Today, Saturday February 16th, we split into two groups, one kayaking, one a cultural expedition. Next weekend the groups will flip. I was in the kayaking group. We traveled about an hour south to explore a section of the Rio Aysen. It’s a one mile stretch with a class two rapid and a class two/three rapid and lots of flatter water in between. At the bottom of the stretch we did there’s a large sandy beach. We split further into three groups and each took a turn going down the river.
While the first group went, a few of us hopped in the extra kayaks and practiced some strokes in the eddy (calm space behind a big rock) right in front of the beach. We then had some lunch and prepped our boats. After the first group came back, it was our turn to paddle.
I was nervous. Very nervous. Looking down at the rapids as we drove by, my stomach did flips over and over. While I was comfortable kayaking in general, I have never been on a boat down white water rapids before. We took our boats off the trailer and onto the rocky shore. After an extended safety briefing and planning session, we set up our boats and hopped into the river.
The first bit of paddling was simple, it was warm and sunny, and the splash of the cool water felt good. As we approached the first rapid, the sound of the crashing water filled my ears with dread. Before going down a rapid for the first time, it is best practice to get out of ones kayak and scout out the rapid, and that’s exactly what we did. WORMS is the acronym for creating a rapid plan. Water, Obstacles, Route, Maneuvers and markers, Safety. The two instructors helped the six of us make our route, identify the obstacles and markers, and make a plan for the bottom, including what would happen if someone flipped. Then it was time.
I was in the first group to go down. My fingers gripped the paddle intently as I repeated in my head the three steps to not flipping while going down a rapid. Stay loose, keep paddling, look where you want to go.
“Stay loose, keep paddling, look where you want to go.” By the time I had taken my final deep breath in preparation, I was in the rapid. My boat bobbed up the waves int he middle, and I kept paddling. I pass the first marker, avoided the first obstacle and looked where I wanted to go. As I summited the final wave, I kept my hips lose and let the water take me. And that was it. I was in the eddy waiting for everyone else to do what I had just done. AND IT WAS AWESOME!
Only one person fell in, but the instructors rescued her boat and paddle, and she swam to safety, using the techniques we had practiced earlier. We waited for her to drain her boat, then paddled up to the next rapid, a little ways down the river.
If the last one barked, this one roared. The crashing white water could be heard from all across the river. As we pulled up onto the shore and walked to where we could get eyes on the entire rapid, my stomach dropped again, here it was. We WORMSed this rapid as well, making the plan to either go right over the waves, or stay just to the right side of them.
One instructor would sit in an eddy in the middle to help anyone out, while the other would wait at the bottom to do the same. We went down one by one, braving the water as best we could. I was last in line. As before, only one person flipped on the rapid, and she was just fine.
I paddle to the top of the white water, looking over the precipice, deciding my fate. I got the signal from the instructor halfway down the river, it was time to go. STAY LOOSE! KEEP PADDLING! LOOK WHERE YOU WANT TO GO!
And I went. I don’t know if I had decided in the moment to go over the middle of the waves, the most intense ride, or if I just couldn’t control my boat well enough to not do that, but there I was, riding the center of the rapid.
Up one! Stay loose. Up the second. Keep paddling. Up the third, look where you want to go! I DID IT!
As the water continued around the corner, I maneuvers to the side of the river in order to make it to the eddy next to our beach and pull out spot. But there was a rock.
The rock got closer, it was a big rock, and it was in my way. I knew I was gonna hit it before I did, it was inevitable. I did my best to get around it, but there was a bump, and then I was in the water.
It’s politely called an ‘out of boat experience,’ but when you’re swimming in rapids, it doesn’t feel so polite. Luckily I had my out of boat experience right into the spot where I was supposed to pull out, and no one had to save me. I also managed to keep hold of my boat and my paddle, a true victory.
All in all, it was a great day on the river and I am glad I got to practice my out of boat experiences, hopefully I’ll stay dry next time!