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It was the morning of the launch.  The shuttle drivers flew back upstream in a small plane, landing on the red canyon rim.  It was a clear blue morning with a spectacular sunrise, gold on red and cream, with brushstrokes of grayish-green.

We wound our way from the rim down to the boat ramp in time for bagels and coffee with the four boatmen.  The boats were rigged and waiting, tied off in the eddy at the bottom of the ramp.  Out in the main channel the current was muscular and very, very fast; it made your stomach hurt to look at it.

I took my usual place in a one-man inflatable kayak, or duckie, and stayed close to Ann.  She had more experience in duckies than I did, and she was more self-confident.  What could go wrong?

We pushed off.  One by one, the boats angled toward the current.  The moment came when the current grabs, and you’re committed.  The kayaks spread out as the safety guys took their points, watchful of the rafts and the duckies.  The bank screamed by.  It was a blast.  Until about one mile into the thing.

We landed and tied off to scout the first big rapid, Upper Disaster Falls.  Just downstream was Lower Disaster Falls, but at the current water level a third rapid had formed: Middle Disaster.  All in a row and if you paddled the right line you’d miss them, but if you made a mistake you’d be in for quite a ride.

One of our boatmen was the inestimable Ed, a firefighter who specialized in “heavy rescue”.  Whatever that meant.  He was a long-time, confident boatman and I figured he could spot trouble a mile away.  Who better to help us pick our line?

“No problem,” he told us, looking downstream at the Disasters.  “Here’s what you do.”

I followed Ann out into the drink and I was tailgating.   We had boats ahead of us and boats behind, but I wasn’t taking my eyes off hers for anything.  What I didn’t expect was that she might change her mind and change it she did, suddenly pulling hard toward the other bank for all she was worth.  Frantically I tried to correct but it was too late.

I was headed straight for a spindly, mostly-submerged tree.  Deftly, I made the worst possible choice.  I grabbed a branch and the force of the current ripped me away from the tree, leaving me with a raw hand full of tamarisk leaves.  Which was less troubling than the fact that I was no longer in my boat, and moving toward Upper Disaster.  I knew better, but at that point I froze and waited to be rescued.

Big rapids are noisy.  One by one the passing boatmen considered whether they could reach me and avoid flipping their own boats.  I saw mouths moving and arms waving but it might have been a silent movie.  I was on my own.

I took a roller-coaster ride through Upper Disaster and Middle Disaster was imminent.  I looked downstream and my inner voice said, we’re not swimming another rapid.

Now, I’m not what you’d call a religious person but I do have my allies, an eclectic mishmash of spiritual players across all theological lines.  On this particular occasion I selected Jesus as my savior (forgive me) and I sent up a flare.  Instantly a calm, firm voice said, “swim, Katie.”

A common sense guy.

As powerful as that current was, it only took a few hard strokes and I was in the calm near the bank, and able to stand up.  Actually, it was so easy I felt sort of silly.  When Bob came running up the bank with a rope he found me on shore, grinning like I’d just gotten off an amusement park ride.  Later he said, “you seemed awfully happy for someone who just swam a rapid.”

Why not?   I’d learned that I could face a fear, ask for help, and find out it’s no big deal.  I just have to remember to ask.

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