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My Experience of being pinned under a raft
by Keith Christensen 10/1/2007

No s**t! There I was… So, all these people that I kayak with over the years, they go on to bigger and more exciting things - some of them more quickly than others. I have friends boating class IV and V and I’m still doing class II. I can do harder stuff, but I don’t have as much fun. Boating the harder stuff is much more serious and you have to be safetyconscious and know who you’re boating with. Now, some of these guys who have moved up to class III give me a bad time about it. They don’t mean to, especially, but they’ll say, “We’ve got to get you down the Gorge.”

Well, I’ve boated the usual run so many times, I’m getting bored with it. There is absolutely no fear left in it, so I do have a good time and I can help beginners. But, I also don’t get the thrill out of it like I once did. Its more of a social day for me. But these comments from people are getting to me. And I started to question myself.
Today, I decided I was boating the Gorge. I went with Susan and 2 guys I hadn’t met before, but they said they knew the Gorge well (and they did). We went down, and I was doing fine until I did a practice roll and got off balance in my roll and took 3 tries to make it up. That made one of our “guides” nervous. We hit the rapids and Susan and I did fine. We followed the lines of the guys and didn’t have any problems. When we got to Satan’s, the scariest rapid on the run, Susan wanted me to show her the easy sneakroute, so we did that. The last class III rapid, Hospital Bar, is one I’m becoming quite acquainted with. It’s the one my cat-a-raft washed up on a big rock about a month ago. (Craig Hightower was there to help me get it off.) We go down and I’m going last, following Susan. We go way left and skirt an eddy around the big wave-hole and then Susan paddles hard right, which is what I was supposed to do. Did I mention there were a lot of rafts? On Saturdays, in the summer, there are enough rafts to walk down the length of the river. Raft loads of people, screaming and being obnoxious.

I see Susan paddle across but I’ve waited too late and I’m having trouble getting across the current and I see this raft, stuck on that big rock, and right in front of me. Then, behind me, I see another raft coming fast. I can’t get around that raft in front of me, so I hit it and grab a hold of it. I’m hoping I can hang on and get around it somehow. It’s my worst fear, happening. Until I realize that raft behind me is headed right for us! I’m about to become the meat in a raft sandwich. Or, it’s kinda like being in the middle of two colliding buses. I don’t think I said any bad words. J Before I could think much about it, I was smacked and was swept under the first raft. I thought as I was going down, maybe I could flush under it. Nope! Immediately, I was flat on my side under water in current, with the raft on top of me and my right side on the rocky bottom. No way to get up. No way to breathe.

I thought, maybe the raft will move. Nope. It didn’t move at all and I didn’t even know if they were paying attention to know I was under there. It didn’t take me long to realize I was going to drown if I didn’t get out, so I started to crawl upstream on the rocks under the water. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to against the current, but I didn’t see a choice. The strain of pulling, popped my spray deck off and I was able to see the end of the raft. I crawled up enough to reach my left arm out of the water and reach up on the raft as far as I could, hoping someone would grab me. It seemed like an eternity but finally the raft guide grabbed my wrist and started pulling. I inched up and after about 3 more tries, I got my mouth out of the water and gasped for air. I got up on my feet and I still had my paddle and I could reach the end of the kayak, so I pulled them up on the shore. The raft was still sitting on the rock and I looked into the eyes of one of the paddlers and said, “Whew! Now that’s a life-changing experience!” I don’t know if he knew what I was talking about. He probably thought kayakers just pop up from under the boat at weird times. He had this look like, “Where did you come from?”

I staggered with the boat and tried to dump the water out of it. Then I heard a voice behind me and it was Raoul, who had paddled across the river to help me. I said I was ok and then slipped and fell down on the rocks. My knees had turned to jelly because of the adrenaline surge and I couldn’t stand up for a minute. We got my boat ready and I carried it around the rock and re-launched. Susan and John watched all this from across the river. They said it was the worst thing they had ever witnessed. They had that helpless feeling of seeing me go under and there was nothing they could do about it from over there. In a drowning, you only have seconds to react. Most people can only hold their breath a little over a minute. They were so relieved that I got out ok. One of them said, “You can say that God looked down and smiled upon you today!” And someone else said I was still smiling. The rest of the trip went well and I had a good time. When we got to the parking lot, Susan got herself a beer and she says to me, “Keith, this is one of those times when its too bad you can’t have a drink.” I thought that was funny.

A few thoughts: I don’t drink for religious reasons. I’m not that afraid of death because I have cancer. I already have an appointment, but it would be rude of me to show up early. If you find yourself in a survival situation, don’t give up – do something, you might get lucky!

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