Never (until now) have I read anything that remotely comes close to describing why I love rafting. I may not be one of the “elite” dory-boaters (can you feel me rolling my eyes?), but we have this in common:
There were rapids that you feared and rapids that you hated and rapids that you would be a fool to take for granted, even under the most benign conditions imaginable. But on those days of wonder, when the tumblers in the lock were oiled and turning flawlessly, any one of those rapids could also transport you into a dimension of pure, unadulterated joy that had no analogue in any other part of your life.
The taste of that joy was absolutely intoxicating, a kind of drug, and perhaps the most potent part of the charge lay in the irrevocability of the moment when you untied your boat, and you and your partners peeled out into the current above a rapid in a tight and graceful little arc like a formation of miniature fighter jets. For a minute or two, you would find yourself drifting on a flat and glassy cushion of serenity as the current slowly gathered its speed and heft beneath the bottom of your boat and you drifted toward this thing that waited, invisible, just beyond the horizon. It was silent during those minutes, the only sounds being the creak of your oars in their locks and the dipping of the blades as you made a few microadjustments in the hope of putting your hull squarely on the one tiny patch of current that would insert you through the keyhole in the cosmos. Then in the final seconds, you would start to hear the dull, thunderous roar, and you could see the little fistfuls of spray being flung high into the air.
This, perhaps, was the most riveting moment of all, because by now all of your decisions had been made – you had done your homework and sought a point of balance between instincts and analysis, listening to the data flowing from both your brain and your gut, and now you were well and truly committed. This thing you were running down had no brakes, no rewind, no possibility of a do-over. You would ride the surge of your adrenaline and surf the watery crescendo that was about to explode before you, and you would accept the consequences, good or bad, along with whatever gifts or punishments the river was prepared to dish out. There were lessons there, insights a man could put in his pocket and take out later, long after he was out of the canyon, tiny compass points to steer by during those seasons when the river that was your life turned turbulent and ugly. You could learn these things about yourself that you would never learn in civil society. And if you were lucky, you might navigate to a place that would enable you to glimpse, however obliquely, a bit of who you truly were. – Kevin Fedarko, The Emerald Mile