“There are really only three things you need to know when White Water Rafting” our young guide tells me. Seemingly fresh off the set of Blue Lagoon IV or something with surf boards in it, he is shouting, “First gear. Second gear. Third gear,” as we make our way down river. …rapids approaching quickly. “First gear. Second gear. Third gear.”
Um, ok….I’ve driven a 1981 Toyota Tercel and I can start off a line in third gear so this shouldn’t be nerve-racking in any way, right? Wrong. Very wrong. So, let’s go through it: First gear is gentle coasting down a river. Maybe on a lazy Sunday afternoon with a renaissances painter along for the ride. Second gear similar to an impressive row a gentleman from 1920 would use in Central Park to woo his fair love. Third gear is like death by torture is inevitable and the only thing that could be done to ease the terror you feel is to row like your armpit hair is on fire. We seemed to have missed a few steps in between two and three I’d say.
The Ottawa River is 1200 kilometres long, borders the Provinces of Ontario and Quebec and has some of the best rapids in the world. Our job (the four of us in the raft, that is) is to not tip over and render ourselves unconscious, drowsning whilst the river and its rapids do pretty much whatever they would like.
“What happens if we go over?” I ask. “Well, you’ve free dove right? So, just keep holding your breath. Eventually you’ll pop out somewhere.” Uhh..like in Nova Scotia or something? Somehow I can’t believe the family of 11 we’re following, that has now just dropped the 14 feet into the rapid that we are about to hit, were given the same speech. …and here we go! “THIRD GEAR!! THIRD GEAR!! THIRD GEAR!!”
After the fear of the unknown has passed, the adrenaline rush subsides, the pang to hit another rapid as large and as terrifying as the first has been satisfied and the soaking wet ear to ear grin somewhat wanes you realize you’ve lived. You’ve lived a moment that can never be explained the way it was felt. A moment you thought you might not make it and did. A moment where you were an integral part of a team, a team that relies on each member to do their part to ensure a safe return and a moment you realize you can probably never drive a stick shift the same way again.