Saturday, May 16, 2015
Last summer on day eleven of our Colorado River float, we woke up to a camp vibrant in anticipation of that day's run through Lava Falls Rapid. Rated 8-10 on the scale of 1-10 developed strictly for that river, this rapid has a reputation for chewing up boats and spitting them and their passengers out at the bottom. Even the guides were a little more sober that morning, although their talk to us was positive and full of reminders that if we followed their direction, we'd be fine.
As we had for two previous rapids, also with bad-boy reputations, we scouted Lava. Standing above the roiling waters, listening to the guides discuss the holes to avoid and the best route to follow to avoid those holes, I felt for the first time that trip a small frisson of fear. The possibility of being overturned was very real. Those rocks were huge and the water was the wildest I'd ever seen. The noise alone, which we began hearing well before the approach, felt like fair warning. A warning we were ignoring.
The guide we traveled with in a raft with three other people was one we swore at the beginning of the trip we wouldn't ride with at all. His bad-boy swagger and attitude, much like that of Lava Falls, made me unsure about trusting him with my life. When we'd traveled with all the other guides, and it was becoming obvious to us and to this guide we hadn't been in his boat yet, we decided he hadn't dumped anyone else in the water, so we should give him a chance. It was one of our best days. He was funny and smart and knew a ton about the canyon. And he was a master at the oars, reading the current like a favorite book, making choices with rapids that maximized our fun while never making us feel unsafe. So the morning of Lava Falls we chose his raft.
Because of the 13 foot drop, you don't actually see Lava Falls until the raft has been pulled in and there is nothing to be done but hunker down and hang on. What looked wild from the top, was heart-stopping at the mouth. Waves so high we could see nothing except a wall of water that crashed over us before the screams left our mouths. We'd just get through one and barely clear our eyes when another would consume everything. I was laughing and shouting (maybe swearing a little), too inundated with water and sound and movement to feel anything but exhilaration. To feel anything but more fully alive than I ever had before.
The whole thing took less than two minutes. We were bailing like crazy at the bottom, and looking back to watch other rafts carom through, when the guide told us to stow the buckets and hang on. A second smaller rapid awaited us with a deeper and shorter drop. At the bottom of that we pulled into an eddy and celebrated. All of us, the guide included, were giddy with the experience. Adrenalin pumped. Fists pumped. Voices called between rafts, everyone checking in, the guides comparing runs with each others' and with their own previous experiences.
The brightness of feeling and the sharpening of senses born of that ride stayed with me for the rest of our time on the river. It followed me home. And while it faded in the weeks and months that followed, it has returned full force in the last few days. This time the rapid I negotiate is my last month as a classroom teacher. With just a month to go, 22 teaching days, I am aware of the eddy that awaits at the bottom, but can do nothing now but hang on and feel and be in every moment.
The guide I'm trusting to oar me safely through these wild waters is that still voice that is both God and my own heart. There are no more choices to make right now, except the one that keeps me awake and grateful and present. My eyes wide open, my face wet with tears that surprise me with their increasing frequency.
While there have been moments in the last few weeks when I just wished it could be over, this trek to the end of a school year and my career, now there is no room left for wishing or thinking or anything but hanging on. I am surrounded by waves of sadness and gladness and relief and joy. I am awash with gratitude. I am tumbled in the voices and arms of children exuberant with affection. These last days pass with a speed that stuns, each day as a second on the Colorado River. Each moment a gift to be savored and thankful for. Experience and memory coming together to form the most powerful rapid of my life so far.