Let me just preface this post with this unfortunate fact: I failed swimming lessons when I was a grade school child. Dropped out before the session was even close to being complete. The configuration of my body parts didn’t lend itself to really being much of a swimmer. 😜 But I was able to float (on my back) and potentially avoid drowning. In my mind that was close enough to success. Mission accomplished. Sort of. The failure stayed with me and put a dent in my level of confidence around water.
When our girls were really young we started an annual August tradition of vacationing near South Fork Colorado in a large campground there. A beautiful lazy river ran through the campground, and we rented inner tubes to float down the river every single year. Often the water level wasn’t high enough to keep us afloat and we’d end up walking a bit of the way carrying our tubes until we reached deeper water. It was just that non-threatening. Truly a relaxing way to spend time. So what if I couldn’t swim?
|The river that ran through the campground.|
And then came the year 1993 when we chose to vacation in June instead of August on the very first day they opened up the river for floats. My husband DeWayne and I, as well as my sister Lois were first in line to rent our tubes and take the lazy float.
But it wasn’t lazy on that particular day. The river was quite high and the typical float time of 45 minutes was reduced to around 7 minutes. No fears, it was a fun fast ride and we were all three laughing and having a great time. The exit area of the river required that you navigate yourself toward the right, in the shallow side and then stand up out of your tube and just walk right out onto the sandy shore area. DeWayne and Lois maneuvered themselves perfectly and waited on shore to watch me exit. But I was way too far on the other side of the river to make it to the right side. I was swept away in the swift current on my tube and ended up in some pretty wild whitewater quickly. Before I knew it I was caught in a wire fence that stretched across the river but was submerged. My life jacket immediately came off and washed quickly downstream. I was suddenly pinned between the fence and the inner tube that had slipped out from under me and was now against my back, painfully pressing me into the fence in front of me. I was able to keep my nose just barely above the rushing, powerful water and my hands were gripping the fence. But my feet couldn’t reach the bottom of the river, and the fence didn’t reach the bottom of the river either. The power of the water was attempting to pull me under the fence with impressive force. And breathing wasn’t all that easy either.
For several minutes I struggled there in the water, clinging to the fence, weakly crying out for help, and praying that God would keep me from drowning. In desperation DeWayne got back in the water to try and rescue me. Then we were both in the fence struggling to survive. It wasn’t long before I no longer had strength to hold onto the fence and my body was swept down into the rocky river under the fence, with DeWayne following me under. He was able to grab hold of the fence on the other side, and I was able to grab hold of his foot as we were being whipped about in the whitewater while our bodies were beaten up by large submerged rocks. By this time my sister was joined on the shore by a group of men who had brought ropes and climbed onto a small bridge which was above the fence area. They dropped the rope down and I was able to grab hold of it while they dragged me to shore, and they repeated the procedure to get DeWayne out of the water too.
Truly I did not expect to still be alive. My mind had been fixed on the thought that I was not going to make it out alive. I can’t even begin to describe the relief I felt as I stood there on the dry shore, bruised from head to toe. My heart was beating. I was breathing. So very grateful that God spared our lives that day.
You know what….I doubt that even superb swimming skills would have prevented this experience. You don’t really swim in whitewater. Especially with a fence in the way. (side note, the campground removed the fence from the river and shut down the area to floating until the river level went down some. My near-drowning probably saved some lives of small children who would have floated the same route.)
That experience destroyed any desire I might ever have again to be in whitewater on a river.
So this year, some 24 years later, our oldest daughter and her husband invited us to join them on a rafting trip in Colorado on the Arkansas river. Without even thinking, I accepted the invitation. They had rafted in that same area a few years before and there was no real whitewater involved, just a lazy float trip on a large raft. I had watched them from the shore. Seemed harmless. Never mind that we were fixing to celebrate my 62nd birthday and I still couldn’t really swim. 😅
We arrived at the starting point for the trip and waited to board a bus. I was pretty relieved to see several quite muscular strong looking men who would be piloting the rafts. While we waited to leave, a tiny little young woman who appeared to be maybe 20 years old gave us a loud firm speech on just exactly what could go wrong on this rafting trip, just exactly what we would need to be able to do to keep from drowning, and probably many other frightening facts. I zoned out pretty quickly and started re-thinking my decision to take this trip.
But hey, my 9 and 11 year old grandkids would be on the raft too. And one of those super strong capable men would be our trusty guide. Surely it wouldn’t be unsafe.
Right before we boarded the bus the various groups were divided up and assigned a guide for each raft. Guess who our guide was? The tiny little woman/child with the loud scary speech. She looked like she didn’t have the strength to lift a fork, and speaking of lifting forks — she looked like she certainly didn’t lift a forkful of food to her mouth nearly often enough. Wee little woman I’m telling you.
I had serious second thoughts but got on the bus anyway. Just a float trip. Just floating. I could float. The little chick with her tough talk was exaggerating. There would be no peril. Nothing to fear.
On the way to the launching place on the river our bus was detained by road construction and we found ourselves sitting for several minutes alongside the river. In plain sight of rafters taking the same trip we were fixing to embark upon. So I watched as their rafts were being whipped this way and that, water pouring over them. They were all using oars to keep their rafts upright. And the water was whitewater rough.
June 1993. Inner tube. Powerful whitewater. Fence. Panic.
I tapped my daughter’s shoulder and said “I cannot do this.” And to say I was gripped by fear is an understatement. I was paralyzed by fear. My chest was tight and I was terrified. But the bus was in motion again. My choices were few. I could chicken out at the river launching area and ride the bus back or I could get on the raft and probably meet my Mom, Dad, and Jesus in heaven before the trip was over.
We arrived at the launch and as we stood on the shore I looked back up just in time to see the bus driver shut the door and pull away.
Then I looked at the raft in the water and listened to tiny little girl guide instruct us on where to sit. So. I got in the raft. With my very young grandchildren who exhibited no fear whatsoever. And their parents and my husband. No discernible fear from them.
Tiny little guide girl gave us specific instructions on what to do with our oars and I tried real hard to make my brain absorb what she was saying. But all the time I was thinking “You know, it wouldn’t be so bad to see my Mom and Dad and Jesus today.”
As it turned out, tiny little guide girl was older and stronger than she appeared and quite capable of leading our raft through the whitewater. Not without terror on my part, not without our raft becoming tangled in a tree while the guide shouted instructions, not without us doing a fast paced 360 degree turn (planned. I think) Not without waves washing over us from head to toe and water flooding my nose and ears. But after we navigated our first of many big areas of whitewater I relaxed a bit. Not a lot, but enough that I was able to actually come close to enjoying the trip.
It was a two hour raft trip. And at the end of the trip I felt like I’d accomplished something pretty significant. I faced the residual fear of that horrible day 24 years earlier. And survived.
Honestly, I never need to take another whitewater rafting trip ever. It was fun, and it served a purpose for me. It’s a healthy thing to face fears and trust God to help you through terrifying situations.
Mom, Dad, Jesus? Looking forward to seeing you all (and many others) one day. I’ll love that day. And I love the day in the picture below. Especially when my feet touched dry ground with my body still experiencing a pulse and respirations. Ahhhhh.
|oddly enough, DeWayne & I are the only ones smiling.|
5 thoughts on “Fences and Fear”
Loved your story…
Thank you Roger!
Beautiful and well-written! I love your heart of trust and honesty.
Thank you Shelly!