It was Labor Day weekend, the last weekend in a summer full of outdoor adventures with my grandsons. Twelve-year-old Noah and I headed up north to go white water rafting. It was my idea. I’d gone rafting dozens of times. Who cares that the last time was almost 30 years ago? What could go wrong?
We arrive at the meet-up spot near Pembine. Our guide, Derek, fits us with life jackets and helmets. Along with the other 6 rafters, two women and four men, we board the bus with our driver Bill who takes us to the launch spot on the Menomonie River. We rafters chat a bit on the bus and I learn that only two of them had ever been rafting before and it was a long time ago.
The first section of the trip is just flat water and Derek uses the time to review the safety instructions and practice paddling in unison. We all listen carefully.
The next section is class 2 rapids which I now know means “some rough water and rocks, some maneuvering.” Only a basic skill level required. Yahoo! We got wet. Everyone was laughing. We give a high five salute with our paddles.
The next section is class 4 rapids which I now know are waves, rocks, sharp maneuvers, a considerable drop; “exceptional” skill level required.
Off we go. Derek is calling out paddling instructions. But the people paddling on the left are paddling way harder than the people on the right and we smash straight into a giant face of rock. The force bounces us into a ricochet which catapults me into a backward summersault out of the raft.
My helmet pops off and I’m trapped underneath the raft. “Gurgle, gurgle, gurgle.” Oh dear, this is bad. I was really, really scared. After a death defying amount of time, the raft and I drift apart. But now I’m going down the “considerable drop” all by myself. Whitewater crashes over my face. It feels like what I imagine waterboarding would feel like. I thought I was going to drown.
Noah is screaming, “Grandma! Grandma! Grandma!” When you are over 60, you think about death now and then and you think, yeah, I’ve had a good life. I’m okay with death. But not today! Not fucking today! Not like this. This would really suck for Noah. I can’t have Noah’s last memory of me be this!
Derek is shouting “nose up, toes up” at me. He’s yelling at the rafters to paddle hard and they finally get close to me. Derek reaches over and grabs me by the shoulders of my life jacket. “One, two, three,” and he hauls me into the back of the raft. The bottom of my suit falls down to my knees. I’m face down, bare ass up. As I wriggle around to pull my suit up and find a more comfortable postion, Derek says, “Sorry ma’am.”
We get through the rest of the rapids and glide to the river bank. No one is laughing. “Grandma, are you okay?” says a wide-eyed Noah. I say, “I’m fine,” even though my heart is pounding out of my chest and my hands are shaking. Derek is wild-eyed and wants to know if I hit my head anywhere.
We hike a little way to rendezvous with the bus driver. Bill greets us with. “Wait until you see the video! Some of you are really going to want a copy.”
Video? What video? I forgot about the video. Bill had been perched above the falls recording.
I rationalize it away. How close could he possibly have been? Plus, the mishap was in the back of the boat. Only Derek saw it. I tell Noah about it just in case and he thinks it’s funny but he’s not concerned. “They would probably fuzz it out anyway,” he says.
Back at the meet-up spot, everyone gathers around a small flat screen to view our exciting journey. Sure enough, there it is. My big white ass for the whole world to see. Noah nods his head and says, “Oh Grandma.”
The two other women in the group realize how awkward this is and yank the men away. I threaten to stalk anyone who buys the video. Noah consoles me, “It’s okay Grandma. It’s not that bad. Everyone has a butt.”
I give Noah a big hug. I’m so very grateful that our memory of this trip will be this really funny embarrassing thing that happened and not something horrible. He tells me that rafting was the most fun he had all summer.
(The live recorded version of this piece aired on WUWM on 1/6/17. http://wuwm.com/post/ex-fabula-adventures-children)