It is a mark of our generation’s misery when one’s best friend is an iPod, one’s most prized possession is a laptop, and one’s life partner, ‘to have and to hold,’ is a Blackberry 8835 with voice-activated GPS and a Justin Timberlake ringtone. What happened to car trips full of laughter and radio tunes? What about calling your friend to tell him you’re spending the weekend in the middle of nowhere with your church youth group instead of texting him over AIM? Not that any of those things bothered me, to tell the truth, but somewhere during the six-hour drive to a place we could barely find on a map and a river we couldn’t pronounce to save our lives, the realization struck. As I looked around the mini van, I noticed that we were turned away from each other — ”cell phones were open, fingers were tapping, and three different beats of three totally different songs wafted from three identical sets of earbuds.
We were forbidden such luxuries in Costa Rica, so within hours on the plane we had talked and laughed ourselves hoarse. Looking back, it was one of the best moments of my life — ”so why weren’t we doing the same now? It was just a passing thought. I gave a little shrug, cranked up the volume on my iPod, and resumed my finger-tapping on my Blackberry.
Life was good. Within the hour, this paradise was shattered when the five bars at the top of the screen — ”the ones that Cingular is so famous for — ”went out. What? Can that even happen? I shook my Blackberry, then held it toward the window.
No signal. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that we were passing beautiful mountains and valleys, cliffs and rivers, ravines and forests, but the scenes went unnoticed — ”we had no service. What else could be as important? Therefore, it was completely understandable that we arrived in Erwin, Tennessee in foul moods.
We had envisioned a totally different scene; when we were told that we would stay in a cabin, the typical little mountain cottage came into mind: small and cozy, with flowery quilts hanging from the walls. Quite frankly, we were wrong. It was cold, wet, and raining, and our cabin was a heap of rotted wood built before the Civil War.
No running water, no indoor plumbing, and scarcely any functioning doors. It wouldn’t have known a ‘flowery quilt’ if one had walked in and introduced itself. The cracks between the floorboards were wide enough to fit your fingers through, and the long-awaited ‘continental breakfast’ consisted of a banana, a piece of bread, and, if you had patience enough to stand under the coffeepot that had been around since before Roosevelt’s time for ten minutes with the other hoard of caffeine-deprived grumps, maybe a little java.
That was our fuel for the five-hour nightmare down the Nolichucky River. We were excited, of course, but perhaps the whole ‘hey, let’s put our lives in danger in class-4 rapids and fifty-degree rain and say we had the time of our lives while we’re paralyzed in a hospital bed in moldy wetsuits five sizes too small’ just didn’t cut it. Yet now, looking back, I don’t know what we were thinking.
The moment we got into the river, it was as though all our memories and friendships of Costa Rica came flooding back; without our iPods and dysfunctional cell phones, we came to realize the full beauty of the mountains and gorges around us. We drifted between canyons, passed waterfalls and blossoming forests, and even saw the sun for a full two minutes before it ducked behind the grey collage of rain clouds we had seen since dawn. We had splashing fights in ice-cold water, ate sopping-wet sandwiches on the rocky shore, and fought our way down twisting currents and raging rapids while clinging to our oars for our lives.
We strained every muscle in our bodies while racing the last half-mile stretch to fight for showers, learned basic survival and how to work as a team, and explored downtown Asheville with a very groggy but content (after he found a bookstore) Father David. And just like that, the weekend was over, and we found ourselves in the mini van once more. Over the course of the weekend we had learned so much by being together that it was hard to leave. We were happy — ”sore, exhausted, and wet, but happy — ”because we had accomplished just the thing we had previously thought impossible. As the hours had worn on, our dependence on the material objects on which we base our everyday lives dwindled, and by Sunday morning our iPods felt almost alien in our hands. Modern music just didn’t seem to fit; the rushing river had become our soundtrack, and it was useless trying to convince ourselves otherwise. Because of Mr. Gordon’s hours of planning and persistent optimism, we had grown as close as we were a year ago as we packed for the two-week long pilgrimage that would change our lives forever. Five minutes into the trip we came into service. My Avril Lavigne ringtone met my ears, and I whipped out my Blackberry to watch as countless emails, voicemails, and text messages flooded in. The device was so much smaller than I had remembered it being, and I held it in my hand for a long moment before giving a wide grin. With the push of a button, the screen went blank. If any cell phones rang, we didn’t hear them over the sounds of our laughter.
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