When you find yourself suddenly in whitewater, when you were thinking mere moments before that you were safely in a boat, you tend to let your brain stem fire off all the instinctive reactions it has at its disposal.  I use ‘let’ in the loosest sense.  It’s not like you can stop your brain stem from squirting very insistent messages at you your whole life.

Why your brain stem, out from under the heel of your forebrain for the first time in years, should want to shut off your ability to hear and speak coherently I don’t know.  But it does.

So there was this one time, I was paddling down my favorite whitewater river in a little kayak called a ‘Savage Fury’.  Savage was the manufacturer name and Fury was the model.  Neat looking boat.  Should have been called the Savage AnkleBuster though.

Anyhow, There I was, minding my own business, when a few people, suddenly freed from their commercial raft and from the use of their forebrains went past, up to their necks in whitewater.  They seemed upset.  They weren’t doing a heck of a lot to get themselves out of the river, either.

I paddled alongside one guy and said, “Get on the back end of my boat and kick!” and hooked a thumb over my shoulder.  I might as well have been looking at a movie of the guy.  He knew there was a boat in the water within arm’s reach, but that was all the contact we really had.  I’m lucky he didn’t try to climb up and perch himself on my helmet.  He might have tried it, but he also outweighed me by a few pounds, too.

Did I mention that it was a little kayak?  Small.  Too small for this rugby player-looking dude with saucer-like eyes staring blindly around to suddenly grab the edge of and try to hang on. Tipping my boat at a sick 45 degree tilt to offset his weight and drag, I tried telling him all the way up to the edge of the next rapid to get on the back of the boat.

“Get on the BACK of the boat!” I said.

I could have said, “The name of the next rapid is ‘Double Trouble’.  You will be dunked at least twice.  Don’t panic.  When you go under the second time, wait for the third ‘bump’ and then try to get a breath.  Not before the third bump.”

Could have said that.  He wouldn’t have heard me. He’d have breathed better if I’d have said it and if he’d have heard and if he understood me. After the dunking of that rapid, where I was really glad he didn’t pull us both over and where there was a largish stable eddy on the left side of the river, I got the guy’s attention, and got him to let go.

I pointed downstream to the raft he’d come out of.  I told him to take a minute to get his breath and his calm. Then we’d see if another boat might not help him get to his raft. End of story.

This cartoon goes out to that guy.  He doesn’t remember me, or that conversation, or that rapid, or anything else.  He remembers a lot of static noise, and probably has an aversion to wet rocks.