On the River: By the Numbers
BUENA VISTA Never say never.About 12 years ago, living near Vail, I’d just bought a kayak and was learning to paddle whitewater when I joined a group of folks for a day of rafting the Numbers, a class IV-V section on the Arkansas River near Buena Vista.Riding the big rubber bus through those gnarly dips and drops, I remember thinking, “I will never even get close to this river in a kayak.”But after thousands of practice rolls in pools and ponds and countless soggy sandwiches at riverside running class III rivers, I’ve upped my game to class IV and found myself Monday at the Numbers put-in looking at what I once thought was impossible.I followed Forrest, a friend of a friend and serious boater who’d guided rafts on the Arkansas for years.I know when I feel a little sick to my stomach – something like how I felt the day I started as a reporter or when asking a woman on a date – that I’m in the right place. And having some butterflies before running the seven gnarly numbered rapids on the Arkansas is perfectly human, I reckon.No. 1 was a succession of steep drops and pools, and with the water level low – just below 600 cfs – it was a good introduction to the technical drops to come.Forrest approached each feature with a seeming calculated calm while I had a few shaky moments and the odd bout of spastic “hummingbird paddling” before I got my stride.No. 2 was a series of narrow gushing shoots, but it was No. 3 that almost made me go “number two.” I caught an eddy at the top of a drop in the hopes of giving it a quick scout, but I washed out the back of the eddy, headed into the drop backwards and got flipped.As I set up to roll up, my head slammed against a rock.I guess that’s what helmets are for.No. 5, the most challenging rapid, drops off at a knife edge against a backdrop of frothing whitewater, but maybe that clunk on the head knocked the sense out of me, and I had no problem.A first run under my belt, I can’t wait for another shot at it.