Rodeo Rafting

It’s just like it sounds – rodeo – on a raft. The raft tries to buck you off and may even harbor wishes for your death and dismemberment. If you like that sort of adrenaline rush, then rodeo rafting is definitely for you! Me? I am not well suited for wrangling rafts in low-oxygen environs.

How I Found Myself Bleeding On a Rock

It was a beautiful day to be at the U.S. National Whitewater Center – blue sky, coquettish clouds playing peek-a-boo with the sun. Todd (best boyfriend ever) took me out for my first mountain biking excursion around the green loop, the easiest trail at the whitewater center. I hadn’t been on a bike for years, much less on a bike on a wooded trail, but I made it to the end without flying headlong into a tree. Success!

After a heaping serving of sweet potato fries at the River’s Edge Grill, Todd headed out on his own to make a loop around one of the harder bike trials, while I read a book in some cozy, dappled shade that overlooked the competition channel. He still needed a work out, because one loop around the kindergarten trail doesn’t do it for him. God love him. He returned a little winded but happy and still energetic.

As we relaxed and watched the rafters going down the competition channel, Todd suddenly piped up, “Hey, do you want to try rodeo rafting?”

Me: “Umm … what’s rodeo rafting? Nevermind. Yeah, sure.” Stupid girl.

I’d been regular rafting at the whitewater center before. On that occasion, the raft overturned and dumped the whole crew at “Shutdown,” a wave near the end of the long channel. It was a little scary, but a river guide from another raft fished me out, before I had time to realize what happened. Just enough excitement to keep me on my toes.

I knew rodeo rafting was going to be different when the raft guide first took us to the instructional channel for a lesson on floating down the little drop there (feet first, toes up!), practicing swimming to an eddy and learning how to get back/pull someone into the raft from the water.

The first few runs down the long channel were great. We surfed the waves, got thrown out a few times, swam a little and laughed a lot. I may have squealed a few times. Probably cussed too. Then the raft guide said it was time to hit the competition channel.

Never ever never again.

Emboldened by our successful runs down the long channel, the raft guide immediately suggested we surf the first wave at the top of the competition channel. I objected. I was overruled. So I put my back into it along with my raft mates to get in surfing position. The first wave is in a narrow rush of water right out of the gate at the top of the channel. It didn’t really want to be surfed. We fell out.

rock rash after rodeo rafting

no permanent damage
… except on my soul

I swear I tried to go feet first toes up down the drops and to swim toward eddies. The problem: water in the competition channel is faster and whiter because it’s shallower. My feet kept getting hung up on rocks making my whole body flip forward head first. Then I’d get close to an eddy, but the current would whip me around and down another drop. A lifeguard finally tossed a rope into my path just past the band stand … right before “Carnage Corner” and the big drop. That was potentially the most harrowing 158 yards of my life. Yes, I measured it on MapMyDestruction … I mean

I climbed out coughing, missing a water shoe and bleeding from several scrapes along my legs and feet. Todd managed to climb out just a little ways up river from me. He had a little trouble getting into an eddy as well but was mostly undamaged. The raft guide went all the way, over the big drop and into the lower pond. He fished out the raft and stood waiting for us on the rocks by the calm water.

Not me, cat. Todd and our other raft mate trundled off for one more run, while I sat on a rock in the sun, bleeding and gratefully breathing.

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