Indian Life Newspaper -

"Whitewater!"

 

Last updated 3/24/2016 at 12:54pm

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Cold, icy fingers of water grabbed my face and arms and rolled down my chest. Ranger Rick's hand bripped the back of my wet t-shirt as I was flung right and left by the bobbing raft.

"Joe, I don't think you should try it," Grandma said, sitting on the left side of the pontoon river raft with her feet propped up against the inflated rubber tubing. "What if you fall in?"

I shot Grandpa a help me glance as he sat beside Grandma. He smiled and nodded encouragingly. "Just hang on tight to the front pontoon rope when you see the whitewater," he said. "I don't want to have to jump in and rescue you."

Mark, our young oarsman, and Colorado River guide sat on his raised perch behind Grandpa. "Well, what do you think?" he asked with a teasing grin. "Are you going to the bow to ride-out our first whitewater?"

"All right, Grandma?" I asked anxiously.

Grandma glanced at Grandpa. He nodded.

"All right," Grandma said reluctantly, "but don't fall in the water!"

"He'll be fine, Alma," Grandpa said. "Remember, they promised us this would be a family-adventure trip."

"We'll see, Carl," Grandma said, still unconvinced. "Hold on tight, Joe," she reminded, as I crept toward the front of the raft.

"Great!" Ranger Rick said, as I crossed past his chubby, outstretched legs.

I knelt down on the rubber floor and leaned my chest across the rounded rubber tubing. My head extended forward, over the bow like a human ornament.

"I'll grab the back of your T-shirt when we reach whitewater, so you won't get tossed out," Ranger Rick said, sliding closer.

He'd flown with us yesterday from Las Vegas, Nevada, to the dude ranch in Utah where we spent the night just a few miles from the Colorado River.

Last night sitting around the campfire, the rafters decided to call him Ranger Rick because of the olive-green, Smokey-the-Bear ranger hat he wore constantly.

As I listened to the rafters talking, I remembered the talk I'd had with Ranger Rick in the plane.

"I'll be in the seventh grade in September," I told him. "They say junior high school is a lot harder than elementary school."

"Well," Ranger Rick said, "you only have to go to school one day at a time. You'll do fine."

Early the next morning, a ranch hand drove us in his jeep to the river to meet Mark and the pontoon raft.

We began our trip floating along in a current of quiet water. We drifted past sheer, gray, limestone cliffs hovering over Arizona's ancient Grand Canyon, as we glided back toward Nevada. The other week-end adventurers, like ourselves, sat along the sides of the raft wearing waterproof booties on their feet to protect against the freezing cold water.

"Even though it's mid-August," Mark said, "the river's preparing for fall. You'll be glad you're wearing rubber-booties when the water splashes into the raft."

And he was right about that!

Just before our float trip, Mark instructed us in basic water safety, and now we were all buckled up in orange life preservers. As we drifted along, I stared ahead at the narrowing orange-colored, sandstone canyon walls. It was so still we could hear the cawing of a black crow, perched on a ledge high above our heads.

Ripples were building in the river's current. As we bobbed up and down, my chin hit against the warm rubber of the raft. Suddenly a spray of water dashed over the raft and splashed on the young guys on my right.

"That got me good!" one yelled.

His face dripped with water. Playfully, he flung his wet arms out with a shake against his buddy. He shoved him back.

Okay, folks, here's our first, really big one!" Mark shouted as we rounded a bend in the narrow river. "Get ready!"

Ahead, I saw tumbling, white, foamy waves of turbulent water.

My heart leaped into my throat. "Oh no! Dear Jesus, please help me," I prayed, staring at the angry water, as I clutched the inner rope of the bow.

I glanced back to see Mark rowing hard. As he guided our bouncing raft into the rolling, choppy cross currents, the bow of the raft hit the waves with a sharp bump, and the raft reared upward like a wild horse! Down we plunged into the wet tumbling torrent.

Cold, icy fingers of water grabbed my face and arms and rolled down my chest. "Ranger Rick's" hand gripped the back of my wet t-shirt, as I was flung right and left by the bobbing raft. I gasped for breath as the raft nosed upward again.

"Hold on tight, Joey!" I heard Grandma call.

I closed my eyes and clamped my teeth hard against my jaw, as I clung to the bow's inner rope.

"Yes!" the men shouted. "Great waves!"

"A good one, Mark!" someone yelled.

Once again we crashed down into the wet, watery swirls.

"Ride 'em cowboy!" Ranger Rick shouted. "Yippee!"

Then the rearing and plunging ended almost as quickly as it had begun, as we floated into slow-moving current. Everyone laughed and talked at once.

"I'm soaked!" a young man shouted across from me.

"You look like a wet dog!" his friend yelled back.

I opened my eyes. I was dripping wet! I lifted a wet hand to brush my hair from my eyes.

"You all right, Joe?" Mark yelled, with laughter in his voice as he went on, "Now folks, like I promised, that was an average one-about a size two, and I promise-no size five's. But there's more whitewater ahead! Is everybody ready?"

He glanced at me. I smiled and nodded and gave him a thumbs-up sign. Although they were drenched, Grandpa and Grandma were both smiling!

"Way to go, Joe!" Ranger Rick yelled. "He rode his first whitewater today!"

"Way to go, Joe!" everyone shouted. Several young guys raised their arms with rounded fists and pumped the air.

My face turned red in an embarrassed glow of happiness. I felt like I'd just climbed Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world, thanks to my friend Jesus

"Here we go again!" Mark shouted. "Whitewater ahead!"

I took a deep breath and turned around once again, to face the uncertain Colorado River and another exciting, whitewater drenching!

 
 

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