On the River: Moment of panic
August 16, 2005
“Go left!” Earl screamed, just moments before I was about to plunge over the drop.It was not a good time to be told that I was headed straight for a dangerous hole in a narrow, rushing rapid created by a massive, flat boulder lodged in the river and the tremendous force of water it was pushing back. This hole would have sucked in little ol’ me and my sit-on-top kayak.But somehow, through panic and the superhuman strength it can spur, I dug my paddle in and managed to veer left and avoid the whole mess.I made it through the rest of Skull Rapid fine and opted to ride in a raft for the last couple of whitewater sections of Westwater. According to the more experienced in our group of 14 (many of them river rats who were doing Westwater for the umpteenth time that season), the Colorado River is now running at an ideal level. At 4,500 cubic feet per second, the water was big enough to cover all the obstacles but not too big to wash out the exciting parts.Aside from my moment of panic, there was virtually no carnage on the trip, which is only a day’s worth (11 nearly consecutive rapids) of whitewater during two to four days of spectacular canyon country flatwater. A couple of kayakers flipped and swam for a short while. One raft got hung up in a hole, and one got stuck against a rock wall – both muscled their way out of it. But our elite crew, with decades of experience among the four raft and cataraft pilots, made for an impressive armada – and everyone rightly celebrated after the rapids with beverages, music and even a 35-foot cliff jump into the river.After my little adventure, I thought about the phrase “What you don’t know can’t hurt you” and wondered if it could apply to sports. I wasn’t warned about the drop at Skull, and I wondered if not knowing made me approach it with more confidence, which then made me able to make that critical last-minute adjustment. I wonder if I had known in advance how big those rapids were, would I still have run them in a vessel I haven’t piloted in years? Or would I have opted to take a passenger spot on a raft (which is tricked out for safety and comfort – and has coolers full of ice-cold beer and snacks)?Yeah, I think I woulda done it anyhow.