Cover of The River Wild
When I was little, I loved the movie The River Wild. I don’t know why. It’s actually a pretty creepy movie about this family whose rafting vacation turns into a nightmare because criminal Kevin Bacon kidnaps them and forces them to take him and his buddy down the river. I still have the VHS if anyone wants to watch it with me.
When I was 16 or so, I played for an 18 and under gold softball team called the Roadrunners. I’d been on the team for less than a year at that point, and was really excited about my first Colorado tournament for a number of reasons. The Colorado tournament was nearly always the highlight of any player’s summer because it was highly attended by college scouts, highly attended by those teams with black uniforms who talked a lot of smack and were just asking to be hated, and a thrilling venture into a completely different wilderness than we usually played in. In addition to those excitements, I was jazzed because it was one of my first far-away tournaments that I got to go to without my parents, and because our coaches had a lot of really cool things planned for the time between games.
I rode in a van with my teammate friends Jen Coffee (I know. Isn’t that the coolest name ever?) and Amber. We’d gotten a bit ridiculous what with being crammed into the van together for HOURS, with nothing much to entertain us besides the mounds of sugar we bought at every gas station we stopped at and our goofy, teenage girl athlete senses of humor. I’m pretty sure we yelled out “HORSE” every time we passed a horse, and thought ourselves hilarious. Bob, our coach and chauffeur didn’t seem to agree with us.
When we finally arrived at our destination, we spent a restless night talking about boys and wrestling around in our motel room while our adults caught up on rest. Since we didn’t have any games the next day, we were wired and carefree. When morning came, we ate a breakfast of pastries and sugary cereal and piled back into our van for a short drive to the rafting place.
Once we got there, we dressed up in bright orange wet suits, and people who understand rafting gave us some directions.
After that, we headed out to the river. I decided to join the raft of nerdy girls because I was annoyed at the cool girls on this particular trip. I had an unfortunate tendency to forget who my real friends were when the cool girls wanted me with them. I was in inner turmoil a lot of the time about it, but the real friends happened to win out on this trip, so I was in a raft with Jen, Amber, V, and Carla. The raft in front of us was filled with cool girls, and the one behind us was filled with the coaches. Here’s what the setup in the raft was like: Carla and Amber were in the front, V and Jen were in the second row, I took up the third row, and our two guides were in the back. The seating arrangements in a raft are actually pretty important, because if someone falls out, it’s the responsibility of the other person on her row to grab her and pull her back in. Occupying a row all by myself, the guide who was sitting behind me was supposed to pull me back in, which made it seem like I was the safest out of everyone. The guide behind me was the only man on our boat and being a guide, he was obviously the capable sort.
The first part of the trip was pretty peaceful. The waters were calm, and we mostly just enjoyed nature. Our capable man guide told us about some caves we floated past, and we made fun of the cool-girl raft a bit. Then we hit the first set of rapids.
And I was having a lot of fun.
The rapids were just rough enough to get the adrenaline pumping, but not enough that you ever thought you might die. And then it was peaceful again, and I was pretty confident that my rafting skills were way above par.
My confidence, however may have been a bit premature. You see, we hit the next bit of rapids…
And they were a bit rougher than the first set. And even with my excellent rafting skills, I evidently couldn’t handle it.
Because I epically fell in. Normal people tend to tip over into the water… but not me. I definitely flipped completely over before becoming lost in the depths of the river (wild).
I held onto my oar, though. It’s pretty much the only thing I did right, but dagnabbit I held onto that oar!
And as I was dragged down river through the terrifying rapids, the completely capable man guide who was supposed to rescue me, failed just as epically as I had when I flipped over.
He was at an odd angle, but come on.
He grabbed onto my vest, and tried to pull me up but couldn’t. Evidently he wasn’t as capable as I’d originally thought.
So he tried again, and failed again.
And a really sad thought entered my mind.
Jen looked back and cracked up at seeing me exit the raft with such a flourish. She did notice the sad look on my face and later asked me about it. I told her about the sad thought I was thinking at that moment and she cracked up a bunch more, because she knew how ridiculous it was to think that his inability to pull me in was due to those extra few ounces from breakfast.
I thought she was laughing at my flab
I was pulled along by the incapable, capable-looking man guide… for a really long time. Of course the rapids I fell out on were number one of seven in a long succession of increasingly rough rapids with no intermission. So I bumped my knees on rocks and choked on gross river water, but eventually they got me back in the raft and all was well.
And when I took a moment to breathe and felt the oar handle still grasped tightly in my hand, I smiled in myself at having managed to keep a slice of dignity in the face of such danger.