My older cousin, David, lifted our raft above his head and motioned my brother, Ben, to carry the other end. I grabbed the oars, following my parents up the ragged stone path that led to our adventure.
In Deep Creek, Maryland, there is not much to do during a family reunion except swim and boat on the man-made shores of Deep Creek Lake, below the Allegheny Mountains. Today, though, was special — we were going whitewater rafting at Adventure Sports Center International (www.adventuresportscenter.com).
I was a little wary at first, because I had never rafted, and the man-made course looked dangerous. After putting on a life jacket and a helmet, I was a little more excited.
“Okay, everyone,” our sandy-haired guide said. “The rapids are on class three today. Do you know what that means?”
Everyone shook their heads, engrossed by the mechanical conveyor belt that ascended up a hill behind him. Rafts went up the belt one by one, and then disappeared, as if swallowed by the mountains.
“We have a system here that controls the force of the rapids,” the guide said. “On a scale of one to five, today is a three. This course was modeled after whitewater courses built for the Olympics, so it won’t be easy.”
Ben and David lowered our raft into the water, and we took our places on the edge. The current propelled us to the giant conveyor belt. The tension was building. I bit my lip in anticipation, praying I wouldn’t be thrown from the raft. The conveyor belt pulled our raft to the top and released it. We headed full speed toward the rapids. The guide shouted instructions over the rapids’ deafening roar. Water sprayed in my face as I furiously paddled, determined to make it safely downstream. We finally completed our first lap, landing with a thud in the pool where we started.
“Who’s ready to do it again?” our guide asked.
When we reached the rapids a second time, the raft started to spin in a way it hadn’t done before. We were caught in a whirlpool and were dangerously close to tipping over. The guide screamed instructions at us, but my heart raced, and I froze in terror. The raft capsized, drenching everyone in the icy water. I surfaced but realized I was trapped underneath the raft. I started screaming, terrified of what would happen if I went over the next waterfall. I mustered enough strength to push the raft off. I looked around and saw my hysterical mother on the shore.
“Where’s my son?” she screamed at a lifeguard.
When she saw me, her eyes lit up, and she helped pull me to the side of the course. Sputtering, I collapsed onto the rock next to her. I then remembered that I hadn’t yet seen David, Ben, or dad. Again, my heart sped up as I searched the water, praying they weren’t harmed. Someone yelled my name. Ben, David, and dad were standing on the shore. I breathed a sigh of relief.
My mom fussed over my bloody knees and bruised shins.
“You don’t have to go back in if you don’t want to,” she said.
What kind of experience would it be if I gave up? I realized I didn’t want to wake up 20 years in the future and wish I had given whitewater rafting another shot.
The rafting adventure helped me realize one should embrace failures or terrifying experiences. To overcome them, give your all and try again. Only then can you conquer your fears and have a vacation to remember forever.
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.