As the raft entered the "Hospital Bar" rapid on the South Fork of the American River, the powerful river flipped it into the air as easily as if it were a child's toy, dumping all 10 rafters into the cold water and leaving the raft floating bottom-side up.
It was now our turn to enter the rapid, and seeing the raft in front of us capsize was very sobering. I took comfort in the fact that Tobi, our guide, had been doing this for 9 years, and knew what she was doing. You can see her standing to guide our raft here:
Tobi had taught us what to do if we fell out of the raft, and what to do if we found the raft on top of us (get out from under it--you want to see where you're headed). Along the way, each of us had jumped out of the raft to swim, so we could practice pulling each other back in again, a process that involved grabbing the swimmer by the lifejacket shoulder straps, bouncing them a time or two, and then leaning back to pull them into the raft on top of yourself.
But I hoped that we wouldn't actually need to use our training.
Here you can see me scream as we enter Hospital Bar:
And continue screaming as we go deeper into it:
And turn my head to avoid a facefull of water as we make our way through:
Happily, we didn't get capsized and no one was thrown from the raft. Here we are, celebrating that fact:
Earlier, we'd gone through a less-intense rapid called "Satan's Cesspool", where we could smile for the camera instead of scream. Here's some photos from there:
The guy behind me was hilarious. Here, he's pointing out his best side for the camera.
I loved the experience, loved my fun and friendly rafting partners, and loved having Tobi as a guide. Because it was late in the season and the river was low, we had to navigate through many rocks that are typically below water. She skillfully guided us through; one time she had us paddle for a right turn the entire way through a rapid, causing us to do two 360 degree turns in order to navigate through the rocks and waves safely.
We saw some rafts get stuck...pinned to large rocks by the raging current. When that happens, everyone has to move to one side of the boat, to get the weight off of where the boat meets the rock. But we never needed to do that, because of Tobi's skillful navigation.
One of the things that surprised me about the experience was how little paddling we did. Tobi explained that she looked ahead to see where the main current of the river was flowing, and then would have us do just one or two strokes to position ourselves in the part of the current that was going where we wanted to be. We worked with the flow, rather than trying to muscle our way against it.
I couldn't help but think that life is that way too. If we have goals we want to meet, the easiest and quickest way to reach them is to look for currents that will take us there. Some of the most powerful currents in life are our habits--those things we do without much thought. One of the best uses of our limited supply of self-discipline is to consciously develop habits that will take us where we want to go. Once established, these habits of brushing our teeth, exercising, saving money, etc. will be the strong river currents that take us to our goals and dreams, without requiring a whole lot of muscle and paddling to get there.
Here's another photo of the beautiful American River, in a calm place.