The orange, sun-bleached life jacket clung tightly to my body. With my paddle in hand, I stepped into the rubber raft alongside my dad and eight other passengers. The undulating water sparkled as the sunlight danced on its surface.
Small waves lapped against the sides of the boat. In the distance, snow-peaked mountains stood tall. Their jagged edges blanketed with white powder created a picturesque scene.
As I absorbed the invigorating environment, we cast off. Only two weeks ago, my parents called my brother and me downstairs to discuss plans for the summer family vacation. With dismay, the image of tropical beaches, golden sand, and tall palm trees disappeared when I saw the family road atlas opened to a map of Wyoming.
A yellow sticky-note, placed inside the rectangular state, covered our destination. I removed it to find the words Jackson Hole glaring at me. Envisioning a ghost town with blowing tumbleweeds, I immediately protested at the idea of traveling to the Wild West.
Bermuda or the Bahamas seemed like better choices, but there was no avoiding it. To my surprise, this vacation would be my most memorable. I could hardly believe I was about to embark on an exciting journey of white water rafting.
As I drifted down the lazy Snake River, I listened intently to the guide’s instructions and practiced the different paddle commands with great ease. Soon the scenery moved by quicker, and the raft picked up speed. My face flushed with rushing adrenaline.
The wind’s gentle breeze blew stronger. A distant trickling grew into a roar of violent water as the first rapid came into view. My eyes widened at the sight of such commotion and my grip tightened as I obeyed orders to paddle faster.
No longer at ease, I wondered why I was helping to bring the raft closer to the confusion that lay ahead. The life jacket became heavy and its restricted movement became unbearable. A wall of water rose to meet the raft and I felt cool spray hit my face.
The angry tsunami blocked out the sun and in its shadow I felt as if I were on the Titanic, doomed to sink to the bottom. Water rushed in from all directions, and I closed my eyes. When the river had finished tossing around its new toy sailboat, I opened my eyes to a surprising stillness. The wind’s force had lessened and I was once again floating down a lazy river. My apprehension vanished and in its place swelled an adventurous spirit. I had braved the unexpected and now I could laugh in the face of danger. At the sight of the next rapid, I eagerly paddled forward without fear. With a new found courageousness, I wanted to attack the water. Once again, the raft gained speed, the scenery became a blur, and the calm foundation became unstable and choppy. With one foot, I held onto the bucking bronco and had the time of my life. The long journey left me exhausted, but exhilarated. As the raft came to shore, I was disappointed the ride was over. What felt like five minutes was really a fast-paced two-hour trip. As I filed out of the raft and untied my bulky life vest, I looked once more at my surroundings. The peaceful wilderness impressed me. The mountains hadn’t moved and the sun’s strength hadn’t changed, but something was different. I felt refreshed. My focused efforts allowed me to meet a challenge head on, and I felt a sense of pride in my accomplishment. I breathed in the fresh air and walked away with a stronger appreciation for nature’s beauty. My one-of-a-kind white water rafting journey dramatically transformed my notions of Wyoming. The unique experience woke me up to a new world where an American Eagle was not a clothing store and a rocky road was not an ice cream flavor. Seeing Mother Nature’s rugged outdoor artwork, masterpieces which took thousands of years to create, was an experience that could never be found on the silky beach shores of Bermuda or the Bahamas. I was glad to be in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. With a new summer season now beginning, my parents once again call my brother and me downstairs to discuss the summer family vacation. The road atlas sprawled across the kitchen counter has a yellow sticky-note placed in the United States’ northwest corner. I remove it to find the word Seattle circled in red ink. I smile to myself as I think of the exciting journey that awaits me.
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