• Whitewater RaftingToday, one of my clients wished me a weekend free of injury, as “me and the boys” tackle the Gauley River marathon: 26+ miles of whitewater with 100 classed rapids, a handful of which are class V or V+. I told Marla, “Well, it’s not likely I’ll get hurt. It’s one of those deals where you either come back excited, or you don’t come back.”

    Crystal says I’m being melodramatic about the danger of this weekend—taking on the country’s third (and world’s ninth) most dangerous, commercially-navigated whitewater. And maybe I am—building the hype, so that the conquering will blare louder on the flip side.

    But on that water . . . with that isolating roar, with that incessant power, with that 56º water under 56º air . . . you feel mortal, small—even helpless. I keep embracing these adrenaline-inflated adventures that bring my life right up against my face. It’s a good way to evaluate the life that, according to insurance actuators, I’m statistically risking.

    Last year, I made this same trip I’m about to make tomorrow. One of the jobs of the guide is to instruct you before a big rapid what to do in the case of an ejection—if you should leave the raft. Sometimes, the best practice is to swim toward the raft for quick retrieval. Sometimes, it’s to float feet-first and enjoy the tumultuous but relatively-safe ride. Other times, Jimmy would tell us, “If you fall out on this side, swim to the left [bank],” or “swim to the right—hard.” But on one particular rapid, I remember him taking that to the next level of effort: “If you leave the boat, you need to Michael Phelps it toward that side of the river.”

    The Gauley is filled with undercut rocks that can instantly drown you by pinning you under the surface in an unbeatable undercurrent. They are the biggest dangers on the river, the situations that scare the guides most. In that moment, I took Jimmy’s deliberate words as, “Do your best to stay in the boat. If you can’t, then swim like nobody else on earth. Swim for your life.”

    But this whole year since that statement—on an almost weekly basis—those words wash over me with a different connotation, separated from the danger of the moment. They bring a question.

    If someone were to shout into the marketplace, “Ryan George it,” what would everybody understand that to mean? If they “pulled a ‘Ryan,’” would they be praised or shamed? If my name and experience were used to abbreviate an entire idea or act or trait, what would that be?

    The insecurities in me guess that answer would be . . .
    to talk over someone with my story
    to criticize baptist fundamentalism
    to drop “Dude!” and “frickin’” in the same sentence
    to spend money on an adventure instead of long term financial security
    to make sure the camera’s getting everything
    to sneak a double entendre after an innocent statement
    to promise a deadline and miss it
    to get a speeding ticket
    to overreact with fantasy football roster changes
    to critique someone else’s faulty grammar
    to be a bumbling, immature leader
    to draw attention to myself

    The hopes in me wish that implies . . .
    to make someone’s day with an encouraging word
    to try something beyond my fears
    to design something in less than an hour
    to worship until I cried
    to find productivity short cuts and synergetic solutions
    to treat someone to something they couldn’t otherwise afford
    to introduce someone to a new concept or proficiency
    to empower someone else to broaden their horizons
    to do something the right way

    You get the idea. You probably have your lists, too—though maybe not written down. (You’re too busy answering those facebook questions about what kind of ice cream flavors or sci fi movies you like.) You probably don’t need danger to gain self awareness. But I am thankful for friends who dare to confront me on my lists and who invite me on adventures that keep legacy at the forefront of consciousness.

    And I’ll keep abusing my adrenal gland until I run out of ability to do so—or neuter that first list with the second.

    Photo used with permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com ©2009
    This entry was posted on Thursday, September 24th, 2009 at 11:00 pm and is filed under Explorience. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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