Back on the horse



It was time to face my demons. Or, more specifically, the South Fork of the Payette River. It was time…to go whitewater rafting again.

Some of us had seen this river before (read “Whitewater to die for“). This time, instead of just me and one brother, we came armed with more. More relatives, to be exact. It was our family reunion, and we vowed to get back on the horse that bucked us.

Which is funny (to some, but not to me), because I found out the big “hole” in the river that almost swallowed us up 20 years ago has a name – it is called “Bronco Billy”, a class IV rapid. And this weekend, we rode it.

I shouldn’t have worried that I might not recognize the spot after two decades – when we got there, it was just like I remembered it: the big rock, the big drop, the rough water…even the bigger rock downstream where one of our original crew had his swimming trunks ripped off his body when he tried to cling to it after being thrown from the raft.

But this time it was different – we came armed with a state-of-the-art whitewater raft and a trained guide named Dusty. He skillfully navigated us through the rough water, even as I found myself mesmerized by floating over the very spot where we had nearly bit it long ago.

When we got through, I imagined I felt a weight being lifted from my shoulders. In fact, what I felt was my sister-in-law being lifted out of the raft.

That’s right – out of the raft. Bronco Billy had bucked another hapless rafter into the icy waters of the South Fork. She squirted ahead of us about 20 feet before Dusty could throw a lifeline to her. Luckily his aim was true – he threw it just like a boatswain’s mate throws a monkey fist – and he pulled her back to the raft and to safety in a matter of seconds.

When we finished, I sadly realized that the evil demon that had lived in me for two decades hadn’t died. It had simply transferred itself to another vessel. My sister-in-law will relive that moment for years, until someday she too will muster the courage to face the Bronco Billy demon again.

As for me, however, the feeling of foreboding is gone and I’m free to raft the wild rivers of the Rocky Mountains again. Free to breathe in the pure adrenaline that comes from challenging raging currents, monster holes, and towering waves.

Adios, Bronco Billy. Allow me to introduce you to my sister-in-law.


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