Rafting is by far one of the most social sports that I participate in. When I kayak, mountain bike, climb, ski or perform any of my other routine recreational activities, I am never so close, nor so reliant, on the people around me as when I am in a raft. This has it’s perks, and downfalls. The great part about rafting is that you get to hang with your buddies while you smash through huge waves and work as a team to get down the river. For an introvert such as myself, this can be part of the downfall of rafting. I enjoy being around people, at times, but also enjoy solitude. In my line of work I get to take families down the river every day, and hold the guide stick, calling paddle strokes as we go. All of us raft guides tend to be a little on the selfish, narcissistic side. We want to do whatever the hell we want to do, especially when it comes to being in control of a rafting vessel. The problems come when you get four, six, or seven guides in one rubber vessel paddling down the river who want to test their skills against the oncoming obstacles of rock and current. Each in the boat is judging the calls of the guide in charge. Each has a certain perspective; a history of experiences which are reflected in the paddle strokes that they call for. When the water is moving quickly, at the most exciting times, the judgment must be spot on. There can be no hesitation in making paddle commands. “Forward hard!” or “Back paddle” commands are decisive instruments for the guide to safely maneuver the raft.
The customer can be one of the best paddlers that you ever have sit in front of you, yet can also be poor paddlers which have trouble following directions. They are blind to the oncoming obstacles. They don’t see the rocks that your trying to avoid or the currents that your trying to subjugate. Customers don’t have a general understanding of how an eddy line effects a boat moving downstream. You say “forward two,” they go forward two strokes. You say “right back,” and the raft is turned by a conjunction of back paddle and forward paddle strokes, as instructed and coached earlier in the day. Of course there are times when customers get the deer in the headlights look. Usually it is the customers on the downstream side, looking intently at the rock that you are trying to paddle away from. Their strokes become feeble, as what they see is the inevitability of the boat hitting the rock. The whole time they are surely thinking about in the safety speech, how we told them that we never want to hit anything sideways. Their loose and out of sink paddle strokes sometimes are the cause of their own fears: hitting the rock.
Today I am taking a rain check on rafting. All my homies are heading down the royal gorge for some rain induced whitewater. I tell my customers on rainy days that “your going to get wet anyhow, so no matter that its raining,” but on this day I don’t care to sit wet clothes as we head down the river in the afternoon thunderstorms that have been so prevalent this July an August. Likely the next time that I venture into the Royal Gorge I will by paddling a kayak. The independence and challenge of kayaking are alluring, though the danger is also stifling. There is a reason that kayaks are referred to as plastic coffins. Probably a big reason is that kayakers tend to run every feature god saw fit to cast water down in that hunk of synthesized fossil fuels. Being closer to the water, the features, waves, and currents grow more intense.
Working so closely over a season with so many guides can only bring on the strongest of camaraderie, when it does not result in welling up of anger. All of us are only human anyhow, and particularly dominant in our personalities. I will certainly only remember the best of this season, when I reminisce about the great times, and great people.