On Whitewater Rafting and Near Death Experiences

Pictured on your left is a scene that will forever be etched into my memory, no matter if I later succumb to Alzheimer's disease or a severe blow to the head. In the image I am rafting with a group of folks on the Upper Gauley River as we approach Pillow Rock. Most of the folks are having a terrific time, but I am not.

You see, while the group celebrated the successful navigation of this challenging Class V rapids, I was too busy being sucked out of the raft by a big-ass wave to enjoy the moment. If you look closely, you can see my left leg protruding from the water, looking like a skinny punctuation mark attached to a gurgled underwater scream.

Most of the rest of me is under water and bouncing off boulders larger than most four-door automobiles. In case the previous image does not illustrate my nearly drowned plight, here is a cropped version of the moment:

The next five minutes of my life were spent in a tragic-comic watery maelstrom that likely resembled a frog in a Cuisinart. I managed at one point to grab hold of crevice in a small canyon, but it became clear to me after catching my breath that my only hope of survival was to let go and finish my painful journey downstream and get fished out by the other members of my raft.

Eventually I found myself washed up in the proximity of the raft, and my colleagues pulled me from the water; amazingly, aside from scratches, contusions, and inhaled water, I was relatively sound. All of my energy had been spent, I no longer wanted to be anywhere near the river, and I seriously considered walking the remaining seven miles back to the base camp and the bus. To make matters worse, one of the people on the boat thought it would be funny to cause the raft to tip in a small rapids further downstream, and visions of bludgeoning said fool with my oar danced in my head.

Some years have passed since the day I thought I was going to die, and I have yet to return to the Gauley River. We used to go every fall for the annual running of the river, but I will be content if I never again set foot in a raft on the Gauley.

I have nothing to prove, and the shore looks much more inviting these days.

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