The planning doesn’t stop once you’re on the water. As soon as the raft shoves off from shore, you’ll need to confirm conditions. Most rafters will tell you they’ve had experiences when the weather was beautiful at the time they left the house, and the forecast looked great. But then after they launched the raft, ominous clouds quickly gathered and they had to temporarily land for safety’s sake. You have to use your own intuition and wisdom once you’re out on the water to confirm it’s a safe time to be rafting. You don’t want to be paddling with lightning flashing all around you, foolishly insisting that the weatherman said there wouldn’t be any storms that day. Confirming conditions for yourself is something you’ll do for the entire trip. But you also don’t have to stand vigilantly in the front of the raft, squinting at the horizon for any speck of trouble. That will give you the opportunity to take an impromptu swim at no extra charge. Being overly focused on obstacles can be just as dangerous as not seeing them at all. You want to enjoy the trip but stay mindful of conditions. The weather changes fast. So does life. Live the present moment with everything you’ve got, but know that on some occasions you’ll need to delay plans, change course, or take an unanticipated breather. Just go with it, and continue to enjoy the trip.
Navigating was always my favorite part of running the river. I was usually in the front of the raft, responsible for looking immediately out in front of us, watching the middle distance, and listening for what was coming around the next bend. Knowing that people’s safety depended on me, I took my job seriously and relished the strategic opportunity it gave me. My sole job in those instances was to “pick a line,” a rafting term that means choosing a path through or around the rapids and any other hazards. Every river has its own personality and they have plenty of quirks just like people do. On some rivers, you could pick your line to the left and stay that way for long stretches because the topography just worked out that way. But on other rivers, if you picked a line to the left for the rapids right in front of you, the current would then sweep you wide right and set you up for a rough ride on the next rapid after that. In those instances picking the easier line to the left on the first rapid was actually more dangerous. I’d call the line to the right on the first rapid, which was technically tricky but doable, to set us up for proper positioning on the bigger, tougher second rapid ahead. Once I picked the line, I’d bellow out “KEEP RIGHT!! KEEP RIGHT!!” and everyone else on board knew that meant we were taking the line to the right around the rapid.
Rarely do you choose to go right over the top of a rapid. It’s a great way to flip or tear the raft. Sometimes despite your best efforts you go over the top and you just have to deal with it, but it’s always a worrisome moment because people can get hurt. Some rapids are so huge however, that picking a line would pull you into the powerful edge and dreaded eddies on the side, so going straight through those was your best options. Those types of rapids were above my skill level, so I never called those kinds of lines. Once I knew everyone had heard which line I had picked, I’d shout out “PADDLE! PADDLE! PADDLE!” Everyone knew this meant to paddle for all they were worth. Once everyone was digging in I’d yell “HOLD YOUR LINE!” repeatedly until we were through the rapid. Finally I’d call out “EASY!” and people would know that particular rapid was successfully behind us and it was time to rest.
Until next time, I’ll be praying for you to scout the conditions and pick a line that sets you up for success.