Day two and a half in Yosemite could only be characterized by water and lots of it. As such, our itinerary for the day included a little guided paddle down the Merced River with All Outdoors. Needless to say, Steve and I awoke that morning (following the prior day’s hike of the century) with muscles that were just a wee bit sore, but hearts filled with excitement and anticipation for our coming whitewater adventure! At around 8:00 am, showered, dressed and fed, we hopped into our borrowed vehicle and headed outside the confines of the park to a small mountain grocer in Midpines, which served as temporary headquarters for our river guides, in order to meet our fellow, and soon to be familiar, adventurers, sign waivers, get outfitted in wetsuits, helmets, life vests and lube up with sunscreen, before boarding a bus that would transport our pod of enthusiastic whitewater novices, to the origin of our journey, approximately 15 miles from where we would end our floating expedition later that day.
Huddled around our guides in the parking lot adjacent to our boat launch site, the two river veterans schooled us in river rafting safety and commands before allowing our larger group to divide into two smaller entities and board our respective inflatable crafts. Once aboard, all crewmembers practiced commands, paddles in the water, in an effort to row and work as one unit, as whitewater rafting is all about teaming and forward momentum. Once Joe (our boat’s captain) felt we were ready to give it a go, we paddled out to the middle of the river and experienced our first class IV rapid about 60 seconds into the trip. Everyone in our raft was hooting, hollering and, more importantly, smiling and laughing as we paddled our way over waves and rocks. It was awesome!
After experiencing our first rapid, I looked over at Steve, who wore a grin extending from ear to ear, and immediately felt a sense of relief for this was Steve’s first rafting experience. Not that I climbed into our boat with a wealth of experience either, mind you. I had only been rafting once before (on the Snake River in Wyoming) and that was years ago during a work retreat. So, essentially I knew that I liked being on the river and remembered enjoying my one and only rafting journey, paddling through the rocky waves, but basically it was so long ago that the experience didn’t seem relevant to my current waterlogged situation. As such, I was still nervous before boarding our craft, the myriad commands felt unfamiliar to me, even when practicing them with oar to water, and our first set of rapids definitely intimidated me upon first sight. Only after successfully paddling through that first wet and wild roller coaster did I feel like I was going to be okay. Actually, I was better than okay. I loved the experience of being in the raucous water and the adrenalin rush of pushing through the watery chaos. It was all coming back to me.
So, we pushed on, tackling the river’s tumult with growing confidence, each section of whitewater presenting a particular challenge to immerse ourselves in. Joe would prep our group on strategy before each encounter with the demanding components of the river while yelling commands like a drill sergeant during those watery, rocky trials and with each successful navigation of the roller coaster like waters there was a shared sense of accomplishment exhibited by everyone on our boat, which we acknowledged via rounds of smiles, head nods or paddle high-fives. In between sections of whitewater, our little group of rafters were given respite characterized by periods of watery calm, the surrounding scenery taking on a spectacular brilliance. The blazing sun illuminated everything beneath its rays. Mountains, trees, rocks and wildlife all seemed to glow. It was an absolutely amazing way to see the landscape. There’s literally no other view like it.And so the morning passed.
When lunchtime rolled around our guides had us pull off the river onto a small beach where the larger group reunited to feast upon fresh fruit and sandwiches. I didn’t realize how ravenous I was until I began eating! Steve and I chatted our fellow rafters up about the morning’s experience and speculated about the sorts of challenges we could expect to encounter in the afternoon. Bellies full, everyone was excited to get back onto the river to experience the second half of the day’s journey.
The afternoon presented similar watery challenges as the morning, but our boat full of novice rafters seemed to take on the demands with more organized force and enthusiasm. So much so, that the last three sections of rapids of the trip, which were considered to be the most challenging of the day and happened to occur quite close together, felt almost effortless. Okay, they weren’t really effortless to paddle through, but the experience of navigating our inflatable craft through the watery slalom did begin to feel second nature. What an exhilarating experience to be sure and we definitely didn't want it to end. However, as is the way of things our trip did come to a close shortly thereafter and Steve and I assisted our fellow rafters in loading our boats back onto their trailer for transport home. We too filed back onto our bus to be similarly transported and reunited with our terrestrial vehicles, our ride home awash with feelings of happiness and accomplishment, but also tinged with a bit of sadness for we wanted nothing more than to remain on the river, navigating her twists and turns, riding her raucous waves and feeling the depths of her captivating calm.