With the blade of a paddle, I pull my body and the raft forward, one stroke at a time. In synch with six other rafters, dropping through whitewater features, it’s hard to believe I am approaching 40 and only just starting to professionally river guide. I don’t know of many women my age who have found themselves on a similar trip.
People often misunderstand the risk and reward of rafting and focus only on the fear – thereby over exacerbating illusions of harm. For me, I focus on the reward and the statistical likelihood of safety!
The allure of whitewater is majesty, mystery and even mythology. Blend all of these elements together and Ponce De Leon’s secret serum, “the fountain of youth”, can emerge. Although I can point to specific scientific aspects of river guiding that restore my body, mind and soul, there is an inexplicable x-factor, that je ne sais quoi of rejuvenation that always meets me during a whitewater adventure. Identifying this and even naming it is an illusive practice, but I will try my best as I invite you into the astonishing world of whitewater.
As I age, the tendency to want to be in control of details and circumstances in my immediate surroundings has only intensified. Routine and structure are valuable, but a healthy dose of spontaneity is critical in life. With rafting, there is skill involved, but ultimately the river decides when you get splashed or go for a swim. Although an ejection out of a raft or full body smack with a wave on a cold morning can be somewhat disheartening…secretly, I love these surprise moments. Each river trip, I wait to see when the river will sneak up on me and grant me a baptism.
Many rafters prefer warm weather for their excursions. I enjoy rafting year round and capitalizing on a cold soak is a big reason. To disrobe and enter ice cold waters for a spell invigorates a high like no other. Strengthening the immune system, opening the pores and expanding the lungs in the midst of a frigid immersion enlivens a person like nothing else. Wim Hof knows what’s up.
Jump & Let It Go
Letting go of the ground below you is a special skill that can be difficult to cultivate, and there’s no better place to practice than the river. Standing on the edge of a tall rock outcrop, looking down at the water and mentally committing to leaving the ledge into a free fall is no small feat. In fact, I am still working on this one. Trusting the water to catch your fall after the drop is a reminder that nothing can support us like nature. And the gratitude that follows is unreal.
It’s a magic moment when it rains on the river. Whether a short sprinkle or torrential downpour – embracing the water cycle in its entirety is an exercise in acceptance. Afterall, without the rain there would be no river. Although it can be cold or uncomfortable at first, if you come prepared with the right layers it really isn’t that big of an inconvenience. Even better, don’t change clothes at all – instead try to sit with the feelings of being soaked and refreshed and uncomfortable all at the same time. Can you find peace inside a little discomfort?
By far, the most appealing aspect of being on the river, as a guide or otherwise, is the people you meet. I am constantly in awe of paths that cross and are brought together by the river. Titans of business connect with creative souls, boys meet girls and fall in love, our inner child makes new best friends. The outcomes of blossoming friendships, new chosen family, unexpected reunions with folks you knew in a past life or career…and even short lived chance encounters that impact you forever. Don’t get me started on river romance [subtext: wink and blush]. People are their best selves on the water and when we connect in that space, the coupling is deeper and more meaningful.
Hop on a raft and begin to explore a well-spring of rebirth. A true fountain of youth.