I was watching one of my guilty pleasures earlier this evening, “Real Housewives”, in this case “of Orange County”. These women are incredibly dramatic, and there is A LOT of plastic surgery. One of them is even married to a plastic surgeon.
Anyway, in tonight’s episode they went white-water rafting in Costa Rica. I have been to the spot where they were a few years ago, with several friends, but I refused to go on this portion of the trip as the closest I have ever (knowingly) been to death is on a white-water rafting trip. As such, I have forever sworn off this activity.
The background of the story is that I am actually afraid of the water but I am one of those people that try and overcome their fears so years ago I agreed to go white-water rafting with a friend who was a guide on the Gauley, in West Virginia, which is a dam release river.
The Gauley is full of “Class V” rapids, some are arguably V+, depending on how full the river is when the dam is released. The overall white-water scale caps at a “Class VI”, so this is pretty serious stuff! The time to ride the rapids is obviously when they open the dam, twice yearly.
The first time I ran the rapids we just did the “Lower Gauley” river, where the rapids are more tame. Of course, my friend (the guide) tossed the boat at a safe point which is supposed to be part of the thrill. NOT for me! I learned how to swim when I was young, but I have never likened to water.
The second trip I made was to run the full river. I figured “how bad can it be”, I already fell out once…and while not enjoyable, I lived.
Hmmmm. We got into the raft right up at the dam. The gushing water was flat out frightening! Those comfortable with water were nervous, I was petrified!
Of course, we all had instruction about how to paddle and sit in the raft, and for a while it was all okay, yet very scary for me. The guides also try and stir up trouble by telling you how treacherous some of the rapids are and how several people die ever year from foot entanglement after falling out of the boat, etc. Some is hype, some is real, as people do die on this river.
At some point in the day, we head toward Dildo Rock which protrudes forward over the edge of the Sweets Falls waterfall. I think the drop is 14 feet. This may not sound like a lot, but in a raft, on rapids, when you are afraid of water…this is petrifying! This spot on the river is very popular with the locals who come from wherever they live and literally picnic along the banks of the river waiting for entertainment!
We are told that the guides are grouped into “those who have, and those who will” which simply means who has spilled their raft while trying to guide around Dildo Rock versus the guides that have taken this waterfall safely!
We are instructed on how to paddle over this drop and if anything goes wrong to frantically swim away from “Postage Rock” which is where you will get slammed like a stamp if you get caught in that river flow. Great! What the “f…..” am I doing here?
My friend, our guide, had been in the “those who will” group… until today. Lucky me! He held the boat back and then hollered instructions and we were off over the falls! WHAM! He became part of the “those who have” group as half of us fell out of the boat, including me!
I can’t really explain what happened, only that it was shear terror as I was extremely disoriented underneath the water. Due to the waterfall, it is very confusing to figure out which was up as the water was extremely effervescent and blue/white/bubbly, so determining where the sky was (i.e. “which way is up”) was very confusing.
Of course, we all had life jackets on, so somewhere in the middle of my underwater experience my jacket and kicking started to bring me to the surface. That may sound positive, until you find yourself stuck under a raft!!
I seriously started to panic and run out of air. I clawed to one side of the raft, hoping I would pop up at the edge, only for the raft to swirl around in the water and now I was back in the middle and starting this strategy all over again!
I honestly thought I was going to die. I was out of air! Suddenly, I popped up! I was immediately grabbed and pulled into raft. The others that had fallen out had already been rescued. No doubt because they were capable swimmers, so less panicky.
The worst part was that we had to continue down the rest of this God-foresaken river! There were other serious rapids to navigate and, of course, there was the game of purposely tossing the boat at the one point in the Lower Gauley (which I had previously experienced) but I can tell you that my days of rafting on any river, no matter how tame, ended that day.
After that trip, I went to my local YMCA and relearned how to swim. Plus, I learned how to Scuba and went diving with friends in Belize shortly thereafter. I was determined to get over this fear, but my dislike of the water is just too strong. I swam in the Y pool religiously for years afterward, and actually enjoy kayaking, etc. (above water stuff), but I am still very cautious and uncomfortable about water.
My second scariest experience was falling off a spooked, galloping horse in Mexico… but that is a whole other story!