I’m nervous, but the adrenaline is good. I take a deep breath and visualize my line. In my mind's eye I visualize the big hole, I get right, I work around the two meaty holes below it, and then work my way left, squaring into a massive lateral wave.
I am deep into my visualization, I’m only vaguely hearing the conversation around me.
Collin is talking.
“Hey guys, should we take that group picture? It may be the last one of all of us together!”
He breaks into a big laugh. The faces around him are stoney. The tension is so thick you could cut it with a knife.
“Oh come on! This isn’t a funeral, it’s rafting! Geez, you’d think I was serious!”
I finally tune in to what Collin said and laugh, but it is way too late, and I’m drowned out by the river. Everyone still looks gripped. I suppose I must also look gripped, but I feel pretty good. I’ve got nerves, but those are healthy for me. Mainly I’m still trying to wrap my head around Collins advice and translate that into a clear idea of how I am going to make my moves.
I sit down on the cooler and tell Corey what Collin suggested. The river is so loud that I am hollering. I walk him through what the rapid looked like from the air and what to expect. I explain that if we flip or he swims the goals is to never let go of the boat. I explain that if he lets go of the boat he should get back to the boat. I make myself tell him we are “gonna style it”. I can hear my mom in my head telling me to visualize clean lines. Oh dear. How silly. Sometimes I wonder why I run rivers. At this moment, I am wondering why I run rivers. Is it worth this? I look across the river and register how fast the water is pumping downstream. It is slate grey from all the sediment it is carrying. I look downstream at the sharp bend in the river and wonder how much time I have to get right.
We shove off the bank and I bring us up to the top of the eddy. I watch Collin pull out and make his way into the main flow, his two paddlers working hard. I give him a moment for spacing and then put my boat across the eddy line. I hold my angle and start pulling hard. “Back paddle Corey!” I’m not paying any attention to what Corey is doing. I’m focused on my strokes. I am breathing hard out with each stroke and my strokes are as fast and hard and concise as I can make them. Sweat is dripping down my back and forehead.. I am sure Corey can hear me huffing even over the river but I don’t care. I know that more than anything else, I need to get center. My head is craned awkwardly to the right to focus on where I want to be in the river. We’re in that bend in the river and I realize the water is fighting my move. I readjust and angle the boat downstream slightly to work with the current. In seconds we’re center. “STOP!” I holler to Corey. “Thanks, nice work. I wasn’t sure how hard it was going to be to get over.” My heart is absolutely pounding.
The sweat drips down my forehead and when I lick my top lip it is salty.
We float for a minute in the center of the river. The river is so wide I hardly register the banks. It's like being on a violent ocean. I am keeping my oars in the water and just gently adjusting my angles, trying to slow my breathing. I look downstream and see several small and medium sized holes and several rocks that I need to avoid. This is actually pretty technical stuff up here. I am surprised. I thought it would just be all huge obstacles with huge open highways to run around things. I work my way through the holes and nasty looking rocks, and focusing on the small moves calms my breathing. Then I am staring down the river at a hole the size of a double decker bus. The water is crashing down and a white froth is dancing on top.
“See that Corey! We’re headed right of that! Back paddle!”
We get right of the hole easily, the current pushing us around the hole. Collin’s advice to move across the current seems to working, but I can’t really process it all. I’m going to have to think about it all later. “Stop Corey! We’re sweet. Paddle easy from now on. If I need more, you’ll be able to tell.” I look downstream and take a sharp breath. “Oh! More! Back paddle now!”
Immediately in front of us are two holes, just offset from each other. I had known they were coming, but I hadn’t expected them to be quite so big, so vicious looking, or so close to the top hole. Each the size of a large van, I am surprised to see they look even more dangerous than the top hole. From the scout, Collin and I had discussed possibly running left of them to get started on the move back to the center of the river. Looking at them now, I had no question in my mind. I was running right of those puppies. I wanted nothing to do with them.
We get right of the holes and I look downstream. Wow. The river makes a bend to the left just downstream of me. Coming off the left bank is a diagonal wave almost as large as the monster I hit in the first wave train. It is river wide.
A bald eagle soars up out of nowhere and circles in the air just downstream of the boats. It is awesome looking. As it works to gain height above the river it is facing us and we can see the span of its wings they beat back and forth. Holy moly. What a magnificent bird. Is that like an omen? A blessing? I look back downstream at the river wide maw of water.
“Corey! We’re gonna hit this thing straight, but be ready to highside!”
He starts paddling ferociously.
“NO! STOP! STOP! STOP! Wait! I’ll tell you when!”
In the center of the river there is a glassy spot in the wave that I want to hit. If we drove forward now, we’d end up high on the diagonal in a beefier part of the wave. If we had more power, that’d be fine, but with just one paddler, that’s not where I want to be. But I don’t want to be lower and further right on the wave either.
I take a deep breath and as I breathe out I push my oars hard against the current, feeling the boat push forward. “Alright! Paddle!” Corey didn’t need to be told twice.
We hit the sweet spot in the wave perfectly and glide over the top. Water is crashing all around us.
“YahoooooO!!!!!!!” The boat downstream is going wild. Everyone is hollering, cheering, laughing, and shouting. Corey and I give a big holler back to the boys downstream. Then I hastily flop back into my seat and give a few hard pushes. I had forgotten about the wrap rocks downstream. But they are easy to avoid and we pull up to the other boat. Everyone is hollering and laughing.
“Did you see that bald eagle?!!! Was that like a sign or what!”
“Those holes below the big one were nasty!”
“Wow! That was great!”
I look at everyone smiling and laughing and I am deeply relieved that my boat is upright and I am in it.
It’s nice to see everyone smiling again. I look at Rocky in the front of Collin’s boat.
I holler over to Collin. “How’s Rocky? How’d he do?”
“He’s doing great!”
That’s the best news I’ve heard all day.