July 6, 2016 Edition

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A matter of perspective

John Bland
Publisher

We took our first whitewater rafting trip last Thursday on the Arkansas River in Colorado while on vacation. We reserved a two-hour afternoon float with Noah's Ark Whitewater Rafting and Adventure Co., in Buena Vista, Colo.

Cousin Hank McNabb's daughter, Hannah, is working as a guide for the company this summer, and Renee, Anna and I joined him on a trip to visit her. Noah's Ark distinguishes itself as a family-oriented, Christian-based business.

We were in good hands with our guide, Andy, from Alabama, who is in his sixth or seventh year working as a guide for Noah's Ark. He gave us detailed instructions on what to do and what not to do. Some of the basics were to listen, lean and lock: listen to him for instructions, lean toward the center of the raft when hitting bumpy patches or rough waters and lock our feet in raft slots or crevices to keep from falling out.

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I was nervous. Signing release forms agreeing to not hold Noah's Ark accountable did not help. Andy also gave us a chance to back out and get a refund, and that did not ease my mind either.

At that point we were snugly wrapped in our lifejackets like "a big hug" as they called it. Andy explained that the jackets had to be snug, because our rescuers would grab the jacket to pull us back into the boat, and if the jackets were loose, they would be pulled right over our heads.

We floated in the area of the river known as Browns Canyon, and our float was 10 miles long. The first five miles were calmer, while the last five contained a series of named rapids, ranging up to level three on a scale or one to five. Conditions can vary day to day with the level of the river.

My goal was to survive and stay in the boat. I did occasionally try to took around and enjoy the beautiful scenery. The water was cold and getting wet was a given. A father and his two sons from Austin, Texas, rode in the front of the raft, and they seemed to enjoy every minute of the float. Andy, with two long paddles, was in the raft's center, and the four of us were in the back.

I was one of four corner riders, who each had a small paddle. Throughout the float, Andy would instruct us with commands such as "forward one" or "backward two." I did my best to follow instruction and took pride when Andy praised our rowing efforts.

Andy admitted that he could probably maneuver the rapids without any extra help. We were in awe of how skillfully he led us between big boulders and fast waters, sometimes forward and sometimes backward. He obviously knew every twist, turn and rock in the river.

The float was over before we knew it, and after the fact, I realized the experience was really fun, thrilling and rare. Like many things in life, when it's over, you realize it wasn't so scary after all.

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We did reflect that having an expert guide and following closely his every instruction were keys to our safe trip. This was underscored when our cousin shared a text, linking to a July 4 story headlined "Littleton woman dies while rafting in Chaffee County."

A TV station reported that the Chaffee County Sheriff's Office said that a 51-year-old woman from Littleton, Colo., had died Sunday after she fell from a commercial raft in the Browns Canyon area of the Arkansas River. The raft apparently hit a rock, and the victim was ejected. She was pulled to safety, CPR started but efforts failed to revive her.

This is the first rafting fatality in Chaffee County of the 2016 season, according to officials.

That news sort of put the experience in perspective.

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