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Monday, May 02, 2005

Whitewater Rafting Forges Bonds Stronger than the Rapids

by: Jim Sampson

Colorado River Rafting is a Trip

Visualize the boat's brow cutting through the swirling, surging water; the sun sparkling on the frothy waves, making tiny rainbows; the abrupt lurch of the craft, as the surging waves suddenly shift direction. The adrenalin is pumping, all senses alert, with nature working overtime to orchestrate a thrill you'll never forget. That's what most people think a raft trip entails, but there's much more going on. Your connection with the other rafters forms a matchless adventure that won't be forgotten.

Rafting down the Arkansas River on the rushing snowmelt from 14,000 feet peaks is exciting - no doubt about it. But the trip is still safe enough for a family vacation. River rafting in Colorado combines thrilling rapids with quiet stretches, where rafters can take in the spectacular mountain scenery close up. Their mental cameras capture images that will be studied over and over later, once they return home.

Look Past the Surging River and the Drama

There's one thing even more crucial than the water for making your adventure tour a treasured event. It's the other people. Some you bring along, like family, friends or group (such as a scout troop). You may think you know each other already, but the time spent on the river forever alters the way you'll relate back home. That's the real pay-off from a wilderness adventure. The guides and other rafters also play essential roles in the total experience.

Unlike taking a bus or a train, the goal isn't to arrive at the destination. Instead, getting there is ALL the fun. So there's no hurry. Everyone along plays their part in moving the boats, and reacts to what the river throws at them. Each person needs to develop their sense of teamwork and reliance on each other. The emotional exhilaration amps up even more because of the sharing involved. Facing physical challenges together builds trust and confidence in each other, in a matter of hours.

Make Memories that Don't Fade

Scientists have discovered that the intensity of an emotional experience permanently alters the way a person remembers it. Emotionally charged experiences are filed differently in the brain than everyday ones are. Later, they're recalled with vivid detail, without losing clarity over time. Recalling even a small part of the event brings the full force of experience back. That's why they're called "flashbulb memories."

When people go through such powerful experiences together, they relate to each other in new ways. It's certainly a step away from their day-in, day-out routines. That's a major reason why a wilderness adventure like whitewater rafting does more for those who take the trip than a casual vacation would. They develop new ways to relate to nature and each other. Rafters tell me they arranged the trip to get away from the TV and the cell phone. But they're pleased to find that the river is the tonic for much of what's stressful for them.

Even when they get home, those newly-forged ways of relating influence the way people treat each other. As owner for Four Corners Rafting, one of the oldest whitewater rafting company on the Arkansas River, I've taken thousands of people on the outdoor adventure. Without exception, they find the experience delivered in ways that they hadn't expected. I'm often told that what they experienced during whitewater rafting was the highlight of their vacation."We visited all the other attractions, we saw all the sights. Nothing comes close!"

Step Out of Your Shoes

The benefits that rafters receive don't stop when the trip is over. We've all heard the phrase about walking a mile in someone else's shoes. That does help to understand the experiences of others with fresh awareness. But I think that greater value comes in understanding yourself better. To step into someone else's shoes, you must temporarily step out of your own. That breaks a lot of habits and familiar assumptions. Then when you return to your own shoes, you can see aspects of your life that you usually overlook because they're so unbroken.

Taking a wilderness adventure is a walk in another pair of shoes. And those people who shared that intensely emotional adventure with you took the same mind-stretching trek. That stays with you for the long haul.

About The Author


--Jim Sampson owns Four Corners Rafting, an early whitewater rafting company on the Arkansas River. With 1 to 3-day Colorado wilderness adventures. Near Buena Vista, CO (800) 332-RAFT PO Box 219 Nathrop, CO 8123
http://www.fourcornersrafting.com
jim@fourcornersrafting.com

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My First Bear Encounter

by: jarba

The summer I got my college degree in anthropology, I headed to a small ranch in Montana for a summer job. My employer, Jack, was a stout rancher in his 40s. He raised cattle and sheep, and two young sons, Roy 8 and Nick 6, with his wife Jean, a very friendly woman a few years his senior, on his family ranch. My responsibility was to take care Jean's Mom Ester who had been partly paralyzed by a stroke and had spent most of her time in a wheelchair for the last five years.

Every morning, after breakfast and a shower, I would wheel Ester out of the wooden ranch house for a morning stroll. The wooden house was in an enclave flanked by tall trees forming a natural fence around the building. Beyond the line of trees, a small gravel path led off into the high prairie, green with grass, where is quickly faded. Ambling along the path and beyond was the favorite part of our morning routine - the splendid view of the undulating landscape, occasionly disrupted by some far-off cliff or hillock, seemed to push the horizon far and away. The stretched immensity of blue sky was pierced by a distant rock formation darkened by caves sheltering small animals. The nearby farms were many miles apart, and occasionally their herds passed by and we waved good morning to our neighbours; Most of the time we chatted among ourselves as the soft morning breez whispered through the leaves of aspens. Sometimes, deer could be spotted springing away and dispersing in the undergrowth.

