On mile 17.1 of the Colorado River is House Rock rapid, a class 4. This rapid has two holes, a small one left of center at the top, and a much larger one directly center at the bottom after a bend. There’s a clear line down the rapid, and after scouting, we climbed back into the boat, buckling on helmets and zipping up lifejackets, praying for the best.
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My dad maneuvers the raft to the right edge of the river, and we start down. The water is moving slow, but as we near the head of the rapid, it picks up, bringing the raft along with it. I clutch the strap nearest me, and hunker down, willing the raft to move. My dad strains at the oars, trying to aim the boat. The water is speeding along, bringing us closer to the hole. With a grunt, Dad pulls one last stroke, and the raft misses the first hole by mere inches. We breathe a sigh of relief, but it’s not over yet. The final hole is much larger, and it’s looming ever closer. The water yanks us along directly towards the mouth of the beast. My dad is pulling with all his might, yet he’s only able to desperately turn us to face it head on as a last ditch attempt, the best of bad options. My mother screams “Perfect!” just as the wave hits us.
I’m shoved to the side by the force of the water as the raft flips, bringing us down with it. The water is frigid, shocking me into movement. My head hits the bottom of the raft, and I reach up, feeling the raft. I’m being buffeted by waves on all sides, and not knowing which way is which, I pick a direction, praying I’m not swimming in circles, doomed to die. I bump along, water yanking me in every direction. Just when I think I should turn around, my head pops out. Immediately, I gasp. Seeing only white froth, I am barely able to catch another breath before something runs me over, pushing me back down into the water. I bob back up, grabbing another breath as a wave knocks into me, covering me with its icy fingers. Spinning along, I try swimming, but the water is frigid, and my muscles barely move. Remembering the safety briefing, I push out with my legs, barely moving for the shore. I have less than ten minutes before my body shuts down from the cold, and who knows how long I’ve already been in the water. My right arm was broken earlier and can’t move, but I try dog paddling with my left, to little avail. I don’t know where my family is, but I will live.
I’m out of the worst of the wave train, but this is the Colorado, and the current is strong. It’s tugging me along quickly, and I’m practically powerless to resist. From the shore, my mom starts yelling, “Swim, Emily! Swim!” Hearing another rapid downstream, I kick harder. I doggedly swim on, wanting desperately to be warm again, and painstakingly reach the shore. The boulders surrounding me are slippery, and I’m shaking from cold and fear. I can barely grasp the nearest rock, scrambling to move into warmer air. My extremities are numb and my legs are seizing up. Teeth chattering, I pull myself up, the water reluctantly loosening me from its grip. Once stable, I take hold of my surroundings. Seeing my family safe on the shore, I relax. We are cold, shaken and fearful, but we are alive.
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