Once a Polish scout, always a Polish scout.
Boy, do I have some stories to tell.
Below is an attempt at one of them, something my sister and I recently reminisced about over cups of Chai and Americano.
I in my early twenties, she freshly graduated from high school, here is my version of what could have been a very, very bad day.
We are on the lower banks of the Kern River. Our instructor introduces himself and we quickly pair off. Aggie and I look at each other, nervously giggling, our heads stuffed into red and blue helmets. I am thinking of the ten page waiver I just signed, a release form that guarantees our rafting guides will not be held liable in the unlikely event of an unfortunate incident. I am imagining all of the “incidents” that are unlikely to occur in this class V river and suddenly I am wondering what the hell I am doing here, ankle deep in rapids that look and feel more and more dangerous by the second.
We huddle together, waiting for our names to be called. My sister and I climb into our grey blow-up kayak and the instructor asks for one volunteer from each pair to jump into the water. He needs us to understand just how cold the temperature is and that our survival depends on how quickly we are able to get back into the kayak. I am amazed when my arm goes up and suddenly my veins are hardening from the frozen water, my breathing becoming erratic, my lips turning a precious shade of periwinkle. I am half-shouting, half-shivering commands at my stupid and warm sister who is laughing harder than I have ever seen her laugh. I want to pull her in with me but my survival instinct kicks in and I realize I need her bony ass to get me out of this mess. She hoists while she laughs and when I finally slither into the kayak, I want to murder everyone within a ten foot radius.
Moments later we are coasting the river, enjoying nature, trusting that God is watching over us. The water begins to gain momentum and we listen as the names of the approaching rapids are yelled out by the instructor. “This is the Train Wreck!” he screams, as we descend into the rapid, the cold water smacking us hard across our terrified faces. What THE HELL are we doing?? Whose idea was this?!
Aggie is screaming something at me and I throw my hands in the air, letting her know, once again, that I have no idea how to steer this death machine around the deep swirling waters. “Dead Man’s Curve is up ahead!” yells our wild-eyed instructor and I don’t need to be psychic to know that this will all end very badly. Suddenly, our river guru disappears and it feels like we are on a roller coaster built in the 1920’s. No seat belts, no safety harness, just the ugly helmets on our heads and our slippery hands grasping at the oars. We are completely and utterly @#$%.
Less than two seconds later we are submerged in the icy waters, trapped underneath our kayak, the force of the water so strong that our shoes have been sucked off. Time stands still and it is eerily quite underneath this treacherous rapid. Somehow we manage to get our heads above water, the sight of each other’s helmets guiding us to one another, and there is only desperation and terror. Adrenaline gets us to shore and we are breathing hard, in shock from both the near-death experience and the freezing water temperatures.
Just another day in the life of two Polish Scouts.
Hours later, after we have dried off and recounted our experience several times over, we are sitting in a small Chinese restaurant, just the two of us, mounds of MSG-infused food splayed out all over the tiny table. We are not talking, just eating, chewing slowly, then quickly, devouring each morsel, enjoying a meal preceded by near tragedy. We are both laughing and crying, taking turns taking it all in, the other patrons unaware of how lucky we both feel in that very moment. We are grateful and exhausted, and we both know what needs to be done next.
We find the dip@#% that organized this trip, and we kick his scrawny little @$$.