I normally got us back home before noon and prepared simple lunches for Ester and the boys. Jack and Jean wouldn't be back until early evening. The boys usually had some work set out for them every day, and they spent their time about the ranch house. After helping Ester to her bed for a nap, I enjoyed watering the flowers in the front yard with a big water jar. Those flowers were bit over-grown, but fit into their surroundings just right. The boys liked to fertilize the flower bed with whatever they could get their hands onto - once they were seen laying dung on it, another time I found them dump fresh corn - always something organic, I couldn't really see much nutritional benefit they had to the plants - but the flowers did look good. The afternoon sun quickly raised the temperature into the 90s, this was the perfect time for a quiet reading session on my own - the boys frequently joined their friends for swimming somehwere in the nearby town - I would sit myself on a wooden bench in the yard, comfortably placed under the cool shadow of the tree canopy, the sweet aroma of flowers floating in the air.

It was on one of these idyllic afternoons, about a month since I'd first arrived on the ranch, that, after reading by myself for a little while and after checking upon Ester in the cabin, I went to refill my water jar to water the plants again. I loitered inside a little bit before exiting the gate. With the jar in one hand, and my book in the other, I made my way towards the bench about 30 feet away. when suddenly a great roar stopped me short. I looked up in horror at a fully upright brown bear staring down at me just a few yards to my right. I was never warned about any BEAR visitations! The bear raised its snout and turned it in every direction as if sniffing. Its round ears perked up to gather every minute noise. This was a huge fellow who stood a good 7 feet tall, at least 300 pounds in weight. I was frozen with apprehension, my heart pounding wildly.

Instinctively, I could sense something was wrong and this unexpected fellow was in bad humor. I franticly looked around to see if there was any safe path for a retreat, when suddenly a slight movement on the ground caught my eyes, I spotted another bear, this time a young one lying on its side, eyes closed, near one end of the flower bed. Something dawned on me, the cub was injured, or dying, while the grieving mother fixed on me as the perpetrator. Another frightening roar was directed at me, Mamma was in an ugly mood! God knows I didn't do anything to her baby! I couldn't tell the exact state of the cub, but I could clearly see the sharp teeth in Mamma's mouth, and could almost smell her stenchy breath. All my hair stood on end, and my blood gushed onto my face, my head was throbbing. I forced myself to think - wondered if Ester could hear the bear, but she wouldn't be able to help much. Female bears were most dangerous when with their young since mother bear was notoriously protective and vengeful. I've got to convince her I was harmless.

I started to retreat slowly away from where the bear cub lay, and shouted out loudly, "Hey Bear, Calm Down! I'm Leaving!" My voice was a little too faltering and squeaky for my taste, but that was best I could manage. The mamma bear raised her paw, her claw shining under the sun like a hook, and then she came upon me. I couldn't understand how a 10 yard distance could vanish in a matter of a second. It felt like tons of weight piling down on my shoulder, shaking me up, pushing me down like a little puppet. Her hot heavy breath was right next to my ear. I was fighting all I could, but in the next moment my book and water jar were out of my hands, and I fell to the ground on my back with a loud thump. I was too petrified to feel the pain, only one message crossed my mind, "I'm going to die", my eyes closed, waiting the ensuing slam to finish me off.

But it never came. It was just a few seconds, but it felt like a century, before I opened my eyes to a retreating bear. She proceeded towards her cub, who, stirred by the water jar accidentally landing on him and the water pouring out of it, was struggling to stand up. He looked, apparently not dead, not wounded, not sleepy, but disoriented! It was the most amazing scene in the world, the cub staggering up to his mamma! It was the corn, I later learned, which fermented in the hot, humid, air, which attracted the cub who subsequently filled her tummy with too much alcohol! He was literally drunk! I watched her limping a little, walking drunkenly away, with her mamma discreetly following, out of our ranch, till they disappeared into the far distance, never looking back once.

As to me, apart from a few clearly visible scars on my shoulders and arms, I fully recovered from the incident, and firmly discontinued from then on any further practice of using non-processed corn as organic fertilizer on the ranch.

The above article and its followup discussion are published on http://www.crossvoice.com (CrossVoice Magazine)

About The Author


Jarba, publisher of CrossVoice - magazine featuring stories, opinions and reviews on politics, pop culture and commercial products.

http://www.crossvoice.com/
jarba@crossvoice.com

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