After falling in love with whitewater rafting while floating through Brown’s Canyon, my family decided to return to Buena Vista a few days later to take on one of the toughest sections on the Arkansas River: The Numbers.
Named for the considerable number of rapids, this tour would be a test of our strength and persistence, and we were about to find out if we were up for the challenge.
To read more about my first rafting experience, check out my post Listen to Your Guide: White Water Rafting through Browns Canyon.
Knowing well that this would be a difficult tour, each of us felt pretty nervous. As we headed back to American Adventure Expeditions, the instances discussed in the required safety video, of falling out of or flipping the raft, suddenly became very real possibilities.
And considering the speed of the water, we worried that if we did fall out of the raft, there would be no way for us to get back in.
Upon meeting our new guide, Levi, and gearing up for the trip, we weren’t loaded up into a bus like before but only a small van.
After asking where the rest of the rafters were, Levi gave us a little smile and said, “I guess you were the only ones brave enough to take on The Numbers.”
The ride down to the put-in was a long one. We learned all about Levi, how he’d grown up in Kansas and decided to follow his dream of whitewater rafting.
About how each year, as the currents become more and less intense around the world, he would move East every few months to chase the best rafting water.
Although my family knew his stories were supposed to put us at ease, their faces betrayed the anxiety they felt inside.
Arriving at our destination, I noticed a few trembling hands among us. My brother hesitated as he approached the water, remembering all too well how the freezing temperatures had made him shiver the whole way down Brown’s Canyon.
When Levi noticed his reluctance, he laughed. “Don’t worry, buddy,” he said. “You’ll be too busy paddling for your life to worry about the water temperature.”
Once we were in our positions and had moved the raft out to the center of the river, we all hopped in and felt that familiar movement of the water. But any kind of peace we had quickly evaporated.
Levi informed us that we would only have four minutes until our first rapid (conveniently named “Number One”). He quickly reminded us of the commands, and before we knew it, the rapid was upon us.
Looking at it, I was baffled. How could we possibly pass it? The distance between the rocks was too narrow and the turns were so tight, we’d never be able to curve our raft in time.
We charged into the roaring waters, a giant boulder coming straight at us. But inches before disaster, Levi yelled out, “All back!”
We adjusted our positions, leaning back and dipping our paddles into the water, pushing the water towards the front of the raft. All of the sudden, we were making our way around the boulder – backwards.
And once we had made it past the first rock this way, we adjusted our positions to paddle forward again and easily passed between the rapids.
To be quite frank, I was amazed. This large raft, filled with six people, had passed through a tight, technical turn without a scratch. It was a method I had never seen, nor thought of myself.
But Levi, clearly no stranger to these waters, knew that our raft wasn’t limited to one direction. That we could utilize what we had to get past anything.
Each rapid that followed was like a new adventure. Sometimes we would enter a rapid backwards, sometimes forwards, sometimes at an angle with one side of our raft paddling forward and the other paddling backward.
We responded to his commands at lightning speed, digging our paddles deep into the water, keeping the pace even when a giant wave splashed us in the face.
And we made it through without any mishaps. No falls into the river, no paddles lost and definitely no rafts flipped.
Looking back on my experience, I see an important lesson: there’s always more than one way to get to where you’re going.
You don’t always have to face the rapids head on. If there’s a tight turn up ahead that you can’t pass with your typical method, be creative.
Try a different approach and see if it works better. You’ve been given the tools for success; you can use them any way you want.
Sometimes the best way is forward, sometimes it’s backward, and sometimes it’s spinning around with the current of the water. Just remember that it’s possible.
If you’ve been stuck recently, trying to get from point A to point B, and just don’t know how, think of a new route. Think outside the box. Your options are truly limitless.
And maybe all you need to do is to take a step back and look at your problem from a whole new perspective.