I nearly drowned at a job interview. Who was I believe that after one trip down that very river years ago would deem me experienced enough to be gainfully employed as a whitewater rafting guide? My plans to escape the continent for the summer, following in suit of my cousin who ran off to South Africa with the Peace Corp., were lofty and unrealistic as were my hopes of heading west. I was still unwilling to let my precious time off go to waste as my sophomore year at art school ended. Growing increasingly despondent about spending another summer languishing in a ghost town when one fateful afternoon I happened upon an ad in a college publication. Whitewater Challengers sought the aide of poor, miserable, and unemployed students such as myself. In my mind, I was already rafting for the summer. Living in a tent in the Adirondack Mountains, an encampment that I already named “Camp RiddaLynn.” A clever play on my middle name. I thought it was very clever.
“So you’ve been down the river before?” The owner and operator of this outfitter, a man called “Bone” asked as we sat in his office. It was the second time I met with him and so far he seemed all right.
“Yes. Well once, like three years back. I was roped into going with a church camp.” I confessed. “Is my lack of experience going to be a problem?”
“No,” he said assuredly and perhaps appeared a little pleased. “We like new people. We’ll get you suited up and see what you can do.”
“What? Now?” I had never been one to back down from a challenge but all my idle fantasies of whitewater rafting for the season came crashing into fruition. Would I be able to rise to the occasion?
“Craig will go as your guide.”
Craig stood in the doorway nodding slyly.
I swallowed my anxiety, crossed my arms, and saw no other option. “All right, lets go.”
Seated in an inflatable kayak and stuffed snugly in a wetsuit and life vest, I adjusted my helmet and gripped my paddle. It looked as if I would navigate the boat down the river alone for my guide was to ride behind in his own vessel. We left the bank and the grip of the current sent us on our way. It was early Thursday morning in April, the water roiled at 6 feet still frothing from winter’s run off. The voyage was more than half-way through and I miraculously managed to stay in my boat. Perhaps, I would make it to the end unscathed, I thought. We rounded the corner confronting a rapid called “House Rock.” My guide and I skirted past the boulder, the namesake of that particular stretch of the Middle Moose River. “You go on ahead,” Craig said and I unwittingly obliged. Partway down the rapid, my boat took a hard turn sideways. Water poured in capsizing it in an instant. Dashed about on the rocks underwater I was besieged by the undertow in what I came to closely know as a hole. Struggling, I surfaced for a second’s reprieve to breathe before the current regained its relentless pull. For a few rounds, I rode the crest to undertow. Strong hands hands gripped my vest tugging me up for air, my eyes met my guide’s before I saw the bottom his boat. Hard-pressed to breathe, I violently kicked and gripped and the river-slick stones gaining purchase on what I prayed to be the shore.
Finally out of harm, I pulled myself up on the rocks. There I sat and sputtered feeling ashamed about the abrupt course of events. My boat, paddle, and even my helmet disappeared from view carried by the current. Regaining my breath, my eyes met my guides again to see his growing look of disbelief. “Sorry, I lost my things.” I muttered.
“That was awesome!” he exclaimed. “Tell me that wasn’t awesome!”
“Huh?” I stared past him into the rapids. I, the fool who leapt blindly off the cliff defied the river that could have claimed me. “That was awesome…. Holy shit. That was fuckin’ awesome.” He left me on the rocks and went to retrieve the missing equipment. Pulling myself to my feet, I stood there staring into the tumult of churning whitewater that thundered in my ears. I tried to think of a better way to spend a Thursday morning but couldn’t.
Once I regained my things. The rest our route went without event. Back at the base, I changed into dry clothes and went to meet Bone. Craig had already told him what transpired. “I heard you took quite a spill.”
“Yeah, I did. I found a hole.”
“And you kept your head and got yourself out of it.”
“I lost my helmet.”
He smiled and asked when I could start working.