The Raging River This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

December 12, 2012
We left the house at 4:40 a.m., and the only thing I saw for the first leg of the journey was my pillow. Everyone else was doing the same thing. My friend Gretchen promptly fell asleep in the middle seat, while my sister snored softly next to her. I worried that Dad, who was driving, hadn't gotten enough sleep. Mom was the only one who was used to getting up this early.

Our group included a chiropractor, a Sunday school teacher, a middle-school teacher and her college-aged son, a pair of father/daughter construction workers, and a machinist with his daughter and her boyfriend. The machinist joked that this was his way of testing the young man who was dating his daughter. I thought it might also be a good way to get rid of the guy and make it look like an accident.

It wasn't until the sun was high overhead that we got our first glimpse of the river that we would spend the rest of the day on. The Youghiogheny glinted and shimmered as we crossed the bridge into Pennsylvania's Ohiopyle State Park. It was as if the river was taunting me.

Parking was an issue in a tiny Ohiopyle, a town that subsists on whitewater rafting. Nearly every building had a sign advertising the lowest rates in rafting gear.

The chiropractor, the leader of our excited little band of adventurers, had reserved five rafts for the eighteen of us. At our appointed launch site, we all grabbed a raft and heaved them down to the river's edge. Each of us carried a paddle and wore a life vest and helmet.

The directions from the guide who had outfitted us had stirred panic in my quivering little Central Pennsylvania heart. “If you get tossed overboard, this is what you do,” he had shouted. “Hold your arms close to your vest, lift your feet up, and point them downstream. If you don't lift your feet up, they could get stuck under a rock and you could get sucked under the water.” Thank you, sir, I thought. I'll keep that in mind: Don't die.

His advice was warranted, however. We hadn't been on the river five minutes before the first rapids knocked one of our group out of his raft. I was glad it wasn't me, but watching your dad (the one person in your boat who has actually been rafting before) bouncing in the whitecaps is not as funny as you would think.

The river seemed to be laughing at me when we arrived at Dimple Rock. It gurgled happily past the boulder, splashing and ebbing its way into the rapids. However, this was one of the most dangerous parts of the river. Those who had been down the Youghiogheny before informed us that if a raft flipped here, it was possible to get sucked under the rock.

My boat started toward Dimple Rock, all of us full of trepidation. The instructions were simple: paddle the boat as far away from the rock as you can. If you can't stay away from it, put all your weight on the side of the raft toward the rock to prevent the raft from riding up on it and flipping. We succeeded in doing all of that. We tried to cut to the right, and when that didn't work, everyone sat on the side of the raft closest to the rock.

The last thing I remember before going underwater is being close enough to kiss that rock. I can still see its concave surface jutting out in front of me and over my head. I don't remember being thrown in, but all of a sudden I was in the foaming blue and white water with no air to speak of, desperately trying not to think about being sucked under the rock. I reached for the raft and felt the cloth tape of someone's life jacket. I didn't know whose it was. I grabbed it, trying to reach the surface, but the tape was jerked from my hand. At some point I realized I was losing my shoes.

When I surfaced, I gasped for air but remembered what the guide had instructed us as we left Ohiopyle: “Arms in. Legs up. Don't stand up in the rapids. Just float.” Okay. It was then that I realized I had never let go of my paddle.

I floated down the rapids, bouncing off rocks and trying to keep close to the shore, without success. When I finally reached calm water I looked up and saw my mom and my sister standing on a big rock, holding our raft against the shore. They reached out to help me up. After a few minutes of desperately scanning the shoreline, we saw that none of our group had perished at Dimple Rock. And I was even still wearing my shoes.

After Dimple Rock, we stayed on the bank for a while and swam in the calm water. Everyone needed a chance to recuperate. Four of our five rafts had flipped.

It was late when we reached our take-out point, almost six o'clock. In the mountains of Western Pennsylvania, the sun was setting. It was shadowy where we pulled our rafts from the water. We walked, sore and weary, to the top of the hill where a bus would drive us back to Ohiopyle. My last glimpse of the river was from the bridge heading out of Ohiopyle State Park toward home. The last fingers of sunlight were playing on the water's surface. The river seemed deceptively friendly, reflecting the yellow sunset. I almost wanted to go back.

It wasn't until several weeks later that I realized what the river had done to me. Perhaps it was swallowing the rushing water or surviving Dimple Rock – I'm not sure. What I do know is that it changed me. This Pennsylvania girl now has an unquenchable thirst for adventure.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

Post a Comment

Be the first to comment on this article!

Site Feedback