Ah, there we are, a fledgling group of kayakers having made it to our last day relatively unscathed. Vineyard gets to be the princess on the raft today, since she hurt her foot, but the rest of us are as gung-ho as a bunch of newbie kayakers can be when told we’ll be facing CLASS FIVE RAPIDS! Okay, that’s a lie. Maybe Class 3. Maybe.
As usual, I get helpful tips from our kayaking instructors as they attempt to make me less of a spaz. Special Sauce is especially patient, teaching me how to turn the kayak around as I keep spinning and spinning. She also suggests that instead of overthinking as we hit the rapids (which of course I do, every time), I try talking or singing. Hey, great idea! I immediately start belting out the song “I Hate My Life” – assuring everyone that it’s an ironic singing.
“So sick of the people….
Who can’t drive their cars…
Well you better get outta my way before I start falling apart….”
I also take to telling Angie to stop tipping me over. “Cut it out, Angie!” And hey, it works! I am a kayaking superstar! No swimming! None at al….oops, I go over. Damn.
Though once I get that first swim out of the way – and it would have been a beautiful T-rescue as well if my spray skirt hadn’t gotten loose – I’m much more relaxed. Unfazed. Leading to conversations like this one with Cougar, one of our most awesome FD volunteer/helpers:
Me: What the heck is that up ahead, Niagara Falls? Listen to the rushing rapids!
Cougar: Oh, that’s just the Death Sieve.
Cougar: I’m just kidding – the rapids always sound so much worse than they are.
Me: Bummer, I was kind of looking forward to traversing something called the Death Sieve.
Cougar: Well then, that’s what it is – let’s go!
We cruise down unscathed through these Class 5 rapids (3, maybe) and just as I’ve been all week, I’m as happy as a person can possibly be.
We all then eddy out so that we can get instructions from Spanky, who explains to us that the next rapid coming up in a little while is the Challenge by Choice rapid, called Macdonalds. Which we can choose to do or not, because it’s pretty hard – but of course all of us badasses decide to do it. No question.
This is how Spanky instructs us to handle this rapid: “go careening wildly across the water, sharply edging over to the right so that you potentially catch as many waves as possible. Then slam into the huge boulder, rebound, and try to get your bearings before you segue into the eddy, where you’re also likely to go over.”
Okay, so I’m paraphrasing slightly, but that was the gist of it, or at least as I apparently heard it. But first we have a little ways to go, so we all get back on the river, and of course I forget everything I’ve learned thus far, including the singing and chastising Angie, and so I manage to go over in some rapids with – ouch! – tons of rocks. Ouch!
That was me getting my arm temporarily caught by a rock, anchoring it while I was still moving forward, and basically pulling a muscle.
Me: Ah! ACK!
That was me again after hitting my hip on a couple more sharp rocks, as I’m being towed to the shore by Cougar.
I’m laying by the shore like a beached carp, keeping my hip in the cold water as instructed by Cougar so it doesn’t hurt as much (which actually helps!), noting that my right arm, the cancer arm, is kind of non-functional at the moment. I then hear Twinkletoes muttering, and it sounds to me like he’s trying to figure out how to get me down the river SANS kayak!
TT: I’m not sure where Babe is with the raft, or how we could get him back up here….
No no no no nononononono! I interrupt his musings right away.
Me: Oh, I’m okay to go on, at least for a while!
TT: But the next rapid is Macdonalds.
Me: That’s fine, I’m good with that. If I swim, I swim – I’ve had plenty of practice.
And it’s true. And the water, the rapids, the kayaking – I fear nothing. Back when people would marvel at how fearless I was? (Which was usually in the context of hockey, as I’d go after guys twice my size.) Yeah, that’s me again. Finally.
Plus I mention to TT that I want to end on a high note, since this will probably be my last stretch seeing as how my right arm isn’t very useful at the moment, which could make getting in and out of a kayak a little difficult. So Macdonalds it is.
I’m pleased to note that I handle it exactly as instructed, heading directly into the huge boulder – but this time, the whole “kiss the rock” thing works, and I start to slope away from it gently. Hallelujah! It works! OMG IT WOR…..bloop, over I go, as in my excitement I forget to paddle.
Oops. I’ve clearly forgotten the immortal words of Babe: “If you’re going to go down, go down paddling.”
Words to live by indeed.
So, I swim again. Big deal. As another wise person once said, we’re all just in between swims anyway.
* * * * *
I get relegated to the raft, and thus have a front-row seat when the rest of the campers get to Graduation Rapids. At first they’re around the bend getting final instructions from Wildflower, and then they’re supposed to come down the river one by one to tackle these last rapids.
Which is why we’re all so surprised when they ALL appear up above, like a little pod of ducklings clustered together. The reaction from the instructors is instantaneous.
Stepmom: What are they doing??
Spanky: Okay, obviously they didn’t get it at all.
Mrs. Robinson: Totally unclear on the concept.
Twinkletoes: Carnage. It’ll be carnage.
We all watch, fascinated, as they start coming towards the rapids as a unit. Then suddenly – Bloop! Bloop! – they’re all going under! After the first three, we figured out that they were doing it on purpose. All going swimming!
I’m not sure if the instructors were more stunned before or after, because to a person, they all said that in all their many years of kayaking they had never seen any other group do anything like that.
Nicely done, my fellow campers. Nicely done. The inaugural FD “You had me at 40” group, marching to the beat of its own drum. They embody the FD slogan – “Out living it!” – and I know that this week I’d have rather been in my kayak - upside down or no – heading down the Klickitat than anywhere else in the world. And my heart overflows with love for these people, these gracious fellow travelers who have given me back to myself.
* * * * *
That evening we have campfire, and talk about our experience this week. And I have to say that this week was transcendent, life-affirming, life-changing in a fundamental way. I have to admit, I pretty much think I’m the bomb. I’m smart, funny, I write a mean blog – what’s not to love? But for all that, even I have my fears and doubts, things that hold me back or keep me from doing what I want or should be doing.
Now I feel like I can conquer the world.
The week also helped restore my faith in humanity, as I’ve never been surrounded by so many genuinely good and kind and wonderful people. The other campers, the FD staff, the Wet Planet instructors, all the FD former campers who came out as kayaking helpers all week to help keep us from drowning. I look at Wildflower and think how proud his parents must be, that they raised such an amazing human being. I feel this way about everyone here, which is balm to my cynical and battered soul.
And something else I discovered to be true this week is this:
I suck at kayaking. Truly.
But I’m pretty good at life.