My family, from left to right; the white shirt on the far side: my father; the blue sleeve on the near side: me; the arm and dark hair in front of me: my sister; hidden behind my sister (look for the hat brim): my uncle Greg.
Each run of a rapids passes like an adrenalin-junkie blur. But memory plays interesting tricks. In the overall chaos of each downriver run, there are moments that stand out, clear and sharp. My moment of clarity came midway through the most extreme rapids of the trip.
The rafts we were using were the standard rounded rectangular inflatable with tubular sides. When paddling the occupants sat astride the tubes. As the boat flexed and twisted through the water, the riders were tossed from side to side. The trick to staying in the boat was to grip the tube like a horse.
So, you're hanging on for dear life with your legs, paddling like mad, and rocking from side to side. Complete chaos. The entire experience is something of a blur. Except. The mind plays curious tricks when the body is threatened. In the midst of the blur of activity, there is one clarion moment-as I swing out of the boat, my mind takes an incredibly clear snapshot of the scene in front of me-the water, the side of the raft, the life jacket of the person in front of me-at the exact instant my inner ear reports to my brain that I'm not going to be swinging back into the boat this time. And it was true, over I went-in the roughest part of the rapids. Time stopped.
Apparently, my inner ear also reported to my adrenal glands, because in the next, say, 0.1 seconds, I managed to get completely immersed, and back into the bottom of the wildly rocking boat-with my paddle (a matter of honor in my family).
On another run of the same rapids, my father went completely overboard. He emerged from the bottom of the rapids with his paddle in his hands. The guide attempted to haul dad into the raft, which he had to decline, as his years-ago dislocated shoulder would not take the strain.
Dale Austin, January, 2006
All images and text Copyright Dale Austin, 1962-2008