Yeah, yeah, I’m on another rant… this time about the wonders of Raft Guide School at the U.S. National Whitewater Center. But hey, it’s a big deal to me, and I keep running into people who ask how it’s going… So I’m going to write about it. So there.
I already mentioned how surprised I was by the unimaginable AWESOMENESS of the first day. But let me tell you a little more specifics about why day one and day two were so freakin’ amazing.
In the very first day, we spent time practicing turning and guiding our rafts (each of us with our own, devoid of passengers or crew) around in still waters… And then we went out with a crew of our fellow classmates and guided them ourselves. Yes, each raft had an instructor on the boat calling strokes (as in, “two forward”) for us, but being in the back of the raft actually steering was an incredible experience.
And then, on the second day, we took our boats out without our instructors and took turns guiding them down the Wilderness Channel. That’s right — I was in charge of a raft full of fellow Raft Guide School students, paddling down the rapids right alongside the regular guides.
It was terrifying, exhilarating, and wonderful.
Sure, there were some setbacks along the way. On the first day, I was the first raft guide to get launched out of his/her own boat while guiding. (Two others quickly followed in the other boat — I just happened to be the first.) And on the second day, I literally FLIPPED my raft, sending my crew of fellow classmates flying into the rapids, but to be fair it was one of the more entertaining parts of the day. (And our instructors, standing on the river banks watching the carnage ensue, actually said that we handled the aftermath and recovery better than some of the current certified raft guides would have, so that was encouraging.)
Perhaps the biggest disappointment, though, was when we paddled out into the still waters of the so-called “lower pond” (for those familiar with the USNWC, it’s the still waters where both channels feed into the conveyer belt) and then practiced flipping rafts. Not in the way that I had flipped mine earlier in the morning — no, I’m pretty good at that one, thank you — but the act of flipping them back over right-side-up.
In the morning, when we flipped our raft, we simply swam it into an eddy, stood up, and flipped it back over in one easy motion. When you’re in the water and there’s no eddy nearby, it’s quite a bit more difficult. You have to literally hoist yourself halfway out of the water and climb onto the bottom of the raft, requiring enough upper body strength to push yourself up and onto it with no ground to jump from. It’s pure strength, as you would need to do a pull-up.
Which means I’m screwed. I quite simply don’t have the upper body strength to pull myself up like that — and it’s a requirement to pass guide school and become certified.
Now, to be fair, the instructors did warn us that about 50% of students don’t get it on their first day, and that it’s much harder than they make it look when they demonstrate it. But in a sexist sort of way, it bothered me that the 50% of our class of 8 that couldn’t do it on their own consisted of the three women, and me. Sal and the other three guys all made it up without a moment’s hesitation, and several of them did it multiple times just to refine their technique.
Me? I tried once, and didn’t get anywhere close to far enough up out of the water to get a good handhold on the raft and climb the rest of the way. I tried several more times, but with each failure I got more tired, my arms hurt more, and my legs actually started cramping up from the effort. So with each failure, the likelihood of succeeding got even smaller than before, because I quickly wore myself out and became really disheartened.
Still, it was only the first attempt, and there are a few more weeks before I have to demonstrate proficiency in this to become certified. All hope is not yet lost — I just apparently need to do a hell of a lot of push-ups and pull-ups over the next couple of weeks and then try again. That, or find some nifty tricky way to get up there without needing a lot of upper body strength. Or both.