My first time whitewater kayaking was a two-day, University of Idaho Outdoor
Program trip on the Salmon River at Riggins Idaho, which my friend Jenn
had talked me into. I had never been on a whitewater river, but had some
kayaking experience on lakes and oceans.
The first part of the trip consisted of two pool sessions: a “get
to know your kayak” session and a roll session. For the first exercise
the instructor had us do was a “wet exit”, which occurs when
you flip over in your kayak and can’t roll back up. Now I’m
not a claustrophobic person and am actually quite comfortable in the water,
but the idea of being trapped underwater in a boat did not settle well
in my stomach. In fact, I believe I was the last person in the class to
actually perform a “wet exit” due to sheer nervousness. I
must have sat in my kayak in the pool for 15 minutes before the instructor
finally said that it was time. Well, I wet exited to find out that the
only horrible thing that could happen was water going up my nose: I was
well on my way to reaching the whitewater.
The next pool session was the roll. In my mind the roll is what makes
a kayaker, and I was determined to achieve this feat before heading to
the river. I guess two hours was just not enough time for me, because
I did not even come close to rolling up. We did learn the “t-rescue”,
a tool used to flip upright if you don’t have a roll. When a person
is flipped over in the water and can’t roll back up, he taps the
bottom of his boat in anticipation that a fellow kayaker will come to
his rescue. The upright kayaker will paddle over to the person in need
and tap the side of his boat. Then the up-side-down kayaker can grab onto
the nose of the other kayak and hip-snap back upright. Ultimately, my
goal was to not swim if I could help it.
On my way to the put in for the on-the-water part of the trip, I was re-thinking
my actions. Scoping out the rapids on the drive made me nervous. The water
looked intimidating. Amazingly, I made it through the first day of learning
how to eddy in and out, ferrying across the river and running down class
II rapids without flipping over or swimming. That night, the instructor
decided that we were confident enough to do the “town” stretch
in Riggins for our second day. The only thing I kept on hearing about
was whether we were prepared for the wrath of the rapid, “Time Zone”.
Imagine my nerves: having successfully managed the first day of easy,
splashy waves, then going to the hole-ridden Class III/IV Time Zone Rapid
as a beginning kayaker. I don’t know if I was really ready to approach
this stretch, but the instructor reassured me that if I was “still
able to spit,” I was ok to go.
experience swimming happened on the first rapid we approached on the second
day. The instructor said to follow him down the river, so as baby ducks
follow their mother, we were all in line. In the middle of the rapid,
the instructor turned around to check to see how we were all fathoming.
At that moment, I saw his tail end get swallowed by a huge hole and he
was flipped over. One by one, the following kayakers were engulfed by
this hole, some making it through, while others having to swim. I was
a swimmer. There was no way I was going to hang out under the water, unable
to breathe, waiting for a T-rescue in freezing cold water, so I pulled
my skirt and swam. It was not as bad as I imagined. I could handle swimming.
Time Zone was the next rapid. I kept spitting to make sure I wasn’t
so scared that I couldn’t (a sign that you are way out of your comfort
zone, according to my instructor). This time I made my way to the front
of the pack to make sure I was in the direct line of my instructor. My
friend Jenn was directly behind me. I hit a lateral wave at the top of
Time Zone and it knocked me over. I remembered that Jenn was behind me,
so I hung out under the water waiting for her to come rescue me. It never
happened. I pulled my skirt and swam through Time Zone. After I struggled
back into my boat, I confronted Jenn about leaving me to swim. She said
that she saw me waiting, but if she tried to help me, she would’ve
been a swimmer too.
At Fiddle Creek Rapid, the last rapid on our trip, Jenn received her payback
for leaving me at Time Zone. This time I was following her through the
rapid. The river bends right, and just after the bend, I saw that Jenn
was pointed upstream in her kayak with a look of horror on her face. She
yelled at me to bump her off this rock she was stuck on. Well, there was
nothing for me to do but to kayak right by her. If I ran into her, we
both would have been swimming. As I paddled by, I asked what she was doing.
I received no response. I heard Jenn calling to the next kayakers to bump
her off, but the only help she got was from our instructor who told her
that she was not stuck on a rock but “surfing the wave” and
to keep it up. Shortly there after, she turned around on the wave, flipped
story stays sharp in my mind because of the great first experience
I had on whitewater: learning about swimming in rapids, hanging
out under the water, watching my friend “surfing the wave”
and making it through one of the most nerve-racking adventures
of my life. Two years later, I have all my own equipment and I
kayak as much as I can, learning now how to surf the waves as
my friend accidentally did on our first trip. When my nerves are
high, I look back to my first trip and remember the spit test…a
test that I have not failed yet.
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