We excitedly packed for our tubing adventure. Food, drinks and tubes ready to go. We took two cars, leaving one at the drop off and ending point. As we drove up the winding road to our destination I peered out the window taking it all in. It was gorgeous. The river seemed calm and busy all at once. Smooth in one area and choppy in the next. Not at all looking a bit menacing.
When we arrived, Jen and I busied ourselves with tying the tubes together. We didn’t want anyone to be floating off alone. I tied mine in tight fisherman knots as my husband had taught me nights before. She peered at my knots strangely trying to decifer just what I was doing. I stood up and studied my work proudly. Those suckers weren’t going anywhere.
Confident that the tubes were secure we slowly waded into the river dragging our tubes in tow. We had four tubes formed in a circle with a floating cooler in the center. Making it easily within everyone’s reach. One by one we each hopped into our tubes and started our descent down the river.
We expected a lazy river ride. To slowly float down the river. Stretching out on our tubes as we soaked in the sun. Enjoying chilled drinks. It was calm for about 5 minutes. Then we started moving more swiftly. I could see white water coming. We all clenched the sides of our tubes, bracing ourselves for what was coming.
It hit us hard. I bounced up and down, back and forth on my tube. Cold water splashed onto my face. We were out of control. Someone screamed that Jen was down. I turned around but I couldn’t see her anywhere. I had expected to see her struggling in the water. I searched for a bobbing head tossing in the water. Nothing. Julie screamed, “She’s under the tube!” We were still moving at a fast pace. No one could jump out to help her. “Flip it over!” I cried. Julie and Liz were struggling to get it to turn over. The water was moving too fast and the tube was heavy. The middle mesh was keeping her under.
Finally flipping it over, Jen came up sputtering and coughing. We paddled fiercely with our arms and legs to reach the bank. Pulling at twigs and branches to leverage enough strength pull the rest of us over. Jen climbed out of the water visibly shaken and white. She collapsed on the ground breathing hard trying to catch her breath. I sat on a rock near by shaking.
The cooler had torn during the flip and Liz was holding the reminence of what had been our cooler. Drinks were spilling out. We had to dump them into another tube before they floated away with the river. I watched one flip flop rush by. Having the momentary thought of retrieving it only to quickly realize it wasn’t possible. I too would go with the river.
We sat there for awhile trying to figure out what we should do next. Jen had lost her shoes in the flip. Along with her hat and sunglasses. We were all scared. I walked down the bank to see if the water got any calmer. It wasn’t. If anything, it looked to be rougher. I sighed and sat down wishing I had better news to report and told them it wasn’t looking any better down stream. Walking back wasn’t an option. Jen was shoe less and it was at least a mile back to our dropping point. There was only one option. We had to keep going.
I was scared. The last thing I wanted to do was to get back in that river. My mind could only rustle up the atrocities that might happen should I dare dip one toe back into that water. So I did the only thing I know to do when I’m scared and events are unfolding completely beyond my control. Pray. “Everyone fold your hands!” I shouted.
They all looked at me like I was nuts. “Yes, I mean it! We are not getting back into that water until we pray. Do you want to live through this or not?” I asked. Sheepishly they all bowed their heads and I watched as hands folded together for prayer. And I prayed. I prayed for our protection. I prayed that there would be no casulities and we would all make it safely to the end.
Looking up I stared at the water willing strength and confidence to come. Breathing in deeply, I stood up. Studying each apprehensive face filled with fear. I said, “Ok..lets do this! We are going to be ok!” I was still terrified. But I had to believe that somehow, we were going to make it to the end alive and in one piece.
We gathered our things and debated on the safest route for the keys. If we left them in the sealed baggie and someone flipped they would be swiftly carried away. We would be left without a means for transportation. The smartest move would be for someone to stowe them on themselves. We decided there was a greater chance of losing a baggie rather than a person. At least that was our hope. So the key was safely tucked away beneath a bra that we hoped would travel safely.
From here on out we would have to work as a team. The river would twist and turn us in all different directions, like a wet crazy tea cup carnival ride. Who ever was facing the river down stream would have to shout out upcoming obstacles. This would warn the rest of us hurling backwards of dangers ahead. And so it went. If someone yelled rock! You knew to lift your butt and back so as to not scrap your backside along the jagged rocks. If someone yelled tree! You would shield your face and body from the branches. If someone yelled boulder! You needed to brace yourself and hope that your tube would take the impact and you would come bouncing off unharmed. We were on our A game. And now, at least we had a plan.
As we were shoving off, Liz mentioned that it was odd that we had seen no one else. Before we left we had noticed at least 30 other rafters preparing to go in. And yet, we had not seen a single soul. Strange indeed. I had an weary feeling that there was a reason for that. I was certain that they, unlike us, realized the danger and held off. I pushed that thought out of my mind. There was no use pondering that thought now. We had gone too far to turn back now.
And so, there we were headed back into the white cap waters. Someone yelled, ” Ok guys! Here we go!” Here we go indeed. The water was angry, hitting us hard. I bounced right out of my tube. I remember Julie shouting, ” Oh Hub! Hurry! Get back in your tube! HUB!” She was grabbing for me in a panic, but I bounced right back up into my tube like a salmon jumping out of the water. I was fine. Just a few scratches on my wrist and thigh.
We got through the rest of that portion of water without any other incidents. It was such a huge relief to rest and relax for a moment before we hit uncalm waters again. As we sighed a deep breath of relief, we spotted another rafter headed our way. He was equipped for the journey with an appropriate life jacket, helmet, and paddles. For a moment, I felt very foolish for heading into these waters so ill equipped. My humiliation made me want to sink further into my tube as he paddled towards us.
