June 18, 2009

Riding the Rapids

This summer I went white water rafting for the first time. The opportunity arose as a chaperon to my daughter's eighth grade class, who was taking the extensive field trip on the American River. I have loved being a parent at Tierra Pacifica, and have always enjoyed my parent participation hours either as the math tutor or art teacher, but this was definitely the way to end the year in the proverbial splash.

23 teenagers and half a dozen adults set forth on a Wednesday morning for a 3.5 hour trek from Santa Cruz to Coloma. While I had diligently google-mapped the directions and had multiple handouts in the car, I was quite content to put my faith in just following the driver ahead of me as we ventured forth. Little did I know that the soccer mom before me was actually the speed demon from hell, and not only did I suffer from mild heart attacks as the speedometer crept well past 90, but ended up with a ticket for toll evasion as we all gleefully filed through the carpool lane, ignoring the notices that privileges had already ended at 10:00 am.

Somehow we all convened at Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, where after a picnic lunch we hiked to the river to pan for gold. Who knew this could be so much fun? Sitting in the blazing heat, swirling sand and stones in my black plastic pan, the cool river running over my body as kids played and splashed, gossiped and flirted. The water was sparkling with promise, and I filled a small vial with teeny gold flakes, larger chunks of copper, and pretty stones that caught my eye.

After just enough time for a few folks to catch a sunburn, we meandered forth to our campgrounds. After setting up tents and letting the kids squabble over bunk mates, a troop of us set off for the pool. There, another large group of kids waded, apparently from Aptos, our neighboring town. Phone numbers were exchanged while popular girls feigned indifference, the geeky guys puffing out meager chests.

Dinner proceeded smoothly - I must take a moment to hail up Mr.T, the 7th & 8th grade teacher, who was doing an admirable job of holding the helm while running the crew. The kids wanted to run off into the dusk, but the promise of s'mores kept them close to the campfire, and indeed, practically only the adults slept in tents that night, more and more sleeping bags appearing around the fire circle.

Thursday morning I awoke ridiculously early, as is the nature of camping. I lay awake for what seemed like a long time, finally rousing myself and splatting a mosquito against the tent wall, my own blood smearing the canvas. Ah, the joys of nature. Re-wetting my contacts and pulling on clothes, I stumbled from the tent, blearily saying good morning to the other early folks who had added a log to last night's embers.

After finding a clean bathroom but no water for showers, I meandered around the campsite, fully in my own little world. Suddenly a red hot Honda Element pulled up next to me, the driver rolling down the window and uttering the sweetest words I could ever hear: "Do you want to go get coffee with me?"

Without a second thought I hopped into the passenger seat. "What time is it?" I asked my new best friend, come to bring me to salvation, or at least caffeine.

"5:20am. There's got to be something open somewhere..." replied Rebecca. For being the proverbial crack of dawn, I noticed that Rebecca had on some damn good lipstick, and somehow found myself swapping intimate details of life's loves and loss as we cruised Lotus (pop.423) for the seeming one and only bakery catering to the fishing folks and mocha moms in the area. We snarfed a jalapeno-cheese croissant that had been heated to melt-down in the microwave, then preceded back to camp with plenty of espresso in our veins.

Breakfast was in full swing, much to my surprise, but at least my kid had less mosquito bites than I expected. After clean up we met for safety instruction, got our gear (paddles, life jackets, helmets), then proceeded down to the river to our boats.

Don't get me wrong - This was no baby-sitting expedition. My kid went with the other teens, while I was relegated to the "grown-ups." Indeed, I was truly astonished at my daughter's independence, endurance, and stamina. Honestly, the real reason I went was because she does not even like getting her face wet in the pool, let alone cruising full steam down class 3 rapids. The main reason I decided to go in the first place was the feeling of, "I've got to see this for myself."

She literally blew me out of the water. Balancing on the side of the boat, jumping during the swimmers rapids, spraying me hard in a water fight - she is 180 degrees different from myself at that age. I felt fully confident that she could take care of herself, and found that I could stay fully present with no worries, whatsoever.

For the next 6 hours we explored 14 miles of twists and turns in the river. The main lessons were to put our back into it (rather than arm muscle) and to synchronize with our partners. Indeed, "Synch or swim" became our motto, as we navigated the rapids, paddling with our might equally against surging foam and empty air, striving to maintain our continuous rhythm. We'd high five our paddles after successfully completing a run, slapping our oars beaver style on the water.

A client of mine had recently affirmed life as "paddling down stream". I thought about this as I strained and pulled when we back paddled and spun circles, surging during the turbulence as well as the times we were gently dipping into more placid pools. We navigated the fierce waters with flavorful names like Trouble Maker, Haystacks, Satan's Cesspool, Son of Satan, Bouncing Rock and Hospital Bar.

Finally we reached the lake, where our six rafts were tugged by jet ski to the docking area. A school bus picked us up to take us back to camp. Between bursts of We are the Champions and every single verse of 99 Bottles of Beer shouted at the top of their lungs by some rather stirred up adolescents, I pondered my latest adventure. I loved watching these teenagers with their new found independence, navigating emotional turbulence and tempestuousness of the life-stream itself. I took myself out of my comfort zone, had an adventure and came back home. Now, the sight of the round rocks on the river bottom, a new understanding of "currents" and a particular pale green flecked with gold still color my dreams each night.