One year my dad and I did an early spring trip down the upper Salt River in Arizona. The water was running particularly low that season, which can make it more technical as trees and protruding rocks create more obstacles to maneuver around. This was only my second Salt trip, and I wasn’t sure how the river would feel this time around. Taking part in this type of adventure doesn’t come naturally for me. Vacation ideally consists of a beach, a book and a pina colada! So when it comes to outdoor adventures, I have to be pushed to do them and even in the midst sometimes I need reminding of why I signed up for the experience. This is where my dad comes in; he’s always there to encourage me and be my voice of reason and comfort.
As our group gathered I could sense a little hesitancy and apprehension in my dad. Since this was going to be a trip of beginners, he wanted to be sure that everyone was going to have a safe trip. He gave a run down of safety guidelines and an overall game plan for boat line-up and an itinerary for our first day. He spent extra time emphasizing the water level and how it would be a rougher ride than usual. He asked if everyone felt comfortable proceeding forward with the trip. With eager spirits and excited faces, the group had all agreed to continue. These people don’t have a clue, I thought. Apparently I was alone in battling my own doomful feeling that disaster was ahead.
Cami & Dad on Salt River
The beginning of our first day was all about getting acclimated to the river, and by the afternoon we had already encountered some very active whitewater. Toward the end of the day I was beginning to relax knowing that we had only a few more class III rapids to navigate before setting up camp. As we approached Ledges rapid, we navigated down a wave train of whitewater and holes that were hairy with rocks and shrubs. About halfway through we hit a hole that took me by surprise, knocking me out of the front of the raft. This was the first time I had to swim a rapid, and I was scared at first, but didn’t have much time to focus on my fear. The water was chilly, and for a moment it took my breath away. Being completely submerged was more than my rain suit could take, and within seconds I was soaked. More than anything, I was surprised, but after the initial shock I realized that everything was all right. The current carried me a short ways down and at the tail end of the rapid I was able to break free and swim to shore. My dad paddled over and as I scrambled back in the boat I noticed that he was smiling. I wasn’t sure if I should smile, or be mad. I felt frustrated, but despite myself I couldn’t help but smile, too. It wasn’t so bad. Nonetheless, I was happy to change into dry clothes and sit by the toasty campfire that night.
Day two was a whirlwind. We had a stressful start that included lots of busted oars, shallow stretches of water, high siding on a rock, and a flipped boat. By the time we set-up camp that night I was DONE. As we sat around the campfire that evening I was consumed with worry. The next day we faced the biggest and most technical rapids of the trip. After everything we had experienced thus far, I was dreading having to get back in the boat. There was one rapid in particular that was making me incredibly nervous: Quartzite Falls. Quartzite is a small waterfall with whirling hydraulics and a large hole at the bottom. You have to navigate your boat in between boulders in order to make the optimal run. If you don’t get in “the spot” you’re guaranteed to flip. It can be quite tricky, and the low water levels upped the ante.
I was worried about running Quartzite Falls so much that I could not enjoy myself. It wasn’t long before tears started to run down my face and my dad asked me what was wrong. I told him how scared I was about being on the river tomorrow and that I did not want to flip. I was asking him a dozen different ways to tell me he was absolutely sure we would not flip, but my dad never made any promises. He just assured me that even if we had a swim, everything would be all right. We would scout the rapid before we ran it, and try to navigate it the best way possible. He gave me a great big hug, which made me feel a little better, but I still couldn’t shake my fears about tomorrow’s destiny.
I was restless all night because all I could think about was the impending doom of what would happen the next day. My mind was going to places like, “we are going to flip, I’m going to hit my head on a boulder, and I will drown.” As the sun started to rise the next morning, we got up, had breakfast, and started loading up the boats. It was gloomy and windy, which only added to the eerie and nervous haze I had created for myself.
We reached Quartzite at about noon. At the top of the rapid, we pulled all the boats to the side and tied up to shore so that my dad and the other boatmen could scout the run. It looked gnarly, much worse than I remembered from my first trip. After some deliberation and planning (as much as you can possibly do at Mother Nature’s mercy), we were ready to run it. My heart was in my throat and it took everything in me to not completely freak out and lose it. My dad would lead the way, being the most experienced on the trip, which meant we were up first.
As we started the run, I gripped on to the boat as tight as I could and had no choice but to face the roaring water. My dad was actually standing up for leverage, pulling hard to get us in the left side channel. We dropped down the fall, which looked small from the shore, but it felt huge as we descended down. At the bottom of the fall, a boiling brim of whitewater came over the front of the boat where I was seated with a death iron grip. Crushing through the water, my dad was pushing the oars forward as hard as he could to keep us from getting pulled back into the hole. He pushed hard and navigated us into the current where we could float through to the bottom of Quartzite.
We had made it.
I felt relieved; it was over! And then I felt happy, and proud. I. Just. Did. THAT?! We watched the other two boats come through, and though it wasn’t the cleanest run, they made it through successfully without a flip. Praise God! Once we had made way downstream a little further, we found a beach to set up camp. Everyone was relieved to be on shore after a long day in the water.
That night at supper everyone talked about the day and how much excitement it had held. I actually found myself smiling and sharing the experience with our group. With wide, expressive eyes, I used my hands to tell the story of what our run of Quartzite looked like from the front of my boat. I felt a huge sense of pride and accomplishment. I had faced fear and did something that most people will never do. In that moment, among people I didn’t know very well, I was the most vulnerable version of myself possible. I showed I was scared, I shed tears and I expressed my frustration. I stepped outside of my vanity and without my groomed hair, makeup and fancy clothing, I became more than an image of myself. I was just Cami; out in the middle of nature, sharing an experience with strangers. I had stepped far outside of my comfort zone in more ways than one that day. I felt truly present and in the raw.
What I learned on that trip is that no matter what comes my way, I can handle it. I may have started fearful, uncomfortable and nervous, but I ended feeling relief, relaxed and bare. I learned more about the genuinely important things, and the skin-deep matters slid to the back. My challenges gave way to an enlightening experience, and a deep gratitude to have a dad that takes care of his girl and pushes her to do things she doesn’t think she can do. Spending time with him is something I treasure, so even though the outdoors isn’t really my thing, if we are together, it’s worth it.
Dad in Grand Canyon