For the past several weeks, I have been sorting through countless boxes of the documentation of the past 10 years or so of my life. I have been ruthless in sorting items into boxes marked for 'shredding', 'recycling', or 'Goodwill'. Four boxes to the shredder, 10 boxes to Goodwill, and countless trips to the recycling bin. There remains a small box of items I am cautiously keeping, for now. One of those items is an envelope of photos of a weekend whitewater rafting trip I took years ago with 10-12 friends. Through the magic of modern technology, and the nice guys at Ritz Camera, I was able to convert the film to digital, and now I may toss out the photos anyway. But here I have the digital proof of the string of moments that made it all so memorable.
The memory of the trip is as vivid today as the roar of the rapids that weekend was deafening. You can't really tell in the photo above, but we had an "all-chick" raft to take on Maytag, a Class V cascade on the north fork of the Yuba River. As you approach the bend in the river where Maytag lurks, you have to pull over and park your raft, then hike over some boulders to scout the rapid. Maytag cascades violently down into an electric shock of white foam that you have to quickly navigate to either pull out into the eddy or get sucked into the next cascade, Son of Maytag, a Class IV rapid.
As we all parked our rafts and hiked over, we heard the roar of the rapids before we caught a glimpse of its brutal force. Even before we reached the top of the boulder, some people were saying, "No way!" Then, as we all stood shakily atop the slick slab of massive rock, the rest, in unison, said, "NO fucking way." Maytag leered at us, spitting its foam up, daring us to get closer.
There was good reason for the resounding refusal of most of the group to even consider Maytag. Earlier that morning, our raft had capsized in the raging river, swollen from the recent snow melt. A massive wave pushed the front of the raft straight up into the sky and literally tossed everyone out...except for me. Somehow, I had held onto the rope at the front ~ I was completely vertical as everyone else, including our guide, fell out; and then I came crashing down, face first into the raft. When I peeked back up, I saw heads bobbing up from under the freezing water, their eyes full of confusion and fear ~ it all happened in a few seconds. Someone's shoe floated by; I heard people in the other rafts shouting directions, but the words were drowned out by the wailing of the waves around me. I grabbed a paddle as it floated by and scurried over towards the shore; then a friend's head bobbed up right beside me. Somehow, I grabbed her by the waist and pulled her into the damn raft ~ I have no idea how. We made it to shore and we saw the others had reached the sides of the rushing river ~ lying back on rocks, panting and shaking.
Because river rafting is such a clear metaphor for life ~ when you're deep in the middle of it, there's nothing to do except to get back in the damn raft and start again; the rapids only flow in one direction.
Fear or no fear, there was no going back, and no one to pick us up midway through. So, when we reached the boulders overlooking Maytag, many in the group had already been slapped around enough by the river. Six of us, though, all women, stayed silent. I don't think any of us looked at each other for reassurance, but almost all at once we said, "Let's do it."
My heart was pounding as we checked our gear and climbed back into the raft. Our guide, a woman, told us to lean forward as much as we could, until we could almost fall out of the raft ~ to face the rapids head on, paddle furiously, and then hang on for dear life and DUCK into the raft at her signal. She was amazing ~ shouting direction to us as the first rapid belted us back a few feet. Then, as I felt the free-fall start, my heart soaring up into my throat, she screamed at us to duck ~ in perfect synchronicity we all turned in towards the center of the raft, and hung onto the rope as the raft did a nosedive into the foaming mouth of Maytag.
We slammed down, hard, into the center of the rapid, and immediately sat back out on the edges of the raft ~ to paddle furiously over to the eddy before getting sucked into Son of Maytag. The roar of the rapids and my heart was deafening ~ but when we stopped moving, all I could hear was the cheering and clapping of our friends ~ standing tall at the top of the boulder above us. And through the glossy glare of the sun and the water I could see also the satisfaction beaming brightly from the six of us who had climbed back into the raft.
And so I remember now ~ the trick is to hold on tightly and ride out the tumultuous tide. With any luck, your friends will be on the other side cheering for you.