot at the docks our rafting excursion would depart from, we were met by a husband and wife team who were in charge of going over some rules with us and filling us all in on a little safety info before we got going. They talked about the fact that we’d be wearing life vests and helmets and warned us not to jump out of the raft at any time and not to shout, “help,” as a joke, because the rapids really were pretty rough, and it isn’t fun to play around with the group’s safety. They told us that a trained professional would be in the raft to help us navigate the rapids or in case something should go wrong, like someone needing some first aid attention.
Now, any of this should’ve sent up a red flag that we were about to get a whole lot more than we bargained for, but apparently, no one’s internal alarm bells were working that day because the family and I just nodded and smiled like oblivious little idiots. When the husband and wife instructors were convinced that everyone understood the rules and had put on their safety helmets and life vests correctly, they led us out to the docks where we spied a particularly raft tethered to the end of the dock just waiting for us. Our trained professional, whose name was Jordi, climbed into the raft first and made sure to assist anyone who looked a little wobbly as the attempted to climb into the constantly bobbing raft. Everybody was seated a few moments later, and it appeared as though we were ready for the adventure to begin. Oh, how wrong we were.
At first, the ride was pretty smooth. The length of the river that carried us away from the dock was quite peaceful, only curving gradually this way and that from time to time. It was a nice, leisurely ride, but that’s not what I had signed up for. I wanted some action. Just when I was about to speak up and ask when the fun part was going to start, the current suddenly picked up, carrying us along much quicker than it had been for the past several minutes. There was an excited look that passed from each member of my family to the others as we all waited for the real whitewater rafting to begin. Then it did.
Before I even knew what had happened, the front of the raft dropped out from my line of sight, and then the rest followed it down the slope of the first part of the rapids. It wasn’t exactly a gentle landing when our floating transportation leveled out again, but we were all just pleased that something interesting had finally happened. The roar of the rapids continued to get louder and louder around us as we slipped and slid further into the thick of it. Our professional’s paddle was flying about a mile a minute trying to steer us around particularly daunting rocks and maneuvering us from one twist or turn to the next.
The sudden drops were getting bigger and coming faster than they had been at first until I couldn’t keep track of when we were falling and when we were landing anymore. This is why, when a little wave in the water as we were landing from a particularly steep slope hit the side of the raft just right, I suddenly found myself lifted out of my seat and hurled over the side of the raft. I’m not sure how I managed to hang on to the edge of the thing, but somehow I felt the lip of the raft sliding under my fingers, so I latched on and didn’t dare let go. The water was so violent around us that it kept washing over my head, causing my vision to go all blurry and my chest to grow tight as I held my breath, but when I resurfaced, I had the good sense to yell for help. Luckily, my brother heard me and alerted the family to my little predicament, but I was underwater again before I could say anything else.
The next time I popped up, I was met with all three faces of my family members looking quite concerned and screaming, either at me or each other, I can’t tell since I could hear a thing any of them were saying. I have pulled under the water once again which, by this point, was getting more irksome than scary, only to feel several hands wrapping around my arms up above. Finally, my family somehow mustered the strength to haul me back up into the raft, where I laid coughing and spluttering like some half-drowned animal. The professional, who had been intently focused on steering us out of harm’s way and remained completely oblivious to the chaos that had just subsided behind him, held up a camera and succeeded in catching one of my least flattering moments on film.
When we reached the shore at the end of the ride, I couldn’t help falling to my knees and giving the solid, dry, unmoving ground a little kiss. I watched my brother do the same and smiled when I saw my parents hug each other. It was a miracle we made it out alive if I’m honest, but I can’t deny I had a killer “What I Did This Summer” essay to share with my English class in the fall.