They had encouraging, cosy names, like The Gnashing Jaws of Death, Terminator, and Oblivion.
“If you go in, don’t let go of your paddle! Swim left, away from the wall,” yelled the instructor as we approached.
This one was called Morning Glory.
Paddling furiously, we entered the rapid, launched into space, and...
I was in the water.
Sucked down, and surrounded by a seething mass, I struggled vainly against a force, a power, that was frightening. My paddle was torn from my grasp, mocking my feeble strength.
In a whirlpool now, spinning, tumbling, unable to escape, and with no idea which way was up.
I couldn’t breathe; had water in my lungs. I felt an onrush of fear, panic bubbling up, as I kept my mouth closed, overriding my body’s efforts to expel the deadly water.
I didn’t know how I was doing it, only that I had to do it. For to open my mouth now would surely mean the end.
But I couldn’t do it for long.
Bizarrely, I thought of Top Gun; Maverick and Goose all over the sky, writing cheques they couldn’t cash.
“Game over Mav. Game over!” played through my mind.
Then, for one tiny moment, my eyes rose above the waterline. The steep, black wall of the gorge was on my right. Just there, flashing past!
I wasn’t in a whirlpool at all. I was moving, travelling downstream!
The realisation changed everything. Hope filled my consciousness, pushing the despair to one side.
Hang in there, Jase, hang in there…
And then I was sucked down again, lungs burning, still aching to cough out the water, yearning for some nice, life-giving oxygen.
I had no idea how long it was since I last took a breath. Ten seconds, or ten minutes? Fear gripped me now. Fear that I might give up, open my mouth, and grope in vain for the air my body craved, needed, to live.
Only instead, it would be water. Water, that you can’t survive without, but was very likely going to finish me.
And then, after another lifetime, relief, as unbelievably, I finally surfaced again. The fear receded as other rafts came into view, bobbing in the choppy water. I must be through!
It was too early for celebration. Morning Glory wasn’t finished with me quite yet.
As my head rose in relief, a wave of water hit me, just as I tried to drag in a breath.
You’re having a laugh, I thought, unkindly.
Coughing, spluttering, I finally managed to lift my head out of the water. I was gasping soundlessly, aching to fill my lungs with the sweet nectar of life.
I saw shocked faces in one of the boats. The instructor, a woman, was standing up and pointing at me.
“Get him in!” I heard her shouting.
Strong hands reached for me and I was unceremoniously hauled into the boat.
I flopped like a drunken seal, retching, eyes wild. My friendly saviour grinned, camaraderie bonding us on our wild journey.
Sometimes, just living is an achievement.
“Ready for the next rapid!” barked the instructor.
Oh God! Not really, no!