Dear Water, We’re Gonna Be Ok.

April 12, 2011 § 1 Comment

“Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared.” -Edward Vernon Rickenbacker

I promised you I’d tell you about my precarious history with that substance called water. Here it goes.

I have a love-hate relationship with water. I love some of the activities that take place on the water, like fishing for redfish in the bay, or floating down the Guadalupe on a hot Texas summer day, or boating from Rockport to Port Aransas to eat lunch, or surfing baby waves in Costa Rica. But, water…well, water scares me a little.

Ok. A lot.

I grew up fishing, riding tubes we pulled behind boats in the lake, trying to water ski a couple of times, jumping waves at the beach, white water rafting on family vacations, visiting Schlitterbahn water park, etc. I guess being in South Texas makes you want to cool down in water anytime you get the chance. But there was always some party of me that had a healthy respect for water and what was in it. Even swimming in the pool made me worry someone would let a shark out of some tank and it would come eat me. I didn’t say I was sane. But, I’m sure you knew I was a little crazy already.

I remember being out in the bay fishing with my parents and Cody one day about 6 years ago. My parents and Cody wanted to take the boat out in the Gulf, but we had to jump some breaker waves in the gulf to get to some smoother water. The waves petrified me. All I could think was that I was going to fall out of the boat, hit my head and drown. Clearly, this required our boat to hit the wave in such a specific way that I fell at some odd angle that my head would actually hit the boat. Then my family had to care about me so little that no one would come get me. So, the scientific odds of this happening were probably the equivalent to me having a blue child and conceiving without having sex. I mean that’s totally possible right?

I didn’t say my fears were rational.

My sister and I discovering we could float in the Adriatic Sea

But that didn’t keep me from freaking out. I tried to calm myself down, but I wasn’t too successful. Finally, Cody came to my end of the boat to check on me, could tell I was freaking out, and told my parents we probably shouldn’t go into the gulf. They, as usual, listened to him better than they listen to me. So we didn’t go that day. I let my fear get in the way.

Fishing for Cody's Memorial Fishing Tournament in Port Lavaca

A couple of years later, my family decided to go white water rafting outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico. At this point, I liked the thrill, but I always got nervous. Water didn’t usually keep me from doing what I wanted to do, I just did it with immense trepidation. This was the worst rafting trip of my life. The guide was a little quiet and didn’t take control, they put too many people in our raft and the two losers at the front of the raft didn’t paddle.

Eventually, we ran up on a rock and our raft flipped. As the raft flipped, I fell, and the raft flipped so that it was on top me. No big deal, there’s an air pocket created, so I stuck my head up and took a breath. I rode under there for a few seconds, trying to keep my legs up so that they wouldn’t get caught on any rocks. Then, decided I needed to know what was going on, so I pushed myself out from under. In doing so, I pushed myself out the back-side of our overturned raft, so that it was riding in front of me down the river. I stuck my feet up and leaned back, as instructed, so that the flap of my life jacket could pop up. But, somehow I was going waster than the raft and the water swelled over my face. I was stuck under this pocket of water.

I began to panic and tried I tried to swim out. And tried some more. And tried some more. Well crap. I was stuck. At this point I wasn’t panicking, but calmly realized there was nothing I could really do. I tried a little more and then vividly remember thinking, as I looked up at the glare of the sun on the water over my face, “Well, ok. This is it. There’s nothing I can do.” As soon as I thought it, I felt myself being pulled out of the water. It was Cody…with a stunned look on his face. He told me to swim to the side and I did. We were picked up a little later, my sister had been scooped up by the raft behind us, my brother had stayed under the raft breathing in the air pocket until the guide told him to come out and my mom had swum out of the rapid to a calmer area. We were all fine and I was understandably shaken. I’m still pretty sure I could’ve died.

We got back on the raft, despite me not wanting to go any farther (I wanted to walk back) and I was still upset. We hit another rock and that did me in. No more. I wanted out. NOW.

The poor guide probably thought this 21 year old girl had lost her mind. I might have done just that. He dropped us off on the road side of the river and I scrambled up the rocks faster than that roadrunner on that stupid cartoon. And I felt that stupid. But, I was scared. I didn’t mind the walk back no matter how far (A park ranger ended up giving us a ride. Thank goodness).

Cody loved water. Never got scared. He stayed in the raft while my family walked back.

I became the person who held on even tighter on boat rides but I tried to be brave. Cody would look back and, without me saying a word about not being ok, and reassure me that I’d be fine. He, on the other hand, would take a little boat out in stormy weather. And be the one driving the boat, knowing just what to do, and reassuring everyone. Typical. And maybe a little crazy.

