My dad, sister and I getting ready to start our rafting trip, before things turned sideways.

By Jordyn Kalman

About 25 years ago, when my parents still lived in Denver and were blissfully without kids, they used to go white water rafting every Memorial Day when the water levels were at their peak. My mom and dad are both very outdoorsy people and my dad is a bit of an adrenaline junkie, so he is always pushing my mom to try new things. So, one year my dad booked a rafting trip through Royal Gorge, which is a part of the Arkansas River that funnels into a narrow canyon.

My parents departed when the water levels were dangerously high—so high in fact, that they shut down the river right after their boat left for the tour. With more than 3,200 cubic ft. of water flowing per second, mostly everyone got thrown out into Class 5 rapids. Luckily everyone was OK, but after that, my mom vowed never to white water raft again.

Fast forward 19 years later. This summer, my family and I took a mini vacation to Colorado. Before we left, my dad burst into my room and excitedly announced that he booked a rafting trip for Royal Gorge, the very same trip that scarred my mom for life. Of course, she would not be joining us, so it would just be my dad, sister and me.

On the day of our trip, the water level was 4,000 points, which is so high that Royal Gorge was shut down. So, our tour changed to Bighorn Sheep Canyon, the section of the Arkansas River right before Royal Gorge. Instead of rafting all the way through, we would get out, eat lunch and drive back up to the beginning to raft this leg again.

We set off on the river through the first rapid with no problem, but then approached the hardest rapid of the day: Three Rocks. Our guide gave us the option to either go around the rapid or through it, and all of us voted to take the hard way.

We took off, paddling with all of our strength when all of a sudden the raft took a nosedive down and then went straight up into the air. Before I even knew what was happening, I was thrown out of the boat and became submerged underwater. The current was pulling me under, and I had trouble staying afloat. I tried to remember the crash course they give you at the beginning for what to do when you fall out, but my whole body went into panic mode as I thought I was going to drown.

I saw everyone else ahead of me being tugged in every direction by the water when the van driver threw down a rope for everyone to grab onto. I reached for it behind my head as my body almost whooshed past it and held on for dear life. Everyone else lost their grip and continued to float farther down the river. I was pulled to shore and staggered up onto land. My heart was pounding, and I began hyperventilating as I walked farther down where everyone else got rescued.

Everyone loaded back into the boat and continued down the river; my sister and I still freaked out. Once we got to the lunch spot, I was relieved to be on solid land. After eating and hanging out for an hour, I was starting to calm down but was dreading going back to the beginning and facing Three Rocks a second time.

I think my dad could sense the dread of my sister and I and pulled us off to the side and asked, “Are you sure you’re OK to go again? We don’t have to do the second half.” My sister and I looked at each other, knowing we both were scared but reluctantly agreed to go again.

The second time around we took the easy route through three rocks and got the chance to see what exactly we swam through. For the rest of the ride, I actually got to enjoy myself and felt proud for facing my fears head on rather than running away from them.

While I understand why my mom gave up rafting after a traumatizing experience, I know that the only way to conquer those feelings of fear and doubt is to just keep pushing through them and enjoy the ride, even if you do get wet along the way.

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