I’m standing on the shore of Snake River at Hell’s Canyon Dam Visitor Center. Cliff Mountain looms 1.8 Kilometers overhead, almost straight up. The May run-off from the mountains makes rafting from here one of the world’s most exciting white water trips. It’s my birthday on the second day of this six-day trip.
Since high school, Artie’s birthday gifts have been one stunning trip after another. One year we went to Switzerland to snowboard in the Alps, another we went scuba diving through the Great Barrier Reef. He always plans the trips and we go together. I’m scared of heights or water, not that I’ve confessed to this. He teases if I show I’m worried.
Artie and I met in grade school. He was sitting at the edge of the schoolyard eating his lunch. I heard someone say Artie thought he was better than everyone else because his daddy was rich. I just wanted someone to sit with, but nobody ever invited me. As usual, it was obvious my face, disfigured by a pre-school fire, was putting them off. Finally, I mustered the courage to sit with Artie. He didn’t seem bothered by how I looked. As we talked, I decided he wasn’t as bad as others thought. He called me Scarface. It was his joke. We started hanging out and our friendship grew over the years. His wealth and my scars …..
Artie gets into the raft. I hold back.
“Come Susan. They’re ready to leave,” he orders.
The pitch of his voice rises with his excitement.
Taking a deep breath, I cinch my life jacket buckles tight and climb in.
Bruce Jones, the Guide on this trip, hands me an oar saying, “When I say stroke, give it everything you have.”
The Guides launch our air-filled canvas rafts. There’s ours and two others. At orientation, they explained we travelled in groups for safety.
As the raft moves into the current, I grip the oar so tightly my knuckles go white. It offers me little comfort. The raft glides over the smooth water and I start to relax. The views are spectacular as we pass between the canyon walls. We float through basalt-crystal cliffs stretching up on either side and grassy-sided peaks cut deep by eroding tributaries. They are so high I get dizzy when I look up.
Artie, sitting on the next bench forward, turns around, “This is so cool,”
He bounces on his seat making the raft rock. I gasp at the sudden movement. Fear grips my stomach. Bruce scowls. Artie ignores him and informs me that the fun begins a few miles away where basalt dams and landslides have created turbulent rapids.
“The water’s higher this year,” he snickers. “That’ll make this ride even better.”
“I’d hate to think we’d do something boring,” I mumble.
As we head into the deepest chasm in North America to take on the wildest rapids he can find, Artie grins at me like a kid with a new toy.
Author: Gregg Mattson (USA)