Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Al and Jan's Most Excellent Adventure!

Do you have a “bucket list?”  You know, a list of stuff you want to do before you die?  Well, I just checked off an item from my list.  Jan and I went whitewater rafting on the South Fork of the American River about fifty miles east of Sacramento.

Wow, what a rush!  I’ve been on the inner tube ride at LegoLand with my grandsons, but this was a first for me - rafting on a river that wasn’t in a concrete moat. 

As we put on our life vests, our 23-year-old guide greeted us with the news that she never flipped a boat but we still need to wear these life vests as a safety precaution. Since she hadn’t flipped in her three years of leading trips I barely paid attention to her instructions. 

All I remembered was “face up and head pointed downstream with your feet out of the water. If you find yourself under a raft, push yourself into open water.”  That seemed simple.

When we were getting into the boat she mentioned that since they had such a late winter with heavy snows and a very hot summer, the snow was melting quickly and rushing downriver five times the normal speed. 

The rapids are rated from 1 to 5 with a 1 being a basic river flow and a 5 being a series of swirling rough waters with many obstacles.  Our trip was from a 1 to a 3+, only moving a lot faster because of the extra runoff. 

The first couple of miles were easy 1’s and a few 2’s.  We got splashed but never close to being thrown out of the boat.  After a short lunch we were told to get ready for some gnarly 2’s and 3’s.  Cool!  Literally cold!  The air was a very hot and dry 95 degrees but the water was in the 40’s.  The constant splashing was very comfortable in the heat.

As the canyon narrowed, you could see the flow accelerating and the “rough water” becoming rougher.   I tucked my feet deeper in the toehold.  I loved the excitement but I didn’t want to get dumped. 

One exceptionally steep drop covered us with water and when we came up, the young man sitting in front of me had disappeared.  His companions laughed as we pulled him back on board sans a very expensive pair of prescription sunglasses.  From that point, everyone on board realized this could be serious business.

Then our guide pointed to a tree on a cliff ahead and warned us the river was going to really get rough from that point.  Rougher than we already experienced?  How can that be? 

We found out quickly as we turned the corner and began to get buffeted about like a ping-pong ball.  “Left forward, right back.  All forward!” Our guide yelled paddling instructions to get us through each area and remain topside up. 

Then I felt the right side of the boat drop to the right and start to swirl downward.  The next thing I know I’m under the raft.  All I could think of is her first instructions.  “If you are under the raft, push it way."  As I was scratching along the underside of the raft looking for the surface, I realized I was staying in the same position because the raft was moving forward as fast as I was moving forward. 

It seemed like minutes, but I’m certain it was just a few seconds, before I realized I needed to push myself to the side to get out from under the boat to find air.  I didn't have time to get scared.  When I felt air hit my face I took a deep breath.  I made it!!

Somebody in the following raft yelled to hold on to the rope that was connected to the outside of their raft.  As I did, a couple of people pulled me into the raft by the straps of my life vest.  As they struggled to get this waterlogged old man on board, my lower back kept bouncing on the submerged boulders.  Ow! Ow! Ow!

After flopping on the floor of the second raft I realized I was the last one to be rescued.  Jan had been quickly picked up by another raft.  My rescuers had four of us. 

It took a few minutes to get everyone back in our original boat.  The next few miles of rapids were anticlimactic and a little scary.  No one laughed as we followed our guide’s instructions to a tee. 

I don’t have a spiritual application to this adventure!  I just wanted you to know that a couple of sexagenarians could keep up with the twenty year olds for a few miles on the rapids. What a blast!

As you can see, because we have our gear, glasses and hats, this picture was taken before the spill.  Jan is on the rear right and I’m the third from the left. 
 
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