Surviving the River

What does not kill you makes you stronger. This made me stronger.

White glitter rippled across the surface of the river while half a dozen rubber rafts floated about. I lay inside, splayed out, eyes closed. My three other roommates swam and splashed in the cool water. When it was suggested that we go river rafting, this was not the thought that came to mind. I imaged roaring white water, helmets and heart pounding. Although the current situation was an extremely relaxing alternative to an afternoon spent on the brink of drowning.

Once all four were seated inside the balloon-like raft, we began paddling again. Almost immediately, a problem began to grow. Four women of varying sizes and strength attempting to paddle; what should have been a straight line began curving. “Paddle faster left….now right side paddle slower”. As our question mark became an exclamation point of success, we undoubtedly over corrected and now began curving in the opposite direction. Frustration grew as confidence shrank. The once gentle warm of the sun, now began cook my body as we struggled to maintain direction.

The river seemed to stretch on forever as hour turned on to hour and muscle turned from stone to gelatin. Off in the distance, clouds began to form and churn. Over our heads, hot white light burned down. The Delaware River fought us for every foot we attempted to move forward. Paddle faster, paddle slower pull, pull, pull.

The heat began to fade while puffy white clouds, than grey and finally storm clouds succeeded in their pursuit of us. A ripple of lightning illuminated the sky off in the distance. Now every stroke came out of earnest necessity. How much of the river remained? After this next bend, is the finish line or the one after that? A serious tone overcame us, but did not improve our paddling skills.

Peals of thunder echoed down the cliff walls into the river. A sharp cool wind brushed against our swimsuit clad bodies. Adding insult to injury, the charcoal skies opened and fat, cold rain flooded down. We pushed on as hard and fast as our tired limbs would take us. Fifteen minutes past, than thirty. Other rafts began to dot the rocky edge of the river, as people began abandon their efforts. Using whatever item we could find, we attempted to bail out our sinking ship while the remaining soldiered on with the paddles.

Shaking from cold and unable to bail out our slowly flooding raft, a command decision was made to join those on the side of the river. We managed to safely ground our raft, after an effort against trees and jagged rocks. Perching on pointy, spider infested rocks; we used the upside down raft as shelter from the brisk wind and unrelenting cold rain.

How long is the rain going to continue? When should we try again? I just wanted to be done and in dry clothes again, so I was an advocate for resuming. I could be just as miserable in the raft and be closer to the end, which we were all sure was just around the next bend. We had been paddling for hours; surely, the end was close.

With the rain still falling in consistent sheets, we recommenced our fight. With each bend hope swelled within me that my race was over; only to be later dashed. As far as I could see, the river continued. The ache from my arms was gone and replaced by a complete lack of feeling all together. How my muscles continued to move, I do not know. Our fellow rafters became fewer and fewer. Our clumsy, slow pace had even put us behind a family with three small children.

What seemed to be hours later, in reality less than thirty minutes, the relentless rain gave way to a cool drizzle. It no longer threatened to capsize our vessel, but simply remained to annoy. I wanted desperately to be off this river. We remained silent, the only sound the continual slap, slap, slap as oar hit water.

Hope springs eternal as we round another bend. Finally, off in the distance, our merciful end. The remaining few rafts ahead of us began pulling off to the side of the river. No second wind came at the revelation, there was no additional energy left to give. Just stroke after stroke. It was finally over.

A Ahrens

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