Sonya Sorich commentary: I fell off a raft and lived to write about it

ssorich@ledger-enquirer.comAugust 25, 2012 

I fell in.

We all did, with the possible exception of the raft guide. I'm still not sure where he ended up. Frankly, that was beyond my primary concern: getting my face out of the water.

Here's what you forget about life jackets: they don't entirely prevent you from going underwater. Maybe that's why time seemed to stop when I ended up immersed in the Chattahoochee River, with no concept of whether I was floating upstream or downstream or if those terms were even relevant to the issue at hand.

I tried my best to follow the raft guide's worst-case scenario instructions and then focused my attention on one question: "So, when's my life jacket going to save me?"

It probably took just a second or two. Before I knew it, I was swimming to a nearby raft, grabbing strangers' arms and praying my pants hadn't fallen off in the process. I wiggled into the raft and smiled.

I hadn't suffered any wardrobe malfunctions, but there was blood on my chin.

Wait, let me back up a bit.

I didn't plan to go whitewater rafting on Friday. Make no mistake: I wanted to join the other local journalists, including a team from my office, who were previewing the local whitewater course. But a couple weeks ago, my editors told me I didn't make the cut due to space constraints.

Fast forward to Friday morning, when in the middle of applying my makeup I got a call from the Ledger's always enthusiastic Chuck Williams.

"How soon can you get to the media staging area?"


There was room on the raft, and I had a limited amount of time to ditch my sundress for a T-shirt, shorts and sneakers. Sweet.

Here's a brief rafting wardrobe primer for the uninitiated. Friday was my first time rafting, and I did a fair job choosing my apparel. I had two minor regrets, however. No. 1: Jean shorts are just plain uncomfortable when they get wet. No. 2: If I ever do this again, I need some water shoes. Wet sneakers and socks are just as uncomfortable as wet jean shorts.

Back to the main action. At the meetup spot near Country's Barbecue in downtown Columbus, I signed some paperwork and boarded a shuttle with my fellow rafters. We arrived at our destination and divided into groups of five, with one raft guide per group, and put on life jackets and helmets.

We listened to a set of instructions that spanned everything from standard paddling to the aforementioned worst-case scenario. Then, we were in the water.

Early in the adventure, we had a chunk of time I'd summarize as "hanging out." We floated on the water in our raft with minor paddling required.

If you've ever been to Disneyland, you'll know most roller coaster attractions have pleasant images like flowers and rainbows right before an especially treacherous hill. You leave the rainbows, enter a dark tunnel and then -- bam! -- it's scream time.

My first whitewater course experience was strangely similar to Disneyland. We approached a major rapid after passing the TSYS area and a crowd of waving, cheering spectators. I could hear it in my mind: "Be careful, Bre'r Rabbit, don't go over there."

We survived that rapid, and another big one. As we savored our achievements, our guide proposed an interesting endeavor: attempting to go back up the big rapid we just conquered. He rattled off a list of instructions, which I think basically amounted to excessive paddling.

I'm not sure. I was too busy staring at the guy who'd just flipped over while attempting the same task.

We moved forward, keenly aware of our fate. I paddled about three times before going underwater.

That's how I ended up wondering if my life jacket would save me. Of course it did, but the ferocity of the river made me briefly panic. Seconds seem like minutes when river water is flowing up your nose. I lost any concept of my surroundings.

And the blood? I hit my lip on something sharp -- I'm guessing a rock -- at some point in the fall-in process. The injury didn't go beyond a little bleeding and swelling. I'm fine now.

I'd still try whitewater rafting again, preferably while heeding the aforementioned fashion advice.

But my brief underwater encounter and subsequent battle wound reminded me that this local course is not an amusement park attraction. Don't get me wrong: The whitewater rafting course is fun. However, navigating the experience requires a certain level of responsibility and trust.

If you want seat belts and safety nets, go to Disneyland.

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