Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Damsel in distress

So we went river rafting the other day.

Lots of people do it. We've done it before. I mean it's no mean feat really.

As far as I can remember from the last time, six people get into a fat rubber raft with a guide. Each one has a paddle, and easy access to some piece of rope fixed into the boat. Then:
  1. Guide says "Left!" - people on the left paddle.
  2. Guide says "Right!" - right side paddles.
  3. Guide says "Down!" - people scramble helplessly for the nearest piece of rope and hold on for dear life, while guide rows people straight into the heart of the approaching rapid and everyone gets kicks and lives happily ever after.

Bitter from experience, I can now tell you that this is how rafting is done for corporate offsites, and Real Life(TM) can be a little different sometimes.

Starting point: Cache Canyon River

This is where the Cache Canyon River Rafting starts off. The bottom left corner is the departing point, and the brown pixels are all rocks. Craggy, pointy, ugly rocks of houselike dimensions.

There was Harshi, Gaurav, Gaurav's friends Benjy and Jen and I, and a large bunch of other randoms from Stanford. It was a longish 100-mile journey to the campsite, and I arrived in the midst of stunning beauty, eager to hit the water and start paddling ahoy.

Instead what followed can be best described by: I wet myself.

The temperate water on that cold day (it was raining!) was so damn frigid it made my skin want to jump out back onto dry land, leaving my skeleton stranded on the water. The boats were freakishly small versions of the ones I'd seen before, and seated just 2 people. The instructor (note: instructor, not guide) gave a lengthy elocution that could have been titled "What not to do in 21 easy steps" and then gave a toothy grin. This is what he said:

"Try not to fall into the water. If you manage to somehow, hold your body straight and point your feet downstream. It's called bodysurfing (the bastard smirked here). Heaven knows what alternate forms of swimming you'll do today, but hopefully you shouldn't have to. All right, everyone into the water."

I feel I must add here that Harshi doesn't know how to swim. Needless to say, she was quite afraid of going forward with this whole thing.

Now of course, being the man of the boat, I easily convinced her, that no matter what I'd save her if anything untoward chanced to happen - after all I know how to swim and how! I've swum before in the finest swimming pools of the finest schools in Delhi back in my days. I've swum in Olympic sized pools with diving boards at fourteen feet! So all would be hunky-dory, there was no reason to worry.

I would be her charming knight if she ever became the proverbial damsel in distress.

So Harshi and I climbed onto the raft, paddles and all and rowed into the current. The first rapid was not a hundred yards away. The paddles are about as much help as a fork with soup, and your ass feels like those mushroom rocks just outside Hyderabad that one wonders how nature manages to balance.

With a lot of screaming, fighting (You row left. No, you row left!), clinging onto ropes, ass-gymnastics and paddling waving, we managed to get through the first few rapids.

Then we saw this:
108 metres of sheer terror

To the observer, it's just a bunch of rocks to be avoided by steering due right into the water channel. However, when helpless, nervous, wet, fighting, i-didn't-wanna-come-you-did people try and row away from it, it's a whole other story. Our efforts at steering due right ended up with the rubber boat going backwards directly into the rocks, and I got the shove of my life.

Plop! I was in the water. If you're too lazy to click on the picture, it says "108.51 metres". That's the length of the rapid. X-axis.

I shouted. Harshi shouted. I remember trying to do something with my paddle. Then the raft, following the laws of motion dutifully, gushed into the water below with a whooshing sound.

When the dark dark image of the instructor's smirk finally cleared my mind, there was water in my nose, no boat and the emasculating realization of me being the damsel in distress. The realization turned darker when I further realized that my knight in shining a(r)mour did not know how to swim.

108.51 metres, 42 seconds, one eye-glass-lens and numerous breaths later, I reached the end of the rapid. I cannot describe how exhilarating / horrifying the feeling of going down a rapid feet first, beating against rocks, and just hanging on, is.

And then I saw a beacon of hope. Harshi had somehow managed to stop (how the f*** do you stop a f***ing boat?! With one paddle, when you don't know how to swim!) and was clinging to a branch to make sure she stood her ground. I swam slowly to safety over the cries of "you have to pick up your partner!" and "I can't!! I'm holding the tree!" and climbed tiredly into the boat.

My knight in shining armor had come back to embrace me with open arms, and picked me up on her horse with a tug on the reins. No man has ever felt so much gratitude at the same time as so much shattered ego.

The worst seemed to be over.

Then I fell right back in again, twice!

Practice makes Perfect, as they say. So by the time we reached the biggest rapid, it was plain sailing. It's called "Mother Mary" because it skips the reminds-you-of-God part and directly reminds you of His mother. This is what it looks like.

Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your rapid flow?

See the waterfall? There.

Three and a half hours later, our raft reached dry ground. And in a curious twist, everyone lived happily ever after.

UPDATE: The map starts here: http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=en&geocode=&t=h&ie=UTF8&ll=38.922253,-122.328563&spn=0.003977,0.008261&z=18