We were seven to ten youngish adults in a rented RV on our way from Florida to go party with our favorite band in North Carolina. Road Trip! A quick detour for some white water rafting seemed like a perfect addition to our quest. So we piled out of the RV that morning glassy-eyed and a tad discombobulated from traveling all night, but psyched for the adventure ahead.
We collectively suffered a moment’s hesitation at the small print of the liability waiver that read, “Blah, blah, blah…there is a risk of unavoidable death and the company cannot be held responsible….blah…blah…”
Wait a sec…unavoidable death? That sounded kind of serious. So…were they telling us that we were definitely going to die on this rafting trip? That was a little harsh for our mellow, man. We just wanted to float on a river. I mean, we still had the show to get to, there was no room for dying on our itinerary.
But, being full of youthiness and certain of our immortality, we decided that we would throw caution to the wind and try to beat those odds of certain death—especially since we had already paid and all.
Our paddling guides ran through all of the safety precautions, taught us how to steer the raft and all that good stuff and–while they didn’t directly mention unavoidable death–they did make it a point to tell us that if anyone was to fall out of the raft, the most important thing to remember was that under no circumstances were we to try to stand up in the river. Instead, we should curl up into a fetal ball and float down the river until one of the rafts could pick us up. But never, ever try to stand up.
The danger in standing up is that there are lots of little rocks and crevices in which your foot could get stuck. With thousands of pounds of rushing water hammering down on you, you could be pinned underwater and–you guessed it–that’s when the unavoidable death starts happening.
Duly warned, we set out with our paddles and raft and…it was awesome! Even in summer the mountain water was frigid. The cold sting of it took our breath away almost as much as the out-of-control thrill of being plunged headlong towards huge jagged boulders did.
I wedged my feet as tightly as I could between the side and bottom of the raft, terrified of what would happen to me if I bounced into the churning gray water.
We made it triumphantly through the first couple of rapids, slapped high fives all around and then…out of nowhere!…Tracie was just gone. Ejected out of the raft.
We all spun around to look for her, couldn’t spot her for a tense moment. Finally we saw her head pop up, both hands in the air.
And then she STOOD STRAIGHT UP in the water (like we had specifically, in no uncertain terms, been told NOT to do) and yelled with a shit-eating grin on her face, “Unavoidable death!” “Unavoidable death!”
We all laughed maniacally and cheered, brandishing our paddles over our heads like a conquering band of hippie pirates. That river was no match for the likes of us!
Luck was with us that day. Tracie didn’t get her foot or any other appendage stuck anywhere, nor was she smashed into any rocks during her ejection. We hauled her back into the raft and, though her lips were blue and she was shivering, she was still very much alive.
Turns out that despite dire warnings to the contrary, we were able to escape with our lives that day (some more narrowly than others). We all made it to the show that night intact, with a good story to tell, and with lives more enriched for the experience.
And to this day I always smile when I think of badass Tracie popping right up out of the river and laughing in the face of unavoidable death.
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