His name was Bill. We were told that he had 20 years of tubing experience on this river. And that, as we already knew, what we were doing was very unsafe. He asked if we would like him to stay ahead of us and let us know what was coming head. And to make sure we would get through it safely. Yes!! We all cried! He was our miracle! The calvery had arrived. Our guardian angel had appeared. For the first time I felt relief. We would be ok.
Now, to some I know, this would seem as pure coincidence. But, to me, that encounter with Bill was a divine appointment. An answer to prayer. Maybe he was my guardian angel. Maybe he was just a random dude. But it was certain that we needed him. And his appearance couldn’t have came too soon. And so, I thanked God for who ever or whatever he was. Knowing that in my heart, we were sent whom and what we needed to make it to the end of this river.
And so, our guardian angel whose name was Bill, instructed us on each portion of the river. There is a boulder, he said, in the center of the river. Paddle yourself to the right. We kicked and paddled fighting the current all the way to the right of the river. And sure enough, sailed right past the boulder in the center. Upcoming are two currents diverging. Hold on tight he said. It’s going to be strong and turbulent. That was an understatement. But strangley enough, that was the only rough spot where no one was tossed put of their tube.
We did what he told us to do. At least we knew what we were up against at this point. I can’t imagine what would have happened if we had never had the chance to try to steer ourselves clear of the incoming danger. It was better than what we had. Which was nothing. Literally up the creek without a paddle.
Up to that point things were going well. Having him instruct and warn us seemed to make all the difference. Until Jen discovered that Julie’s tube was coming loose. “Paddle to the bank!” She cried. We were at it again. Struggling against the current to make it to the bank before she came completely untied. I grabbed at the weeds pulling us over. I peered over my shoulder to see if Bill would tire of our shenanigans and leave us to our own devices. But true to his word, he sat at the edge of the bank ahead patiently waiting for us.
I gathered more weeds in my hands and pushed my foot against a slimy boulder to keep us from slipping back into the current. The shade from under the bank made me shiver. And goose bumps began covering my body. It was then that I became proud of those hideous fluorescent pink water shoes. At least I had been practical in one area.
Staying in that position while she looped and tied, I reached for my beer that had miraculously stayed in Julie’s cup holder. At that point, it was probably half full of river water. But who cares? I was determined to make the most of this journey. The waters had made it impossible to relax and sip our drinks as we had planned. And so, while shivering, freezing in the shade with a handful of weeds, I enjoyed a few sips of watered down beer. We talked and laughed. Trying to forget for a moment, that we were complete insane lunitics free floating a raging river.
We were so close to reaching our dropping point. My body was shivering frantically. We had spent too much time in the shade. My teeth chattered as Bill told us of an upcoming bridge with deep concrete walls in the river. We would have to try to go around it.
There was not much time to prepare as we sped forwards the wall. Turning, I thought we were going to make it. Suddenly, I was jerked to a stop. The water was washing by. But I was at a stand still. What was holding me? Looking behind, the rope between Liz and I was stretching. She was caught behind the wall! “Liz!”, I screamed. I pulled and tugged at the rope trying to dislodge her. It wasn’t working. I didn’t know if she was ok. I didn’t even know if she was still in her tube.
The tension of the ropes suddenly flipped Jen out of her tube. She was struggling to keep her head above water. Her hands loosing grip on the tube. If she went floating off now she would be toast. Suddenly she pulled herself half out of the water. Slowly into the tube.
Pushing off the wall with her feet, Liz finally came loose and came whipping around the corner. The river moved us quickly. At least everyone was now in board and we could see our dropping point. Somehow we would have to get ourselves over to the bank. Before it was too late. If we didnt reach the bank in time we would have a dam to face. Damn.
I was a bit frantic. My body felt stiff as a board. We paddled with both arms and legs until we got close enough to grab at branches and weeds. I hopped out of that tube as soon as I thought we were close enough that I could hold us in place. Holding on tightly to the rope, everyone climbed out onto the bank.
I wanted to kiss the ground. We had made it! Dragging our tubes up the bank towards our car, Jen handed me a sweater. I wondered why she even had worn one on such a hot day, but even more thankful to have warmth. It covered my petite shivering body like a short dress. And I snuggling into it, letting the softness bring me comfort.
We unpacked drinks and small snacks. Sitting on a picnic bench, I let the sun warm my body. And I wanted to stay there. It felt good to be on solid ground. And even better to be warm. I enjoyed my beer like I hadn’t before. All was well.
Julie and Liz left to retrieve the other car at the drop off point. Jen and I stayed behind talking and nervously laughing about our journey. We both swore never again would we attempt such a foolish feat. During our conversation, there was a loud popping sound that seemed to echo through the canyon. Making me jumped, I wondered if shots had been fired. We couldn’t figure out where the sound was coming from.
As we all headed back to our vehicles, we found the culprit. One of our tubes had burst. It would have been mine or Liz’s. We were astounded. The tube had somehow made it to the end. Not bursting on any of the jagged boulders that we had to scrap against and cross.
One thing was certain, mercy and protection had been over us that day. I watched Bill, as he tossed his things in the back of his truck and disappear down the road. We had thanked him over and over again for his kindness. He responded as if he was meant to be there. As if, his only purpose had been to help us reach the end. I smiled and thought, you never know, we may have been indeed entertaining an angel.