Trouble in Tennessee

January 2, 2008
You would think that a person would be able to make the connection between the name Snake River and the kinds of animals you might find there. At the age of 11, I should have taken the warning that visiting the river might bring me face to face with my greatest fear. However, I did no such thing. I willingly walked into my worst nightmare.
I was in Tennessee for a few weeks of the summer visiting family. My mother’s brother had just moved his family there from Florida and they had a daughter my age. Normally my cousin, Kate, would come up to Connecticut every summer to visit with my family and me. This year the roles were switched and I flew down to spend two weeks in the south.
It was a frightening trip for me to take all by my self. I had never spent any time away from my parents except for the occasional sleep over at a girlfriend’s house. They had never been more than a phone call away from me. I had to fly all by myself. I was stuck sitting next to another girl who was flying without her parents. From take off to landing, I swear her mouth never shut. By the end of the flight, I had a terrible headache and knew more about this young girl’s life than I could ever wish to know.
Despite the trouble it took to get down there, I was ecstatic to see my family. Kate has always been my favorite cousin, and we get along well. My uncle and aunt were so nice and welcoming to me I barley missed my parents. Plus, they had something special planned for my arrival. They had rented an RV and planned a week long road trip around Tennessee.
Our first stop was at Snake River. The plan was to go white water kayaking. I was very excited to try this because I had always enjoyed kayaking on the Connecticut River. We arrived in the late morning at the Snake River White Water Rafting Center. We went through a brief training about the equipment, safety procedures, etc. After a 30 minute presentation, we left in our kayaks.
The rapids in the river weren’t too challenging, so they let us go without a guide. Kate and I often took the lead, her parents lagging on behind us. Before long the adults were tired and they asked if we could pull off the river for a few minutes for a break. I was the first one to reach the bank. I stepped out of my kayak and pulled the front half on the shore. Then I looked around. Right in front of my face, lying draped on a tree branch, was a gigantic snake. It just sat there staring intently at me.
This snake was so large that the average person would have been uneasy. I unfortunately have a phobia of snakes that I’ve had since I was a child. To this day I can’t be anywhere near a snake or I will have an anxiety attack. About 1.5 seconds after I saw the snake I dove into my kayak with such force I was soon far away from the shore. I ran away so fast I forgot my paddle. Kate was laughing at me from a distance as I tried to steer using my hand flat out. I didn’t care though; I just wanted to get as far away from the snake as possible.
My uncle went to the bank and retrieved my paddle for me. When we met up a bit down stream he told all of us there was no more stopping of the sides of the river. He had seen 2 more snakes when he went in for the paddle. If we needed a break, we would just stop paddling for several minutes and let the river gently move us.
After a little while, everyone but me had forgotten the encounter with the snake. We were having a good time regardless because white water is very exciting. Towards the end of our journey we came across a long stretch of little rapids. Kate and I were a bit hesitant and so my aunt and uncle went first. They made it through but had a little trouble because at some parts the water level was low. My aunt got stuck once on a flat rock that was above the water line. My uncle had to help her get moving again.
When we could procrastinate no longer, Kate and I started to work our way through the rapids. All was good until Kate got stuck just like her mom had. She had gone over a rock and there was no water running underneath her. I heard an ear piercing scream. I immediately looked at Kate and knew something must be terribly wrong. Getting stuck on the rocks isn’t scary enough to warrant a scream like that, you just have to get a push off into the water.
I soon realized the reason for her terror. Sitting on a rock adjacent to her was another snake bathing in the sun. Although not as afraid as I am of snakes, Kate does not find them to be pleasant creatures. I think my fear rubbed off a bit on her because she freaked out. The snake lifted itself up and was hissing at Kate. She decided to hit it with her paddle and she knocked him back into the water.
Although the snake was gone at the moment, Kate hadn’t budged one inch on her rock. It was impossible for her parents to come back up the rapids to help out. I knew what I had to do. Even though it was against every instinct my body was screaming at me, I paddled towards Kate and the snake. I could tell it must still have been around her because she was following something in the water with her eyes. She didn’t dare say it was still there because she wanted to get off that rock. Tears were streaming down her face at a steady rate.
When I was close, I refused to look down at the water. I simply paddled forward towards my cousin. When I was close enough, I wedged my paddle under her kayak and pushed with all my weight. Adrenaline definitely gave me a kick of strength and I was able to free Kate in one try. As soon as I saw she was moving, I headed down the rapids to get as far away as I could.
Kate and I were both traumatized. We both wanted off the river immediately. Luckily, there wasn’t much left to go. When we finally got out of the kayaks, both Kate and I were visibly shaking. I wanted to get out of that area as fast as possible. When we were leaving I spotted a small sign that we had missed on the way in. It reminded me of something you might see at an amusement park warning you that you’ll probably get wet. The sign read, “WARNING: you are guaranteed to see snakes!” Then underneath they had a diagram showing all the different kinds of snakes and what they look like. Why none of us noticed the sign on the way in is a mystery to me. But I will never underestimate the name of a place again.

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