Several years ago, I took my first trip down the Upper Yough in a shredder. I ended the trip in a raft with a stranger after my first rafting partner flipped the shredder in Bird Bath, a really not-awesome place to swim. I emerged under the shredder, knowing nothing of where I should try to swim to have the best chance of not fighting with the River Gods. I was stuck in a bit of a hydraulic where I was, and knew I couldn't stay. So I balled up and hoped for the best - ultimately being spit out in an okay location where someone yelled directions for me to follow to a safer place. I abandoned my shredding partner for another more-experienced stranger's raft. While everyone ended the trip in safe hands, it scared me good and led to a multiple year hiatus from attempting the Upper Yough again.
But as time passes, memories fade a little, as does fear.
And so, I told a friend who has been guiding that river for 20+ years that I'd like to tag along whenever he headed for the Upper Yo again. I could really use the paddling workout, and I also wanted to revisit the section of river that had previously freaked me out in a bad way.
And so on the first day of fall, I tackled the Upper again. This time we were R2ing a puma (translation: just the two of us paddled a small raft). The weather was brisk, the trees were really beginning to show off their autumn colors, and the wind blew small fluffy clouds across the sky all day. In short, it was beautiful.
I donned a wetsuit and splash top to gain a bit more protection from the wind, and we headed to the put in.
My mind was in a surprisingly zen-like state
on the ride over. I gazed at the fall colors emerging from the forest around us
as we drove, and remember thinking to myself, “Why in the hell do I put myself
in positions like this to tackle fear head on? I do far too much of this, I
think. Oh well, too late to turn back this time.”
My friend and guide, Haze, told me a little about each rapid as we approached, discussing the line he hoped we'd follow and the kind of paddling I was to expect in order to make the sometimes critical moves to navigate the best way possible. I nodded my understanding each time, and put forth my best effort.
Two particular rapids were trickier than the rest, only because our line was more critical through these in order to avoid what promised to be a wicked swim if we failed. Beyond those two though? I emerged from every rapid grinning from ear to ear, fear forgotten, fun at hand.
As we passed the exact spot I'd swam in years past, I even recognized it! I remarked to Haze about it, surprised at my memory, and he quickly jarred me back to the present because we had a particularly tricky sequence to tackle to finish navigating our way around the river in front of us.
WAIT FOR IT....BACK PADDLE!
HARD FORWARD, GO! GO! GO!
WAIT FOR IT....BACK PADDLE!
HARD FORWARD AGAIN!
NOW, BOULDER DANCE!
FOWARD-BACK TWO-FORWARD ONE-BACK ONE!
FORWARD TWO-LEAN RIGHT.
Yee-aaahhh, homie! Good job. *high five*
I grinned, high fived him, and looked back upriver. Boulders dotted the river, whitewater rushed around them. Hard to believe a raft would even have fit through the area! It was beautiful though - the leaves on the trees waving green, orange, gold, and russet in the wind, blue skies and white clouds dotting the sky above.
And the day continued as such. Big grins, high fives, and soaking in the beauty of autumn around us on that beautiful stretch of whitewater. I even took a quieter moment on flat water at the end to do a headstand IN THE RAFT.
Thanks, Haze, for a really awesome Monday. My fears are resolved, my body is happily sore the day after, and life is pretty fuckin' good.