I’ve always been hooked on adrenaline.
Rollercoasters, go Karts, downhill skiing — anything to get my heart pounding.
So years ago, when I lived in the San Francisco area, I found another recreational pursuit to satisfy that need for excitement.
As temperatures soared into the 90s, I heard a friend talk about rafting the American River up in the foothills. It sounded fun, water splashing over you and the raft goes up and down through the rapids. So I looked up a guided rafting company and signed myself up.
Before we pushed off, they gave us the “safety” talk.
“You want to balance yourself on the side of the raft. If you’re sitting up front, tuck your feet into the cups on the bottom of the raft.”
I hummed inside of my head. I just wanted to get OUT THERE.
“And if you become a swimmer, don’t panic.”
Become a swimmer — what did that mean?
“Make sure you get yourself out in front of you and lay on your back. Go with the rapids until you get to a gentler stretch and stay out of the way of strainers.”
Strainers — I definitely didn’t understand rafting language.
“Strainers are branches hanging down that you could catch on and could pull you under. Try to get over to the side, so you can swim to an eddy.”
Another word I didn’t know — what the heck was an eddy?
Fortunately for me, I stayed in the raft that day. I quickly found out that the front of the draft provided the most thrills and wetness. When I got my turn, the raft dipped down into “holes” and a huge wave of water washed over me, drenching me. Yippee ayay!
After that first foray, I longed to try something a bit more challenging. Over the next few years, I tried harder rivers, Class IV. Rivers are rates Class 1 (no rapids) to Class V+. Beyond that is considered unrunnable.
I also found out just how dangerous it is when you do become a “swimmer” in a rip roaring river. One summer, I took a 2-day trip down the Lower Kern, considered Class IV during that high water year.
One moment, I smiled and paddled madly through the frothing water. The next moment I’m in the river, wondering what happened and where the raft was. Fortunately, my guide reacted swiftly and I got pulled back into the raft before I realized it.
That evening, as we set up our tents along the banks of the river, the lead guide yelled over to us.
“Who wants to do the Camp Swim?”
“What’s the Camp Swim?” I innocently asked.
“We hike upstream about a mile, to the start of these Class 2 rapids and you guys “swim” the rapids until we tell you to swim over to the eddy. We’ll have throw ropes as well to help pull you in.”
Ever the adventurous type, I gallantly volunteered along with four of my companions. I considered myself a strong swimmer — how hard could it be?
Flowing along with the rapids was fun. Before I knew it, I heard “Swim, swim, swim as hard as you can!”
I swam furiously towards the eddy, pulling as hard as I could with arm through the water. Yet, it felt like I was going nowhere. I splashed harder, feeling as if someone tossed me in a washing machine that had no opening.
Finally, the force of the water eased and I felt my feet hitting the ground. I’d made it.
The power of water is hard to comprehend. During high run off times, it only takes a moment to get knocked into a river and get knocked around, suffering injury and even death. Right now, with snow melting at a furious rate, local creeks like Clear Creek have become raging torrents.
A 50-year old man who died Monday in a rafting accident on Clear Creek became the 11th person to die or go missing on Colorado’s rivers this season. Jefferson County officials have prohibited all water activities except for commercial rafting. My own rafting experience clarifies just how dangerous a rushing creek can be.
I can wait for a safer time to have my adventure.