I hadn’t since then. Until this summer.

I was visiting my sister in Yellowstone and I met a friend of her’s who was a raft guide a the company I’ll be working for this summer. He invited my best guy friend, B, my sister and my sister’s roomie to go down the river on duckies (which are like inflatable kayaks) with him. B and I said yes, as did my sister’s roommate. But I was still scared.

The boys fell out, but the girls hung on!

It took a little coaxing and reassurance from my new friend, but somehow he had a way of making me think it was going to be just fine. And teasing me just a little.

So I went. I rafted again.

I might’ve hung on for dear life, but I did it. And got a little more comfortable in the water.

I think I was a bit of a daredevil on that trip. Climbing closer to waterfalls, bouldering, duckying. It was the result of the progression of managing fear that has come about since Cody died. I realized I don’t want fear to hold me back. I never did, but I mean it even more now. The worst thing that could happen to me at this point in my life already did. So what do I have to fear?

I’m not scared of death. I’m not going to go out chasing it, but some of the best experiences are found by not sitting on the sidelines. You have to jump in the game. Test the waters (pun intended). Push your limits just a little. I’ll never be absolutely crazy, but I’ll do some things that will ensure that I have a good story to tell. And I won’t let an irrational fear keep me from doing anything. Ever.

Those sharks in the swimming pool can just back off. (Please.)

Back to the story. Fastfoward a bit. The raft guide friend and I stayed in touch after I left Yellowstone and he invited me to West Virginia to raft the Gauley River with he and his rafting friends. I decided to go, but I still wasn’t quite up to rafting the intense part of the river. The Gauley is the 7th most intense river in the world. A 22 day rafting season because they only let the damn go for 22 days of of the year. And then people only take guided trips on weekends. And even then, people still die (I think there were like 8 last year…don’t quote me on that. I’m too lazy to look it up. In fact, don’t quote me on any of this. I’m that lazy). So my fear on this river was completely warranted. The Lower Gauley isn’t quite as intense, so I thought I’d do that half of the trip and then just hang out, hike and study while they did the Upper Gauley. My friend even suggested I watch some YouTube videos of “Gauley River Carnage” before I go. Let’s just say this didn’t calm my fears. At all.

But once I got there, the raft guides tried to convince me that I could handle this river. They were also quite persuasive on the point that it was a free trip (since they’d all brought their own equipment and we weren’t hiring guides…since they were guides themselves, we’d just ask for help from retired guides and know what lines to run). Plus, since I’d flown all the way there, I might as well raft.

I was on a sliding scale of likelihood all weekend. Survived the Lower Gauley-up to a 85% chance. Heard a story about falling out-down to a 47% chance. Saw some fat guy who had done it-up to 90% (yeah..I didn’t want to be beat by an out-of-shape old man). One guy told me once was all he’d ever do it-down to 75%. You get the picture.

I ended up being up all night thinking about it. Part of me really wanted to. I mean, I could say I’d rafted this awesome river. I could look fear in the eye and tell it I was bigger. Thanks, but back off. But, I was scared. Petrified.

Somehow, when the morning rolled around, I was as ready as I was going to be. Wet suit on, helmet in hand, we headed down to the river.

Then waited. (Lots of boat pumping and setting up to do).

Sending me into an emotional roller coaster so I just hung out with everyone and tried not to think about it. I saw all kinds of people getting on though, and it (sometimes) calmed me down.

I almost peed my wet suit I was so nervous. (TMI? Sorry.)

But, I got on the raft. I didn’t shed a tear. Once we were on, there was no turning back. And it was AWESOME. So much fun. I don’t know that I’m crazy enough to do it again, but I loved it. A total adrenaline rush.

By the end, we stopped to watch people go down Sweets Falls and I even jumped in and swam around in the current.

The Group after the Gauley

Maybe I had begun to conquer this water fear. The next time I went fishing, I was completely fine on the boat. Deep sea fishing in Costa Rica? Not scared at all. Surfing? Bring it on. Kayaking? Count me in.

Suddenly, I’m not that scared. Water and I might be ok yet.

Oh. And what am I doing this summer? Yeah. Whitewater rafting. Going through guide training in early June and I MIGHT even take a few rafts down the river as a guide.

When it comes to water, I’m not sitting on the sidelines and missing out on fun. I won’t be stupid, but I’m not going to let fear keep me from trying something. From finding a life experience. Overcoming the fear is what makes it fun. And really, what is courage if there is no fear?

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