Rafting Adventures in Altai

October 31, 2017
By , Moscow, Russian Federation

I looked down at the river from my raft. The blue green water stared back at me, taunting me to jump in. I knew if I waited any longer the fear would take control of my body and I wouldn’t jump. It didn’t help that two other people on my raft had already plunged into the icy depths, and the look of their faces when they plummeted downwards were priceless. As a kid, I had always feared the great oceans around the world - truthfully, I was afraid of most bodies of water. The feeling of being surround by endless possibilities that could go wrong haunted me, and not knowing how far down the floor is or not knowing what’s even underneath me - was one of my greatest fears. Doubtfully, I felt the river with the tips of my fingers, hoping that it had warmed up just a little than when I last checked - it did not. If anything, it got colder. I took a deep breath, my body shaking anxiously. Here goes nothing, I thought to myself, as I leaped off of the raft and plunged straight into the river. The water swallowed me whole and I was overwhelmed with the piercing cold feeling, slowing down my heart rate and my actions. With every movement I made, I felt the numbing, cold sensation circulate around my bones and flesh. For a second I had forgotten I had a life vest, and I struggled to stay at the top. Once I realized I wasn’t going to drown, I started calming down. I started thinking, hey this isn’t so bad, yet I knew that wasn’t true. The cold water started squeezing my lungs, making it an absolute struggle to inhale oxygen and breath. My breath started becoming short and quick.  That was when I knew I needed to get out of there for my own good.

In 8th grade at the beginning of the year, the students go to Altai, Siberia. I hadn’t known a lot about Altai, just some information from a few texts. What I had known, was that no matter where you are in Siberia - there’s adventure. I was prepared to leave the “Moscow me” and settle for an “Altai me” once I arrived in Siberia. In Moscow, I follow a routine every single day. I wake up, go to school, go through each class, go home, do my homework, go to bed, and repeat. Sometimes it can get a little tiresome, but being prepared for what’s about to happen, to me, is much easier then not being prepared. In Altai, I was completely different. I roomed with someone I didn’t see every time I went to bed, and every time I woke up. I never knew what would happen every time I woke up; each day held new adventures for me to experience. When I had heard that we were going to go rafting one day, my heart sank a little. I thought I would think of the experience as a chilly, wet, and overall boring experience. Turns out, going rafting was one of the most keenest pleasures I have ever experienced. We had split up into our advisories for each raft, and glided off onto the water after a swift push from the instructor. Our advisory had started off paddling for quite some time, and then suddenly we stopped. I looked around, wondering why we had stopped paddling. Then we were told that we could jump off of the raft right here. My heart sped up as I glanced at the reactions of my fellow peers - they seemed excited, and only a little hesitant of the fact that the water was freezing. The first one to jump was more or less pushed by the rest of us. The gasp that was liberated from his mouth traveled to every raft on the river, as he exclaimed how cold it truly was. His body was shaking from the pressure of all the freezing water, and he tried to swim to the closest boat to get out of the water - his plan failed. The other raft didn’t let him onto their territory, so he swam back as fast as he could towards our boat. Swiftly and gracefully he pulled him out of the water. His body was practically undulating with the rhythm of the cold water, and we could almost feel how we would react after seeing someone experience it themselves.

After jumping into the water and realising that I needed to get out of there as soon as possible, I swam over to the side of the raft and gestured for the instructor on our raft to help lift me up. His strength when lifting me out of the river surprised me, and showed that he must do this a lot. My body was shaking from the frosty water, slumped on the floor of the soaked raft, and I felt a rush of excitement. I felt more alive, and more aware of my surroundings. People started asking, how was it? How bad was it? I found myself at a loss for words. How can you explain something that would have no effect on who you’re saying it to, unless they have experienced it themselves? I don’t know if it was the rush of just jumping in, or the cold getting to my head, but I had this indescribable urge to leap off of the boat and experience the moment again.

Time went like a blur from that moment. I could still feel the sensation the river gave around my body, the fresh feeling it provided. For all the dislikes I possessed from jumping in - the numb toes, my chattering teeth, the lack of possession over the movement of my fingers, there were twice as many things that I did like from jumping in. I felt like a different person in Altai: a braver version of who I am. In Moscow, I would never jump into a piercing cold river on a daily basis - yet in Altai I would do it in a heartbeat. I would do it in a heartbeat because in Moscow I don’t live next to a river, and wake up with nature all around me. Jumping into a river in Altai feels more like a casual thing to do than it would in Moscow.

