Each week during Kate Messner’s Teachers Write summer writing camp, Jo Knowles posts a Monday Morning Warm Up. This week, Jo urged us to write about a “favorite summer memory from your teen years.” I’m not sure this is my favorite summer memory, but it is definitely the most vivid!
You hear the roar of the water before you see it. Then you face thousands of gallons of water cascading twenty feet down the face of a rock ledge, creating a foaming, turbulent froth just above where your raft is about to launch for a trek down-river.
In July of 1976, when the rest of the country was swept up in Bicentennial celebrations, I gazed up at this waterfall in awe and relief that no similar falls waited downstream. The river that stretched in front of me was strewn with boulders. Little riffles of whitewater danced around them and clouds billowed in the sky above. Dense stands of pine and oak lined both banks of the river. I was ready for an adventure!
Little did I know what a ride I was in for.
The first two rapids were easy. Our raft bobbed up and down like a cork over the gentle, rolling waves. The splashes of cold water were refreshing after an hour in the hot July sun. By the time we got to Lunch Rock, I felt like a pro. I inhaled my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the favored lunch of paddlers everywhere. Soon we were back on our way.
My future mother-in-law, was paddling at the front of the raft, showing me the ropes. “We’re coming up to Dimples,” she said. “We have to head straight for a boulder, then paddle hard right to miss hitting it. “Big Jeff out of Baltimore,” an old family friend, was steering at the back of the raft. “Don’t you dare dump us in this rapid!” she warned him.
“Never!” he laughed.
Again, I heard the roar of the water before I could see what was ahead. This sounded as loud as the waterfall at the put-in. “We’ll be fine,” Jeff reassured me.
The once meandering current picked up speed and swept us into a ribbon of waves. A boulder as big as an elephant loomed up before us. “Paddle!” Jeff screamed. I dug my paddle into the water and pulled with all my might. But it was too late. The raft hit the massive rock head on.
Before I really knew what was happening, I was in the rushing water, beneath the raft. Gasping, but trying to stay calm, I got myself out from under the boat. Somehow, I maneuvered myself and the capsized raft into and eddy at the bottom of the rapid. Dripping and paddle-less, I managed to turn the boat right side up.
But now I was on the other side of the river from where my mother-in-law-to-be and Big Jeff had washed up. The rest of our crew had gone ahead to “play” in the next rapid and were unaware of our plight. Miraculously, my paddle washed up next to me. With a whole two hours of rafting experience, I climbed back into the raft and guided it safely across the river.
By this time, the other paddlers (including my boyfriend!) had realized we were in trouble and came to our rescue. Fortunately, no one was really hurt. Shaken up? Absolutely! But aside from rubbery arms and scraped shins, I was fine.
After a rest on the rocks, we piled back into the raft and made it to the take out without any more mishaps. I survived my white-water rafting initiation! But “Big Jeff out of Baltimore” never heard the end of dumping me in Dimples!
Thank you to Stacey, Betsy, Beth, Kathleen, Deb, Kelsey, Melanie, and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.