Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Rafting on the Merced River

In the summer of ’96 I had an audit client in Fresno, CA.  Since the audit would take about four weeks, Cheri and our two boys came out to Fresno for the last couple of weeks.  We learned that Yosemite was only about an hour’s drive from Fresno, so we took the opportunity to spend the weekends there.  We had visited Yosemite in August, 1994, when the waterfalls and the Merced River were dried-up for the season.  This trip was in June, and the falls and the river were flowing with water.

We decided to rent a raft and take a trip along the Merced River.  Our boys were five and seven, and just barely met the size qualifications to rent the mandatory life jackets.  Although it was June, the water was pretty cold.  The falls and the river are fed by the melting snow from the higher elevations, so the water is still cold in June.  We got everyone into the raft, with Cheri in the front, the boys in the middle, and I hopped in the back. 

I had rowed a flat bottom fishing boat many times during my high school fishing days, and Cheri and I went whitewater rafting twice on the Chattooga River when we were in college.  However, I learned that we had different philosophies when it came to how to steer the raft.  Being the man in charge, I had chosen the back of the raft.  That’s the best place from which to steer.  From the back of the raft, you can paddle, and you can use the oar as a rudder so it doesn’t matter which side of the boat you paddle from. You just row a few strokes and then steer with the oar.  The person in the front of the raft can then paddle from one side, instead of shifting from side to side to help steer the raft.

We were moving along the gentle rapids with ease, enjoying the beautiful scenery.  Yosemite is gorgeous from just about any place in the huge national park.  The water is crystal clear, and wildlife is abundant.  We were on the lookout for black bears (and we did see one at the end of our rafting expedition).  Then we came upon a fallen tree that was hovering across the river, about 2 feet above the surface.  I thought, “No problem.  Cheri can keep paddling, and I’ll just steer around the tree.”  But Cheri’s motherly instinct kicked in, and she thought she needed to try to steer around the tree from the front of the boat.  She began frantically paddling on one side, then the other, then back again.  I was trying to steer from the back, but to no avail.  I couldn’t keep up with her changing directions, and we were heading straight under the tree.

Cheri yelled for the boys to duck, and they all safely avoided the tree.  However, I couldn’t duck low enough or fast enough.  I went chest first into the tree and was pushed backwards out of the raft and into the cold Merced River!   There was a slight panic in the raft as I swam to catch up, but the current wasn’t swift, and I climbed back into the raft.  No harm done.

We then talked about how I planned to steer from the back the rest of the way.  I realized that I probably hadn’t explained that before we started, and it would have been a good thing to communicate.  But then, if I had, I wouldn’t have this story to tell.

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