Whitewater Rafting in the Underworld

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I went whitewater rafting with some friends. It was a bucket list item for several of us and the rest went along with the alacrity of adrenaline junkies trying to fill a Saturday with something more exciting than laundry. We meet up at the prescribed location, get on the bus and drive to the site. It was pointed out that our bus number was 6662 and thus commenced that jokes about the bus taking us to hell. I pointed out that it was only delivering us to the river Styx. I was wrong about that. It was the river Acheron and it would pour forth pain upon me.

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The bus to the Underworld

Upon arrival we are instructed to change, wear proper footwear, get a life vest and meet our group. That done we are given a boarding pass for another bus that takes us down to the river. While on that bus we are given instructions. These consist of who our guides are, what the verbal and hand signal mean, when it is appropriate to throw water at each other, how to steer the boat, how to avoid rocks, how to get off the rock if you are stuck, what to do if you fall out of the boat, and how to get someone back into the boat if they have fallen out. All this was vital information that we listened to with great focus. Once at the river we were instructed to grab a paddle, choose a boat, and sit in it. Once that was done they went over the instructions one last time.

Of note was the advice that if you happen to fall into the river you will surface very close to your boat. You should try to grab the rope, paddle or outstretched arms of the people in your boat. Failing that you should float feet first downstream to avoid your head hitting submerged rocks. This all sounds like very sound advice. The guides also admonished people to not just pass by anyone that fall into the river. This I find troubling. These are people who do this all day, every day. Do so many ignore the plight of the fallen that they feel they need to admonish us into assisting? Apparently they do. Not much faith in humanities altruism among the tour guides.OK, into the water. All goes well, we learn how to steer and how to paddle together without banging into each other’s paddles and are chatting leisurely with one of the guides. We hit the first set of rapids with no issues. The second set is where they take the photo. There is someone on the bridge with a camera and we were all told to steer to the right but look up toward the left and appear awesome. Our group looked like we were off our medication. No matter!

Onto the first “challenge.” This is where we realized that sound doesn’t carry a great distance over the noise of the river. We each got only a few words and tried (and failed) to piece it together into something that made sense. We heard that this part of the river was like the sea, we should go left, then right, and do something with our elbows.

We turned left and got stuck on a rock sideways. We were one of the first rafts so that meant that every other raft hit us. Unfortunately, not hard enough to get us off the rock. They did hit us hard enough to send one woman off her seat into the bottom of the boat with her legs in the air. We were at such an angle that we couldn’t get her up. We told her to just wait until we were off the rock. That wasn’t the best idea since once we managed to free the boat it was taken by the current and we were being shouted at by a guide in a kayak to turn right NOW, NOW, NOW! We didn’t make it, hit another rock, and two more people ended up in the bottom of the boat. After we got through that we all realized that they had been telling us to turn left then make a hard right to avoid hitting the elbow of the turn. The part of the river was appropriately named the “Z” turn. It all made sense now.

We went through a few more sections of the river with guides shouting instructions we couldn’t decipher and we survived those by letting everyone pass us and watching them make all the mistakes. This worked out pretty well, until we got to the midway point. Here they made us all pull over and instructed us that we were about to go through the fastest and most dangerous part of the river. Everyone cheered. My boat let out a collective “shit!” Off we go.

This time we were in the middle and making pretty good progress. And then it happened. We bounced off a rock. For a split second I thought that was fortunate, but then I bounced up out of my seat. The boat wasn’t there when I came down. I heard a collective groan that was more than the six remaining members of my boat right before my back hit the water and my left side hit the rock. This is where I realized I hadn’t paid the ferryman and I was being dumped into the river of souls.

 river styx
Now, growing up near the beach I’ve had the unfortunate experience of being caught in a riptide. Not exactly what you expect when you fall into a river, but the sensation of powerful amounts of water going over your head and rolling currents tossing you about create the same disorientation. Since childhood I’ve had it drilled into my head to swim sideways and the riptide will spit you out. This doesn’t seem to work in rapids. I was under longer than I liked.

