Did you know that living fully can be dangerous? I found that out yesterday while rafting…or should I say swimming… in the river. Our trip down started well. We made it through the first rapid smoothly for the most part. The river seemed a little lower than usual and most every raft was getting hung up on the rocks periodically. The first raft through an area would hang, and the next three would bump them out. It was fun and everyone was splashing each other enjoying the trip.
Then…don’t you love that word…then we came around a turn and bumped another boat off the rock it was stuck on…just like normal. The next boat came and bumped us, but instead of moving us off it wedged us in between two rocks in such a way that the water rushed into our boat filling it fully in seconds. We rearranged, to no avail. The only choice we had was to get out of the raft onto the rock in the middle of a fast moving river. We had four boys with us…Peter and one of his friends, and two ninth graders from our church.
Once out of the raft, Bill worked frantically to get the it loose using his paddle as a crow bar to peel the raft away from the rocks. (A side note…when in an emergency situation it is very good to have an ADD brain with you. Thinking quickly of all possibilities of escape comes naturally to them!) He managed to get it moved to the side of the rocks and climbed back in to try to push it the rest of the way. It was working; the raft was coming loose even though it was completely full of water! Peter got in and I grabbed the end of the raft to hold it steady for the other boys to jump in…I bet you can guess what happened. The raft broke loose from the rocks, pulled me right into the current, and left the 3 boys stranded on a rock in the middle of the river.
Now when they tell you not to panic when you go into the river it is for a reason. As I went in, the ice cold water stole my breath from me. I came up under the raft and could not get my head above the water…so the first thing I did…panic. I forgot all about the swimmers position that is supposed to help you survive and began flailing in the water. Finally, my head came up and I scanned for the raft as I bumped along the rocks. I tried to swim to the raft but my legs and arms were numb from the cold…and probably the panic…so I could not make any progress. Peter…my son who listened well to the video…put his paddle out for me to grab. I grabbed it trying to get my hand to grip and hold. I thought if I could just get my lungs out from under the cold-water maybe, I could breathe again.
I grabbed the rope around the raft and tried to pull myself up as Peter and Bill were pulling my life jacket over my head. The other thing in that tape that is important is the part where they say your life jacket should fit snuggly. It felt snug to me, but in this situation, I had to let go of the rope to try to hold my jacket on. Finally, after what seemed like 30 minutes, but was probably only three, I was back in the raft. Sitting on the bottom of the boat, I was up to my neck in water since it was still full. I could not catch my breath. Bill tried hard to maneuver the raft down the moving water, but it was not responding because it was so heavy. We had lost two paddles so Peter and I just watched as we rounded the corner and the three boys on the rock disappeared from view.
Bill managed to get the raft to the edge of the river and grabbed a tree to try to pull us to shore. In the process, he lost his hat and almost his head but he did it. The spot we were in was not a safe one but there was ground there so we got out and tried to empty the boat so we could go down further to get help. There was no way the three of us could do it. I was still gasping for air and shaking all over. Peter was crying for his friends…“go back…we have to go back”. We yelled to each raft going by that we needed help, but the water was too fast for them to get to us.
Bill worked and worked but a six-man raft full of water is heavy. We tried bailing with our hands. Any time he got it to so it might be at the correct angle to dump it, the current would start to catch it moving it away from us. Peter and I decided to walk up the bank to see if we could yell to the boys to hang on until we got help. Of course, we were on the far side of the river, not the side where the road would have cars and help readily available. As we were walking, the woods were too thick, filled with briars and no trail.
At this point, I knew we had to get out to get help quickly. I sent Peter back to Bill and told him to tell Bill I was walking out to get help. I miraculously saw a bike up ahead and trudged through the briars to find the trail. As it turned out, there was an asphalt trail all the way back up to the drop point. I could not see the river along the way but I could hear it. I walked for what I guess was 11/2 to 2 miles…it seemed to take forever. I found the first staff person I could and promptly fell apart.
After regaining my composure, a wonderful bus driver offered to take me down to get help. I pointed out where I thought Bill and Peter were so we would know where to send help. Then, as we were driving along the road, I spotted the boys soaked standing beside the road. I cried with relief. They were all smiles and thought that this was the adventure of a lifetime…you gotta love kids. They had jumped in and tried to swim the river. After about 2 minutes, they realized that would not work…too cold. They made their way to the bank on the same side of the river as we did. They climbed out and found the bike trail, stopped a bike and asked for directions. They found their way to a footbridge and waited for someone to see them on the side of the road. I was amazed at how they were able to do all of this. We rode down to the bottom of the river and I told them to send someone to help Bill. While we were waiting for them to get Bill down, the rest of our group finished rafting.
The guide helped Bill dump the water and paddle down to the other side of the river. They pulled the raft out and put it on the van. All of this took hours…and needless to say we didn’t get to raft anymore that day. It was an adventure and once we were all back together and safe it seemed funny. At the time, it was not. Now you know I can’t help but look for the lesson in this story…but I have written too much for one post…so you will have to tune in tomorrow for the continuation…