I looked over at my fellow peers, and evaluated the ones who jumped in. They all had a goofy smile plastered across their face. Was the river cold? Yes. Would they jump in again? Maybe, probably not. Are they glad they did it? Absolutely. I couldn't stand to be away from the feeling of leaping in again and being the brave person who can withstand any temperature imaginable. I asked to switch spots on the raft, knowing that in the front of the raft would be where the big waves would drench you in the bitter cold water. Little did I know I was about to get soaked from head to toe. Once I had gotten to the front of the raft, everything looked different. From the back, you could see a bit of the river beside you, but your view mostly consisted of the person in front of you, paddling to their hearts content. Yet while sitting at the front of the raft, I had a whole view to admire - The river meandering through forested mountains, with cliffs jutting up from the shores. No other boats in sight, besides our Altai group behind us. The feeling was like being at the front of a rollercoaster. You feel like you experience all the great moments before everyone else, and so you got to enjoy the ride more. That's exactly how I had felt being up there. After a couple of minutes sitting up at the front of the raft, I spotted some rapids up ahead. As we paddled closer and closer, my heart beating louder and louder, I got excited for what was to come.

The first set of rapids had come with a startle. Our raft dipped and danced on top of the turquoise river, almost as if falling over itself - until the raft stopped dancing, like a ballerina who had twisted her foot. The boat viciously ducked into the waves, and time went by as if in slow motion.


"Paddle!" The instructor on our boat cried out as we went into temporary shock. A massive wave came crashing down upon us, dousing everyone in the front of the boat, especially me, in what felt like freshly made ice cubes. The first moment the wave interacted with my skin sent a shiver down my spine, all the way down to my toes. The river rose above me and suddenly I had felt powerless, and tiny compared to this massive wave, until reality came back like a blur and the freezing water came down like a thud, blinding my eyes for a few seconds. Before I had felt so safe and unable to harm, but surrounded by this huge body of water collapsing on top of me, I had realized how truly powerless I am. All of the feelings I had felt beforehand on the raft were slowly disappearing, like the sun on a cloudy day. Struggling to wipe my eyes while paddling, I eventually started to put together an image in front of my eyes and start focusing on getting out of the ferocious rapids. My muscles strained from the pull of the rapids against my paddle, and it felt like we were going nowhere, until we actually started progressing away from the treacherous rapids and onto still water. I breathed a sigh of relief - the hard part was over. It felt as though there had been a huge weight, balanced between my shoulder blades, evolving around my worries and bringing them up to remind myself on all of the possibilities that could have gone wrong. Yet now that we had passed all of the dangers, this huge weight had been slowly lifted off of my shoulders, letting me sigh in relief. My fellow peers and I glanced behind us to see how the other rafts were taking the riptides - not too well. I felt a smile creep onto my face and expand slowly until eventually I was laughing. We had done it. We had gotten through the hard part, and now we can celebrate.

 

"There's a great place to jump into the river a few minutes ahead of us" the instructor said. To be honest, I couldn't have thought of a better way to celebrate. "Who here wants to jump in?" Our advisor said. My hand shot up in the air, along with only a few other people. "Alright, but one person at a time." She reminded us. I decided to go first. Jumping into the water didn't scare me like it did the first time I leaped in, because I knew what to expect once I submerged myself into the freezing river. Trying to get my body used to the temperature, I swim a little away from the boat, doing a modified backstroke with a life jacket on.


"How cold is it?" A student asks from another raft close behind us. I shrugged my shoulders, not knowing how to respond. It was definitely cold, but not cold enough to stop me from jumping in a thousand times repeatedly. I wish I could have stayed in there forever, but I was having a hard time controlling my breathing again. I swam over to the raft, and the instructor pulled me in again. Everyone on the raft waited patiently, until each and every student had the opportunity to go into the river and swim.

As a kid, I was terrified of any body of water, feeling as though a massive shark or alligator would jump out and bite off one of my limbs. To this day, if I over think and spend time thinking about it, I still get the shivers. I was definitely not thinking about that when I jumped into the river; only until I was pulled back into the raft. My eyes widened when I remembered the river was 70 feet deep, and perfect for a sea creature to gobble me up (despite the fact that it was an unreasonable temperature for a sea creature to live in). I'm very thankful that I did not have enough common sense or time to think about the 'dangers' of jumping into the river, because there's a 90 percent chance I would not have done it - therefore concluding in me missing out on an amazing opportunity you don't get to experience that often. Yes, it's risky. It's scary. It's terrifying to jump. In your mind you’re thinking there's a huge chance it won't work out. That's the point. Be brave, do it anyway. Fear is what stops you. Courage is what keeps you going.






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