I stopped trying to swim and let the life vest take me up. Arms flung out, desperately hoping someone would grab them, I took a breath and was immediately hit with water. Not good. I saw my boat with all members holding out paddles pass me. They really tried. I heard someone shout “turn around” and I remembered I was supposed to go feet first with my toes out of the water. It would have been great if they had given us some tips on how to maneuver in a current. I attempted to paddle one way and kick the other. The current thought I wanted to barrel roll and I sucked in more water. Screw it! I floated with my arms over my head hoping it would be a small cushion to my skull, because while this was happening the back of my pelvis was hitting every single rock. Adrenaline is such a wonderful thing in that it cuts off the pain response and kicks the brain into hyper awareness. What I was the most aware of was how blue the sky was and the fact that the rocks were causing my pants to fall off. Both very helpful in getting out of the water.

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Such pretty blue sky

The boat of men that paddled up were much more practical minded. I alternated between declarations of thanks and spitting out water into their boat.  I’m a bit unclear how they hauled me into the boat, dead weight at that point, but they managed and I traveled down river with them. Not only had they pulled me out of the water, but one of them had lost a paddle doing so. He and I just sat in the boat with me gasping and coughing and him repeating over and over “are you OK?”  At one point I saw my boat and they were stuck on a rock. I waved and gave them a thumbs up. What felt like an eternity in the water was only a few moments. It seems when I surfaced I had missed grabbing hold of my boat by about two inches.The rest of the trip went off without incident and was lots of fun. We got back on the bus, returned our oars and life vests, and were dropped at the base. There we changed clothes, looked at our awful photos, and ate something that may have been food but definitely contained sugar. We got back on the Bus of the Beast and slept on the trip back to our car. I got home, took pain killers, and went to bed. I slept for ten hours. It was glorious. Until I tried to move.

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It doesn’t look that powerful, it is deceiving.

Holy shit! What did I do to my ribs?

I text everyone else to ask if they were sore and got back from one “No, I didn’t fall out of the boat.” Oh, right.

So I can’t sit up because you seem to need your ribs for that. You need your ribs for everything. I’ve never damaged my ribs before. Pretty much this is the worst injury I have had.  I even broke my coccyx once at a pool party, but that’s a story for another time. Considering everything else in my life as a result of my quest of adventure and poor judgment combined, I have been fortunate.

So I discovered that my arms and legs were fine, but my left rib cage and the area just above the base of my spine were agony. Rocks will do that. Sitting hurts. Lying prone hurts. Sneezing is terrifying. I spent the day standing and walking. I even had to convince my dog he was indeed permitted to jump up on the coffee table since I couldn’t bend over to attach his leash. He will never unlearn this behavior and I think I am alright with that. Finding a comfortable position was torture and the anticipatory pain of having to get up was even worse. But get up I must for I had no clean clothes nor did I have food. Laundry had to be done and food shopping needed to happen.

Laundry wasn’t as bad as I thought. I normally keep the basket on top of the hamper, so no bending. Grocery shopping wasn’t difficult. I could lean on the cart and anything that required bending was simply eliminated from the list or substituted with another brand. I swallowed my pride and carried the bags in three trips as opposed to the standard one trip or die. It wasn’t euphemism, I felt like I might die if I carried too much. Little did I know the worst was yet to come.

I have a problem with eating too quickly. Whenever I scarf down food I am usually rewarded with heartburn. I was still ravenous from the rafting trip and I ate my diner far too fast for the liking of my digestive tract. What transpired is a cruel joke my traitorous body choose to play on me. I decided to go to bed early. I got the dog and we crawled under the covers. I tried to get into a comfortable position and finally just accepted lying on my right side with all the pillows supporting my back at a strange angle. It still hurt, but it was tolerable. Just as I started to drift off I felt it. Heartburn? No. This was worse. I was nauseous. I might have to vomit. Shit. Shit, Shit, Shit. I can’t get up fast enough. I am now lying in bed, propped up by pillows and wedged into a semi-horizontal position contemplating if it’s better to make my way to the bathroom now or just puke on the floor and deal with it later. Not to mention the fear and anxiety I experienced each time I thought about the involuntary heaving and how much that was going to hurt. This went on for an hour before my body fully digested the food and I could relax enough to drift off to sleep.

Have I learned my lesson? Probably not. I’ll do something adventurous and beyond my skill level again. And again. Because I’m not entirely right in the head. Besides, they make for great stories.

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Stopping for lunch at a calm portion of the river

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