Saturday, September 5, 2009

Class 4 Failure

Our coordinator had a fire-red-tipped beared - it looked like someone had spray-painted it. He was in control, well-rehearsed, engaging and covered 50 rules in 15 minutes. How to put on your helmet and personal flotation device (PFD) (which are no longer called life-jackets or anything related to life - they just help you float), how to hold the paddle and avoid knocking the teeth out of the person next to you, and, most importantly, what to do if/when you fall out. Don't put your feet down, unless you get caught in an eddy (sp?) which you'll know because it will swirl you around until you put your feet down (which you can do only when you get in an eddy), look for your raft guide - since it's so loud you won't be able to hear anything, your raft guide will be giving you hand signals on what to do (like landing a plane), follow the guide hand signals, if you're instructed to go to the side - go to the side and grab one of the hand grips, if you are instructed to try to make it back to the raft, swim like crazy to the raft - but don't kick under the water because you'll hit your foot on any number of things. When you are attempting to "go with the flow" close your legs - keeping them open and running into any number of large rocks jutting out throughout the course is called "romancing the rock". If it is necessary for someone to toss a line from landside they will chuck it at your face, grab the line and toss the "bag" part over your shoulder (don't wrap it around your neck). If you are trying to help someone back into the raft, you will need to grab their PFD at the shoulder straps, look them in the eye, dunk them under the water and haul 'em in.

I go to such lengths in explaining this typically routine part of any adventure experience because nearly all these instructions went running through my head the first and second time I got chucked out of the raft on the Class 4 rapid - and you don't truly appreciate how many things there are to remember until you are submerged in raging water with the possibility of knocking your head against several rocks. There are a couple things they neglected to include in the presentation which it seems necessary to point out now. One, when you get dumped INTO rapids, you are under water, scrambling for breath, you get your head out and then go back under immediately, head up and down. You don't have time to do a search of the area, identify your guide, watch their hands, compute instructions and backstroke to your indicated destination. You just hope you can catch your breath and not hit your head on a rock. Two, ALL THE RAFTS ARE THE SAME COLOR - even if I could have looked up in a split second to identify my raft, I had absolutely NO CLUE which one was mine and certainly couldn't identify my guide. Three, screw the paddle. I initially attempted to hold onto the long piece of equipment (which red-beard referred to as "the weapon") until the thought flashed through my head that at any moment I could inadvertently smack myself in the face with the flat end or ram my teeth out of my head with the t-top. The first time, the paddle was rescued. The second time, good riddance.

So, the first time I just started swimming to the side, hoping I could find an eddy, put my feet down and grab a handle. Here's something they don't tell you - no hand grips on the Class 4. So, even if I wanted to grab something to secure myself, there was nothing to do but bump up against the rock and tumble down the next rapid. At which point my raft managed to swing around to pick me up - a fellow rafter very dutifully grabbed my PFD shoulder straps, looked me in the face and said "Ready? I'm going to dunk you." I had no breath at this point and really wanted to look up and threaten death for even the suggestion of sending me under again but realized I had no choice. The raft guide opted to just try and pull me in which worked well enough but there's a slight chance my shorts were bunched in an unseemly manner - I don't remember. I just remember sitting on the side of the raft, my husband lovingly wiping the snot pouring out of my nose, and listening to the glee of my fellow rafters for having been part of such a fantastic story.

Not one to disappoint, I stopped the shaking in my arms to help paddle to the lift and restrained myself from a sarcastic "oh, goody" when our guide announced we had time for one more trip down those rapids. She suggested that the next time, if anyone falls out they should just try to keep their legs closed and go down the center of the rapid. I guess you're supposed to face your fears. And, what are the odds it would happen again. I now know never to ask a question you don't really want to know the answer to.

The second round happened much like the first - the rescue was different though. I rolled out at the same spot and again, just flailed around to catch a breath and try to reach a side so as not to get hit by another raft or kayaker. I got tossed to one side - my husband said at one point I smacked a rock and went under, but I honestly don't remember. I do recall thinking to keep my legs closed and attempt to "go with the flow". That didn't work so well, and I opted to keep trying to get to a side. A man on land (the raft guide's boss) made eye contact long enough to toss a rope to me. I grabbed the rope, tossed the bag over my shoulder and he pulled me to a rock. I sat on the rock. My raft approached with some small cheers, and I indicated "I'm done." They pulled up briefly to the side, but as I went to join them the raft started to pull away and the man on land shouted "no, come up this way." So, I got my shaky legs up on the rock and scaled the side of the wall to the top. Adventure over - it was not meant for me to pass Class 4.

I'm going to stick to the flume ride.

1 comment:

  1. wow. still, I guess its better to be a class 4 rapids failure than a skydiving failure. seems like "romancing the landing zone" would be much worse, albeit much briefer.