I had the time of my life last weekend doing Day 1 and Day 2 of Raft Guide School at the Whitewater Center… But I was completely unprepared for Day 3 today. It completely kicked my ass, and I have had a hard time wiping the grin off my face afterwards.
Day 3 started off with a pretty amazing task: swimming down the Wilderness Channel, in segments, with no raft. Yes, I actually got out there and threw myself into whitewater rapids with nothing but a personal floatation device (PFD, commonly thought of as a life jacket) and my own meager swimming ability.
Anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I am not an athletic person. So for me to be able to aggressively swim through these rapids, often swimming against the current to get into a still and safe spot (an eddy) on the side, is pretty amazing. I was tired, I complained more than I needed to, but it was amazing.
The day kept getting better, actually… We had the opportunity to practice throwing rope bags to each other (with a boisterous, “Swimmer! ROPE!” each time) on the morning of Day 2, but today we got to really put our newfound rescue skills to the test. Our instructors were flailing around in the water, shouting for help, and in general behaving like clueless guests who had never been in whitewater before. We had to rope them in to safety, despite their best efforts to avoid following directions.
I can’t tell you the sense of accomplishment I felt when I successfully roped one of them in. In a real scenario, I would be the hero that just saved some person from potentially injuring him/herself while swimming down the rapids. Surprisingly, I’m not all that disappointed that (assuming I get a job there) I will probably start with a lot of River Guard shifts standing along the banks waiting for people to rescue.
Taking rafts down the Wilderness Channel without our instructors onboard was a pretty big thrill (and shock) on Day 2. Today we did so again, but with an added twist — this time, the instructors were again in the water, flailing around helplessly, and we had to rescue them from the rafts. Mixing that in with our practice runs down the Wilderness Channel was a great opportunity to keep working on a number of different skill sets, in the chaotic environment that the rapids provide on the weekends.
And after lunch… We hit the Competition channel. We hopped into the water not far from Big Drop (the largest and arguably most dangerous rapid at the Center) and swam down it without rafts, climbing our way out. It was probably the scariest thing I’ve done there, but also one of the most fun — I’d done it accidentally, but having the time to actually think about it and then deliberately hop in was a whole different experience.
Altogether, I’m tired, battered and bruised, and deliriously happy. I can’t say enough about how happy I am that I’ve taken this class — whether I actually use it as an employee or not, it’s been a terrific experience. Charlotte people, you should really consider taking the class next year.