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We did a lot of whitewater rafting in the western U.S.  We’d just arrived at Gates of Lodore, on the Green River in Colorado and Utah.   Normally a Class III+ trip, unusually heavy spring snow had pushed the water level up to a solid Class V.  It was at an historic level, high enough to be dangerous but not high enough to close.

We stood on the ramp and stared at the river.  The mood was bleak; we’d driven all this way but no one expected this:  it wasn’t just water but a high glassy thing, rolling and heaving with a life of its own.   It’s been years but I can still feel what it was like to look at it, a spreading energy in my chest and shoulders that said, pay attentionThis is serious.

While were contemplating our doom we were joined by a young park ranger, beside himself with envy.  He was taut with longing for a missed opportunity; you got the feeling he had to restrain himself from running down the ramp and jumping in.

“It’s only gonna be like this for a few days,” he told us.  “By the time I get off work it’ll be back to normal.”  We held one of two permits to launch the next day.  The ranger went on, “the other group left; they were scared.”  He looked around the circle of anxious faces.  “You’ve got the whole thing to yourselves.  You gotta go.”

Our group was quiet and I don’t remember how we came to our decision.  But I found myself behind the wheel of an empty truck, driving all day in a caravan of vehicles to the spot where our trip would eventually end.  The five drivers would fly back in the morning, to find the boats rigged and ready to go.  Very fast.

My greatest fear about rafting is the “swim”.   It’s just what it sounds like.  A swim usually involves a rapid, and that means raging water and rocks, and sometimes logs and things called “holes”.  Some holes are “keepers”.  You get the idea.  In my years of rafting I’d never had to swim a rapid.

It was a hot, dusty day and the five vehicles made a rolling red cloud across the desert.   I was somewhere in the middle of the pack with no air conditioning and the windows open.  Most of the time I couldn’t see the other trucks, or where we were headed.

At some point I hit ‘search’ on the radio, which helplessly sought a station for hours.  Then suddenly, the start of a song!  It was unexpectedly clear, nice and loud, so familiar–was that Jethro Tull?

Oh!  Hey!  I know that song!  It’s–Oh.

Oh, crap. I smacked the steering wheel with my hand.  The song  was ‘Aqualung’.  You know, the thing that divers wear when they go deep underwater.

Jesus, I said to myself.  I’m going for a swim.

Next Up: More Clairvoyant Skills in Everyday Life

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