Saturday, July 23, 2011

Part II: Volunteering as a Vacation?! A Wild Ride

Idaho Whitewater Rafting
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   During the American Hiking Society Volunteer Vacation, our group worked five days with one day off; free to do whatever we wanted.  After a relaxing morning start, I needed to accomplish a twelve mile run. From the lodge, Gretchen and I ran the Old Cascade Highway to the Iron Goat Trail. In our shorts and t-shirts, we shivered our way down the highway until our body's furnace burned with warmth. We enjoyed an easy run on a fantastic trail with beautiful scenery and views.
    We returned to the lodge to quickly change and eat to catch a ride on the Wave Trek bus that would deliver ten of us to an afternoon of riding cold, frothy rapids down the Skykomish River. It took us thirty minutes to arrive at the little town of Index, WA off of Highway 2. Outdoor Adventures, otherwise known locally as Wave Trek, has a great location on the river with a gift shop, bar and cafe, yard with fire pit and hot tub and a river guiding outfit. 
   Twenty rafters gathered in the cafe to watch a safety video. We gathered our gear in the rain and put on our wetsuits and booties. The temperature of the water was forty degrees. We were the only "girls rock" boat (Gretchen, Phyllis, Nancy and Stacey) with Rachel as our guide. Rachel has guided rivers full-time for eight years but now does the gig part time due to owning her own business (yeah for Rachel!). You can take the girl out of the river but never take the river out of the girl!    
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   She reviewed the safety tips for falling out of the boat and demonstrated paddle strokes. We assumed our positions in the boat (me - front right side) and off we went on an afternoon full of adventure. After a few class three rapids, we reached the class five rapid. We parked the boat on the river bank to scope and plan our route through the rapid. I was willing to give up the front position. I was a little nervous that our guide's confidence was showing cracks. Gretchen (a former guide) advised that I stay in my position to keep things consistent and help Rachel, since it was obvious that she was nervous about riding this rapid. She hadn't guided through this rapid at the current water level (running high due to snow melt). Therefore, she waited until last and watched all the other boats as they successfully paddled the rapid. 

  As we waited, the butterflies in my stomach multiplied. I had lost confidence in Rachel's guiding when our boat got stuck on a few rocks upstream. Then it was our turn to ride and maneuver the rapid.We headed for the first drop and nailed it correctly. Then threaded the needle, as the guides call it, between two rocks successfully but didn't quite get the boat turned back left to make the second drop between two rocks. The left side of the boat caught the right rock and we entered the hole.Three went swimming. Gretchen and I managed to stay in the boat by moving towards the floor. My heart pounded in my head and chest. Once out of the hole and in the eddy, Rachel noticed my face and heavy breathing. She asked if I was having a panic attack. No, I wasn't but I was a little freaked out. I had never gone swimming before in a rapid due to a guide's misjudgment in the river. I have gone swimming due to my own misjudgment while kayaking an inflatable duckie. 
   The three swimmers were quickly rescued by two different boats. As soon as everyone was back into the boat, we went through another rapid. This time, we hit a rock incorrectly on the right side of the boat. It happened so fast after the first rescue. Everyone was so discombobulated that we didn't have enough time to get back in the groove and over we went. All of us, including the guide. As soon as I was in the water, I looked up and grabbed the rope on the boat. Rachel was beside me as an angel kayaker (not part of the crew) approached from her left side trying to assist her to get back in the boat. I remember him say "get back in the boat, you need to get back in the boat." she said, "I cant." And she couldn't. The kayaker left and it was just Rachel and me. I tried to pull myself in the boat but the PFD's are so bulky that I couldn't.  I knew the only way I was getting back in the boat is if she did first. She felt my hand under her butt and together we got her back in the boat. Then together, she pulled me in. I grabbed a paddle but sat on the wrong side as she instructed me to sit on the left. We hit another rapid. Working together, we navigated it successfully. 
   Exiting the rapid, Bernyce appeared beside our boat after swimming through the rapid. Rachel grabbed and pulled her in the boat. She looked water logged and stunned. She lay in the back of the boat catching her breath as we paddled over to the eddy to take stock of all the others who were missing.  Once there, we found out that not only Bernyce went swimming but everyone in their boat did except for their guide Josh. Still in our boat, a safety kayaker came over to Bernyce to say that he wanted to pull her to shore while in the rapid but if he did she would have hit a rock hard and decided for her safety that it would be better to let her ride the rapid. 
   We gathered some of our fellow rafters and then paddled around to another eddy where the rest were. Once there, Mike, the head guide, gave us a pep talk to stay strong and continue to paddle hard because Rachel still needed us to ride the rest of the river, even though we were feeling weary. We did. We paddled hard and stayed together as a team the remaining trip. We made it down the river without swimming again. We had fun riding some class three waves doing 360s. When all was said and done, we lifted the raft out of the water and headed on the bus for our start point, Wave Trek headquarters. There, I sat in the hot tub to add heat to my aching back. There were times on the river that I was exhausted. I forgot how much work it is to ride a river hard and make it through the wild rapids.  Maybe running twelve miles and rafting on the same day wasn't the best idea but I did it. Dressing back in dry clothes felt great. So did a warm latte.

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