“You want to hit the right shoulder. Whatever you do, stay to the right!” This is our riverboarding guide’s final instructions as we approach the watery behemoth appropriately named Coliseum.
Perched on a riverboard, which is basically a large boogie board with handles, I nod in comprehension and glance back at my friend, Steve. He’s vigorously activating his flippers in a push to enter the precise current. A current that will hopefully propel him safely over the frothing mountain range located just meters downstream.
You ready for this? I communicate with raised eyebrows. He gives me a thumbs up.
Focus returns to my own situation. Every foot of river travelled means a corresponding increase in velocity. The need to follow the “line” being carved by our guide grows more urgent by the second.
My legs are in constant motion as Coliseum’s juvenile offspring rise up to greet me. How they seem to grow right before the eyes! They playfully knock me to and fro, forcing a repeated adjustment of trajectory. A shift to the right here . . . too much! Back off! Need to head . . .where? Too late! I’m into it now and have deviated from the planned route of attack.
Up ahead, our leader glides effortlessly up and over the “suspender holder” of the target, before disappearing.
Deafened by the noise of the liquid train I’m riding, an attempt is made to ignore the masses of lesser rapids and focus on Mister Coliseum. But they are far from babies and each one commands respect. They thwart all last minute attempts I make to salvage this run. There’ll be no caressing the shoulder for me. This is going to be a shot right between his eyes. I press my face against the board and enter headfirst into the large dip at the base of Coliseum.
Devoured instantly by the famished cataract, the next few seconds consist of somersaulting inside Coliseum’s belly. Apparently foul-tasting, I give him indigestion and he spits me to the surface. Now pinned underneath my board, a new empathy for upside down turtles is fostered. Breathing is possible, however, repositioning is currently unachievable. The backside descent into the jaws of Coliseum wannabe’s commences. I cling to the handles of my board like Rose grips a drowning Jack in the movie Titanic. “I’ll never let go of you!” I whisper softly, between mouthfuls of H2O.
My word is proving solid. Despite being tossed, slapped, rolled, and projected out of the river in an ad-lib imitation of a breaching marine animal. The bond between man and board is often sealed by no more than a couple of fingers. Collisions with anything non-liquid are thankfully being avoided. The aqua rodeo continues for another minute before I am deposited into a comparatively gentle pool. Humbled, I salute the mighty rapid. Well played, Sir.
“Swim over here.” The guide’s voice interrupts this moment of deep reverence.
Before I join her in a small inlet, I scan the water for signs of my brother-in-lunacy and spot him. His head is just above the water, at the far side of the pool. A riverboard no longer supports him. No worries though. Other than signs of fatigue, he’s swimming fine. Our excellent guide is already in retrieval mode and fetches the wayward board. She swims it out to him.
When he reaches earshot, my brief interrogation reveals that Steve had been caught in a seemingly endless cycle of dunk, rinse, air dry and repeat. Becoming weary of the ritual, he wisely chose to end the romance and breakup with his board. With only a lifejacket for buoyancy, the mighty Ottawa snatched him from the water carrousel and flushed him out of the rapid.
Time to move on. The few remaining rapids are mere ripples in comparison. I give a final nod to the receding leviathan. Its misty hands wave farewell. See you next year.