Potato in the rapids

Matt, my husband, is a rabid tuber. We live walking distance from Clear Creek, and when the temperature soars, as it does here in the Front Range of Colorado, he loves to wheedle me into navigating the rapids (the kayak park in downtown Golden has a handful of holes) in a blown up tire tube.

This is our third summer in Golden (most consecutive seasons spent in a single place for me since I was in middle school). The first summer I remember taking a big spill in one of the holes popular amongst kayakers. With helmets, pfd’s, nose plugs and the rest of the kayak trimmings, the boaters shot concerned, horrified and general “should-we-help-her?” looks to the bikini-clad girl clasping her tire tube. It was a poignantly pathetic moment indeed.

So Matt put handles on my inner tube.

Throughout the summer and the following summer, I hesitantly agreed to go tubing. It was always fun, but for some reason I’m uncomfortable with being a “tuber.” Kayakers are to tubers as the French are to Americans — so it seems — and I unfortunately also let this get to me.

Beyond the middle-school self consciousness of it all, it just feels scary to me. Last summer I walked with Matt to go tubing, while I picked a random spot to sit by the creek with our 9-week-old puppy and wait for him. About 20 minutes after I walked downstream and decided upon a spot, I saw Matt in his tube with an intense look on his face. Then he grabbed a body floating face down in the water right in front of him. For a second they were pinned on a rock, Matt pulled the body to shore. The face of the boy still haunts both of us. It’s the closest I’ve come to seeing a dead body. Gray and lifeless.

I called 911, Matt began administering CPR and rescue breathing. Matt recalls the body jolting back to life. Rescue came and put the boy on a stretcher and took him to the hospital.

In my teenage years and into my early twenties, I was a lifeguard. In the seven years of guarding and teaching swimming lessons, the closest call I’ve ever had were the handful of times I’ve had to jump in and rescue young children that had gotten in too deep.

I’d like to say that I was calm, cool and collected on the phone with the 911 dispatcher. In reality I shrilly told them what had happened and where we were. The operator asked which side of the creek we were on, and it took me too long to be able to tell her. Hopefully the dispatch offices deletes their recordings after a year. That’s all I’ll say about that, as the point of the story is the kid lived. Matt became a local hero.

Oddly enough, the week before Matt and I were talking about how we’re surprised that there aren’t more accidents in Clear Creek, as it seems a popular spot for teenage kids to smoke pot and hang out. Matt said he had already pictured a scenario in his head of what he’d do if he saw a dead body floating in the water. (I’m a skeptic, but this isn’t his first psychic moment.) Also odd, was that I randomly chose to sit right there, as it’s not his normal take-out spot.

Last week was the first time I went tubing since then, when the weather reached 100 degrees, Fahrenheit, along the Front Range. It took some convincing on Matt’s part. Though I didn’t realize it, in the back of my psyche are the boy’s empty eyes. I begrudgingly said OK. As the only tuber wearing a life-jacket (it’s a very high-use area, too), the experience was pure fun.

This summer we’ve been on a few rafting trips with a boat Matt purchased when he worked as a river guide a few years back. He’s got a natural talent for reading the rivers, but no solid experience guiding whitewater. Nor has he taken a swiftwater rescue course. We’ve been working our way up, and have done a class III+ rapid. But it’s more scary than fun for me. Despite growing up rafting Browns Canyon in Colorado’s Arkansas Valley.

What happened to me? I used to be so fearless and invincible. Is this what happens when you get older? You collect scary close-call experiences, lose people you love, and realize how delicate life is, how easily the string is cut?

I guess it all boils down to taking calculated risks, working your way up, and knowing how to respond to the consequences.

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