I was nervous about rafting the Arkansas River when I saw how fast it was running. I had heard the water levels were low, so I assumed it would be moving more slowly and that it would be an easy ride. Forget altogether about swimming, I believe I’m the one person on this planet who can’t even float. So I didn’t want anything more than a leisurely trip down the river. Not wanting to go back on the bus, I buried my emotions and sucked it up. How deep could the river really be, after all?
The Arkansas River isn’t actually all that deep in the section we rafted. At most it was seven or eight feet deep, and not very wide. So if I went over, surely I could just stand up and wade to shore with a few hard-fought strokes. But that was a big no-no. Or at least so we were told during our safety briefing.
One of my best options, that is if I went into the water, was to swim and then army crawl to shore. My foot could get stuck in the rocks if I tried to stand up in the river. And if that happened, I’d have approximately 450 cubic feet of water per second slamming into and trying to push me down. But what is a cubic feet of water? I really had no idea.
“A cubic feet of water is about the size of a chicken,” explained our Echo Canyon River Expeditions trip leader. “So imagine having 450 chickens slamming into you every second trying to knock you down.” I later learned these are a sort of compressed chicken, too, weighing in at about 62 pounds each. So that would mean I would have nearly 28,000 pounds of chicken trying to drown me. And none of it would be original recipe or extra crispy.
I thought surely I would go over, too, sitting on the outside of the raft like I’ve seen so many others do. How could I really stay on that little boat if I was just sitting there on the edge? By lodging my feet under the tubes and in specially designed slots on the bottom of the boat, of course. Once I did that, I knew I was going nowhere. Not unless we hit some bad rapids, that is.
The float started easily enough. Our small group of five simply soaked in the sun enjoying the ride. And then we were hit with our first set of rapids. I was still nervous, but it was all for naught – we were quickly through and laughing about it. It was a fun little bounce, but nothing so much as I had built up in my mind.
Rafters from the five other boats behind us cheered as they passed through the rapids, paddling hard at their guide’s commanded. We were applauded by our guide, but in the same breath warned a wicked class three rapid was up ahead and could easily tip the raft over if we didn’t hit it right.
“OK, so there’s a little bit of a rough part and then a break and then a rough part again,” our guide told us. “We just need to hit it right and we’ll be fine. So just paddle hard when I tell you to. And go quickly. Don’t hesitate. When I tell you to paddle, you need to go right away.” And then, with his final instructions, we paddled hard as we hit the first of the class three rapids.
No sooner did we blink than we were through with shouts of, “That was awesome! Are there going to be more like that? I want to go again!” And I’ll be honest, some of those shouts were from me. I was having a great time on my first-ever rafting experience. I had expected otherwise, but my apprehension about getting out onto the water once again proved to be unfounded; Echo Canyon River Expeditions was showing me on my Colorado River Outfitters Association-provided trip just how fun rafting really was and how much I had been missing out on over my last twelve years in Colorado.
After a small break to stretch our legs on shore, we continued on down the Arkansas River. We all felt like old pros now, too. We had confidence. We knew we could work together. And we knew we had a great guide. Despite a little lingering nervousness about tipping into the water, there was no doubt on anyone’s part that we would have a great last half of the trip.
We paddled hard through some smaller class two rapids, giggling at the thought of our earlier misguided concern. There was nothing to worry about there, not for me nor for the kids who were in my raft, nor the families in the others. The guides were well trained, knowing exactly how to hit each set of rapids, and everyone was working well together.
And then we hit the second set of class three rapids on our half day run.
It was a challenge, but we all paddled hard and held on for the ride. And no sooner were we through than we were giggling and yelling out more shouts of, “Let’s do that again!” And I certainly would have liked to have done it again, continuing on down through the rougher rapids in the Royal Gorge during the second half of the day. The ride down the rapids had been a lot of fun and nowhere near as scary as I had built up in my mind. There was certainly a good amount of water flowing – 450 62-pound chickens worth per second – but any first-timer of any age couldn’t handle.
Unloading from the bus back at the Echo Canyon River Expeditions offices, I made straight for the 8-Mile Bar and Grill. I had built up an appetite like I had not imagined, so I was ready for a big lunch. And thankfully that’s exactly what they were able to provide – a savory Guinness-glazed hamburger with fries and a side salad. I was pleasantly surprised at the quality, too, knowing full well that I’d make the eight mile drive just to eat there the next time I was in Canon City.
Stuffed from lunch, the drive back to Denver was easy. My only complaint was that I had not signed on for a longer float. Nervousness over my poor swimming abilities and what I had built up in my mind about what type of rapids we would hit held me back. I know now, though, for next time. And there will be a next time. Echo Canyon River Expeditions showed me that by creating a great memory for my first-ever rafting trip.