Thursday, January 27, 2011

White Water

Traveling allows me to access a part of my personality that otherwise lies dormant.  Normally, I’m a fearful, fretful person who has been known to shriek, “SOMEONE STOLE MY SON!” when I lose sight of Spencer in a grocery store or weep uncontrollably because Pat threw away the heel of bread I was saving to make into cinnamon toast after the children go to bed.  When I’m on the road, however, I am calmer and braver.  Which may not be saying much when you consider my baseline, but work with me here. It was this calmer, braver part of me that agreed to “gentle” white water rafting even though, at home, I would be afraid of falling onto a rock and losing an eye and/or puncturing a lung. And I certainly wouldn’t take the children.
            Our campground was established and managed by a company called, “Snow Leopard” which promised adventure tourism.  To my mind, that meant that we HAD to be adventurous or what the hell were we doing there instead of going to a day spa?  Besides, I have always hoped to raise children who are less fearful than I am. Already, Spencer is afraid of heights, like me. Also, even though I would probably qualify for any clinical trial concerning the treatment for unreasonable fears, I loved the image of myself as the hiker-rafter-cycler-diver-whatnot that the phrase, “adventure tourism” evoked.
            Robyn already embodies that image and could care less about maintaining it, so she decided to stay back at the camp and nap with Zoe.  That left five adventurers.  Our family, plus Keir. Rather than inspiring new fears in my children by laying bare my own, I was determined to model bravery and adventurousness. 
“OK, kids, let’s strap these babies on,” I said, when we reached the shore. The thousand-year-old ruins of Orchha loomed over us.  Vinod and about five Indian men from “Snow Leopard” readied a large inflatable raft and the accompanying banana boat. 
            “Babies?” asked Murphy.
            “Lifejackets,” I explained.  “We have to wear these babies in case we fall in the water. Which probably won’t happen because these men are trained experts.  But in the event that one of us falls overboard, we need to fasten these babies tight so that we’re nice and safe and don’t drown.”
            “Overboard?” said Spencer.
            “Unlikely,” I said.  I turned to Keir, “Keir, you’re a former Army Ranger, wouldn’t you say that falling overboard is ‘extremely unlikely’?”
            Keir shrugged, “It’s pretty gentle. What would you say, Vinod?  Difficulty, ‘one’?”
            Vinod smiled, “Difficulty, zero.”
            “See kids,” I said.  “Very gentle.  But just in case, let’s make sure our helmets are secure.”
            “I’ve already checked them,” said Pat.  “We’re good.”
            “Excellent,” I said and turned back to the kids, ”That way, if you fall out and slam against a rock, you won’t damage your brain.  These guys know what they’re doing.”
            “Let me adjust your helmet,” Pat said to me. Now that he mentioned it, the helmet did feel like it was resting on the back of my head at a jaunty angle, leaving my frontal lobes vulnerable. 
            As Pat fiddled with the straps, he whispered through a fake smile, “Chill on the ‘bad stuff that can happen to you’ talk. You’ll scare the kids.”
            “Right,” I said, locking eyes.  “Got it, Captain.”
            Vinod stepped into the raft, “Ok.  One at a time.”
            “One at a time, kids,” I repeated. “Otherwise we could tip the whole thing over.”
            I stepped into the boat, “Whoa, careful kids.  A bit wobbly at first.  And, Vinod?  This material that is the bottom of the boat, must be durable, yes?”
            “It’s very safe,” he smiled.
            “See kids. Super safe.  So don’t worry about a jagged rock piercing through it.”
            Pat grabbed my wrist with intent as he stepped into the boat.
            “Right. Right,” I said to him preemptively, “I’m done.”
            When we were all aboard, Vinod sat down us on the inflated sides. It took effort to maintain balance and I had to clench my ass muscles to stay upright as a couple of guys pushed us out onto the water.
            I glanced at Spencer behind me.  He looked focused but fairly relaxed.  Across from me, Murphy looked eager. Good, I thought.  They seemed completely unaware of dangers that would present themselves once we encountered white water. 
            Vinod handed out the oars and we got a quick tutorial on how to hold them.  “Be sure to hold onto the handle like so,” said Vinod.  “If you don’t, the oar can slip and hit you in the face.”
            I gripped the handle tightly and looked back and Murphy, “Hold the handle like Vinod says, honey.”
            Vinod nodded conspiratorially at the man at the…helm? Aft? Front of the boat?, “We saw a man lose his teeth. The oar slipped loose and smashed them out.”
            “Did you hear that, Murphy?” I said, checking his grip again.  “A man lost all his teeth.  Hold the handle, not the oar part.”
            “Like this,” said, Spencer with a surprising amount of confidence. Murphy looked at Spencer’s hand and adjusted his own.
            “Now,” said Vinod, “when I say ‘row’ we row together.  When I say ‘stop’, bring your oars out of the water.
            “Got it kids?” I shouted over my shoulder.
            “Yes, Mom,” they chirped back.
            “They’ve got it, Brett,” Pat said. “It’s not that complicated.”
            Within seconds, Vinod issued the first command. I concentrated on keeping the same rhythm at Keir ahead of me on my side.  He had gone white water rafting several times before. I figured that I should simply copy everything he did, exactly.
            Reach out with the oar and pull. Reach out and pull.  Out and pull.
            “Stop!” ordered Vinod. Keir lifted his oar out of the water. I lifted mine and glanced back.  Pat’s oar was out.  Both boys had followed suit.  Jeez. They really had the hang of this.  We drifted for a while and my ass muscles relaxed. I looked to shore and saw huge boulders and the shapes of more round-topped towers against the bright sky.  The water sparkled and lapped easily against the side of the boat. Here we are in India, I thought – adventuring.  The whole family together.  I bet that anyone seeing us would think we went on adventures like this all the time. We’re that relaxed.  I was tempted to trail my hand in the water but figured I needed to stay poised for the next command.  I looked at Pat, dreamily scanning the shoreline.  Could any picture of an adventuring family be more perfect?.....To Be Continued....
Suited up (Vinod in the foreground in the green shirt)

Adventurers Keir and Pat

1 comment:

  1. i applaud you for being brave and facing your fears...we'll find out what happened. :) the second time i went white water rafting was at glacier national park...i was the lead paddler and i fell out. it was funny, because they said i did everything perfect. when i fell out, all i could hear in my mind was the instructions for falling out...i love reading about your journey! thanks oodles for sharing! :)