, West Virginia
February 6, 2001
We had words of advice from an instructor; then we were off by ourselves. Good thing the instructor had mentioned, "If you get caught in a hydraulics system, let it take you down to the bottom. Then it will spit you out to the side somewhere." Yes, it was a good point, especially since my companions didn't seem intent on testing their skills at negotiating the rapids. I immediately noticed the difference between them and myself: some people view whitewater as a carnival ride, not a test of skill or presence of mind. I had thought we would stay dry, be "victorious" over that river! Only those folks on the guided tours managed to do that.
As we approached "Double Hydraulics" rapid, one of the fellows apparently changed his mind about whether we were going left or right--I thought we had planned to go right. So, the raft went straight up a boulder, front pointing toward the sky and two of us under it. Remembering the instructor's warning, I pushed on the bottom of the raft to propel myself down into the whirlpool. Yes, the system spit me up to the side--at the top of a cascade! I remembered other advice our teacher had given us: "If you have to go over a waterfall, make sure you get turned around feet first." Right! The water was high that day, and all I could do was keep my nose out of it as I slid over the rocks head first on my back.
Amazed that I still had my oar in my hand (you are charged if you lose it!), I was glad to see the shore and swam until I could stand up. Yes, I could stand, but I couldn't take a step on that slippery mud without falling on an angry beaver. "Yack, Yack, Yack"--he showed me his BIG teeth. Just four feet from me, he made me want to laugh, but I screamed for my one companion still in the raft to come after me. Frozen there until he arrived, I didn't take my eyes off the creature, nor unstiffen my knees. At least my companions got serious at this point, and we made it to the end of the 7-mile ride without another mishap.
A bus took us back to the Visitor's Center, where there was a public shower up the road. Under the spray, I could see bruises on almost everyone. Some people were covered with them, bruises two feet in length! I must point out, though, that none of these folks were senior citizens. No, they were all outside, still in dry, pressed clothes, because they had been smart enough to join a guided tour.
From journal A Summer Working (and Playing) in the Laurel Highl