The icy water hits me like a slap to the face.
Spluttering and gasping for air, I wedge my foot even more tightly under the safety strap at the front of the raft and try not to fall overboard. Through the water in my ears and the roaring of the rapids, I can faintly hear our raft guide, Mark, yell, “Hold on!” I hardly have time to brace myself and grab the safety rope before the raft shoots into another maelstrom, the spray and the rain mingling to form a mist. At one point, the force of the river bends the raft nearly in half, and Mark is thrown out. Before we can help him, our guide quickly clambers back onboard. When we exit the raft at the end of our voyage, I’m exhausted and shivering, but exhilarated from the experience.
â–º Finalist 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
As a side trip during our 10-day vacation that took us from Seattle to Vancouver to Orcas, one of the San Juan Islands, my mom, dad and two sisters drove three hours northeast of Vancouver to the REO Rafting Resort on the Nahatlatch River. After carefully driving the last five miles up a steep gravel road, we arrived just in time for the buffet dinner. Following the hot meal, we inspected our lodging for the night. “Pinball,” a large platform tent named after a stretch of rapids, had a queen and three twin beds. My mom, who isn’t the biggest fan of camping, was relieved that we didn’t need to bring any gear.
When the sun had set behind the mountains, we headed to the campfire circle where the smell of smoke was already thick in the air. By far the most garrulous member of our family, my dad quickly struck up a conversation with a Canadian couple who had rafted several times before.
“Be sure you jump in the water when the guides give you a chance,” they advised. “It’s freezing at first but that’s how the wetsuit works-you have to get wet before you can get warm.”
Maybe it’s because I’ve lived in Austin, Texas my entire life that I’ve never worn a wetsuit, but I hadn’t given any serious thought to the temperature of the water until I was lying in bed, listening to the roaring of the river just outside our tent. I spent the night excited, but apprehensive about the next day’s adventure.
After breakfast, I put on my swimsuit and immediately regretted our decision to raft. The warm sun of the day before was gone, the sky filled instead with enormous gray clouds. I struggled into my wetsuit for a few minutes, then grimaced as the guide pointed out I had put it on backwards. The whole experience did not look promising, and my expectations didn’t improve when it began to pour as we stepped off the bus.
Mark trained us in paddling commands on the calm water of a lake before the beginning of the rapids. My personal favorite was “High Five!”—everyone raised their paddles and slapped them together in celebration after surviving another whirlpool.
Despite the weather, I was blown away by the adventure. Nothing else we did on our vacation compared to the pure adrenaline rush of flying down the river, the wind whipping my splash jacket, the water so wild that many times I was unable to even paddle.
I’m not sure when, but I know I’ll be going rafting again in the future. This time I have nothing to fear. I just have to hope that the next rafting resort will also have a hot tub.
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