We drifted lazily along in the river listening to Max’s instructions.
“Dig in!” he shouted and we would paddle like mad men (and women).
“Back paddle!” he screamed and flailing like drunken windmills, we would desperately try to keep up to his pace and reverse our paddling order.
“Hard left” and “Hard right” had my reeling head pounding, but the adrenalin was beginning to kick in. Max’s big beautiful smile and hearty laugh made it seem like we would be alright. Until he looked us in the eye and told us what to do when we fell out of the raft. That was when and not if. The quaky feeling in my stomach returned as he spoke.
“If someone falls out of the boat right beside it, try to grab them and pull them back in. The best way is to push the person down, so that they will pop back up and into the boat. If you fall out of the boat, but are still close we will throw you a line. Try to catch it the first time. There won’t be time for a second. If you miss it, one of the kayakers will try to get over to you to guide you through the rapid. Don’t try to climb onto their kayak. There is no point in both of you subsequently needing to be rescued. Just hold on for the ride. If no one is close enough, keep your head up. It might seem like a long time, but you will pop back up in the water. Just ride the rapid and we will pick you up at the end of it.”
He laughed, but was deadly serious. My nervous laugh was squashed by the announcement that we were nearing the first rapid of the day. Max quickly explained what direction we would try to maneuver through this rapid, detailing holes, chutes and eddies that we would try to skirt. Before actually seeing the rapid, it meant nothing to me. Our little raft full of eight people seemed to speed up and suddenly we were wet and going wild. Max’s screamed directions fell on mute ears as the wall of water crashed into us. We hit the water like it was a bucking bronco and Marjorie disappeared over the side from where she had sat beside me. I desperately tried to push my paddle into the onslaught of water that threatened to flip our craft and caught site of Max quickly throwing a line out to our escaped paddler, to no avail. We smashed right, left then straight through a sheet curved like glass, before being swallowed by waves again. Spluttering and bracing into the boat we shot out the far end of the rapid and slowed. We made it! Well, all minus one. My heart was pounding out of my chest and I felt more alive than I had ever been. It had been a crazy onslaught, but we did it. I was instantly addicted and needed more. It was so wicked cool that I could not contain the energy that flew out of me. How far to the next rapid? How many rapids were there? Were they all that intense, or was that just a tester and they would get bigger from there? Oh, but first, to find our missing companion.
As we back pedaled towards another boat with a kayak nearby, we heard tell that poor Marjorie had not been saved until travelling much of the rapid solo. Our line was shot out in vain and the kayaker only reached her in time to travel the last chute with her. She had been picked up by another raft, before we could get to her. When we finally paddled over to where she was, I felt badly for my new friend. Marjorie sat lifeless and glassy. She could not speak for several minutes. She was physically fine, but gone for all intents and purposes. When she finally spoke, she stammered out the details of rushing waves sucking her under, popping up only to be sucked under again. Not knowing where she was or where to turn for safety. She was terrified and it was very plain to see. I felt for her, but it was not quite enough to quell my new-found excitement. Marjorie was given options of coming back into our boat or getting into another boat where all you had to do was hold on as a central guide steered the raft through the rapids with large oars. She stared glassily at us and our raft. She could not speak. Slowly, she shook her head. Poor Marjorie was not back until lunchtime.