Sunday, September 7, 2014

Went rafting, capsized, and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.

A week before our scheduled half-day trip down the Arkansas River, I stressed over how to keep my pricey eyeglasses from either being washed away by the rapids or getting damaged, or both. I thought about buying snowboarding googles, but my fear of embarrassment kept my money in my wallet. Instead I bought a cheap but durable retainer from REI and hoped to heaven that it kept my glasses snug on my face.

We had another couple with us today, Tony and his young wife Kaykay. Tony is The Hubs' workpal, and a pretty cool guy. He was the one who recommended the company Raft Masters since he'd gone rafting previously in June, when the water was much higher and more active than it currently is. I came dressed in non-cotton workout wear but still opted for the wetsuit and booties because of the cold weather of the past two days. There were twelve other people along for the trip, and we were divided up between three rafts, each with its own guide. Our dude was named Aaron - Tony and The Hubs jokingly called him A.A. Ron, a Key and Peele joke. He's awfully young, but has a very deep, commanding voice, perfect for barking out commands like, "Right, forward 2!", "Everyone, back-paddle 3", and my personal favorite, "Lean in!" whenever we encountered a rough spot and had to avoid being thrown out of the boat.

So it's only us four with Aaron, who's funny and engaging and knows his stuff. Tony and I got the left side of the boat while Kaykay and The Hubs got the right. Now Kaykay is a tiny, slim young thing and she's not the most powerful paddler, so The Hubs did a lot of the work on their side. Tony is quite fit and I have big arms that aren't too shabby so we were a good match. Since the river wasn't quite the monster it was at the beginning of the season, Aaron told us that rafting would be more technical, that it we would be more about us negotiating around exposed rock and bumps down the route than anything else. The route boasts Class III and IV rapids.
It took awhile to coordinate as a team, us doing a lot of the work while our guide steered, but we quickly got the hang of it. I stopped worrying about my glasses and let myself get splashed, though Tony and Kaykay in front took the brunt the worst wet. Along this route are some pretty impressive mountainsides and rock faces, the Royal Gorge (and the Royal Gorge suspension bridge) being the most impressive of the bunch.

So, an hour and a half into the trip, we catch up with the other two boats just 'docked' in not-so-busy area of the route. One of the other guides told Aaron that they'd lost an oar just on the other side of the river across from them, and asked him if our boat could go retrieve it. So Aaron got us paddling to that side, and I didn't realized that the current there was not-so-quiet. When our boat hit the rock wall, instead of it bumping against it, it 'slid' up the side, and almost as if in slow-mo, I watched The Hubs knock into me, our boat capsizing.

Now, I did the thing that we were advised at the beginning of the trip not to do: I panicked. At that moment, I was underwater, trapped under the raft, unable to breathe. I felt someone grab at me, but honestly, the only thing going through my mind was, "You're gonna drown. Get out from under the fuckin' boat.". I tried pushing it up with both hands, but it didn't budge, so I quickly pushed myself along under it until I could see the sky from under the water. The first thing I saw when I broke the surface was Aaron on top of the upside down raft, yelling at me to swim to the other boat. I remember seeing Tony not far from me suddenly start tearing through the water towards the other raft, but according to The Hubs, who had managed to make it to one of the other rafts, as soon as I had let go, I was quickly caught up in the current, heading down to the next set of rapids. I know that I was trying to swim to the other raft where everyone was yelling for me but I was already dead tired and I was gasping for breath. Then I spotted someone in the water, hanging onto side of the raft, holding out an oar to me. I remember grabbing it and hauling my ass towards the boat, and then being pulled in. But just when I thought I was safe, I hear everyone yelling, "Lean in, lean in!". I felt the 'rescue raft' lurch roughly, but it we stayed afloat.

When I finally got off the poor man who had pulled me in, I found The Hubs sitting on the front lip of the raft, not looking at all bothered. Tony and Kaykay were there as well. Everyone was asking if I was alright, if I hit my head or hurt anything. I was just seriously out of breath and extremely embarrassed. A couple people even pointed out that I didn't lose my glasses in the struggle. After Aaron sorted out our raft, we got back in and continued the trip down without further incident. But for me, I was already done, my mood was spoiled by my own scaredy-butt. Afterwards, at home in the shower, The Hubs told me that after our raft capsized, he immediately swam towards the other raft, not the 'rescue raft'. As soon as he got to it, he looked around and saw Kaykay being pulled in, Tony swimming for it, and me not too far away, caught up in the current and heading toward certain doom. He was like, "Crap, I gotta go get her!" and began to swim towards me. He hadn't meant to, but he also grabbed hold of the 'rescue raft' and began dragging it with him, thinking *Well, now you guys are involved!* According to him, the people in it were yelling at him to get in the boat, but no one was helping him (they're suppose to pull him up by the lapels of his life jacket and haul him in) and he yelled back that he wasn't getting in until I was out of the water. Even then, he rode out the rapids holding onto the side of the boat, getting knocked around by some rocks but managing not to hurt himself. At the end of it, he simply reached up with two hands to grab the lapels of another dude's life jacket and hauled himself out of the water.

Honestly, I feel like our boat had been set up. The other guides thought they'd have a little fun and have one of the boats capsize during the trip, and it had to be ours. We were such a good team, and Aaron is an awesome guide, we just had to be taken down a peg or two. Yeah, I'm going with that. Later, back at the Raft Masters headquarters, I passed the guy who I had been sprawled on top of in the 'rescue raft' and he asked me if I was feeling better. I told him I was and I apologized for my unlady-like behaviour earlier.
Would I do it again? Sure! I was having a good time anyway, well, before our boat took a little tumble. I dead tired now and my left ear feels weird, but I'm okay and my glasses are still intact, so it was a good day.

Oh, and I did buy a t-shirt that looked like the Dunkin' Donuts logo, except it reads Dunkin' Grownups. Ha!

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