Entry January 15, 2009 - My 43rd Birthday
journal entry home will be shorter than most as it is my birthday and I
have a full day ahead. But after yesterday, I needed to write and share
how truly grateful I am to be alive today for my 43rd
birthday this January 15, 2009.
arrived in Uganda on Christmas Eve morning and offered a gift of
T-Shirts to my driver. After all, my four week trip was taking him away
from his family during Christmas and New Years and I wanted him to have
a present to open. Ronnie enjoyed the Thailand and Las Vegas T-Shirts.
They put a smile on his face and I believe he was surprised. Just days
later, he offered me his favorite hat that said, “I Survived the Bad
Place”. It was a perfect cap for our long drives throughout our month
long trip together. I was embarrassed to take it but I accepted
rafting the Zambezi river in 1997, I remember my best friend reflecting
on the “Sinuous, Tortured Gorges” that I was to face with names like
"Toilet Bowl" and "Three Ugly Sisters". Even
flipping on two class five rapids and then flipping on Kaituna, a 5+
waterfall in New Zealand, could not have prepared me for what I was to
day was a perfect combination of blue skies, white fluffy clouds that
patterned a giraffe’s hide, the hot African sun, warm Nile water, cool
breezes and green canopies that lined the river as we floated calmly
towards each rapid. 40 minute spans would have us frolicking in the sun
and swimming around in the river with river guides splashing us with
paddles. It was like being a child with floaties on without a care in
raft was occupied by two of us in the front paddling our hearts out and
three passengers in the back as waves would wash over us before we
settled in calm waters again. As we lay on our backs floating with the
current, we passed the “real” life along the Nile; naked boys
jumping off rocks into the river; Ladies washing their clothes on one
side of river beds and men washing their bodies on the other. Jugs
carried on heads of youngsters to gather water for drinking and washing.
really is amazing when Nile life floats by just before you crash into
waves that could potentially drown you. Hours had passed with no
incident in pretty calm waters. We hit a few class three rapids and
easily stayed afloat. We even conquered two class fives in the morning.
we knew it we were rafting to an island for a lovely laid out lunch of
veggies and ham. Then it was back to the river. Feeling full and a bit
tired we had yet to conquer “The Bad Place”. It is the sure flip,
class five rapid that immediately follows an unrideable class six. There
is barely a split between the two so you must paddle to the edge and
walk over the rocks to see this massive rapid of white foam that would
almost ensure sheer death. After fearing the whirlpool, you reboard
basically in the middle of the rapid and immediately immerse into this 5
had been waiting all day for this. The other riders that I met earlier
that day had known they would opt out as this was there very first
rafting experience. My guide explained we could not attempt this with
just two. I was determined to talk one of the other passengers into it.
As a born sales person, I accomplished just that. I ironically talked
him into this mission with the assurance it would be just fine! So,
while the others chose the safety raft for a comfortable ride we two
joined our guide to risk the, what I know now as, unthinkable.
have knots in my stomach as I type. I even feel the lump in my throat
that I had just before approaching the rapid. There really was no time
to think. You are in the middle of the rapid alongside the Nile when you
re-board so as soon as I was given the instruction to push us off of the
rocks with my paddle we were in it.
think only seconds passed as he screamed NOW, paddle forward Faster.
“GET DOWN”, he yelled! Holding the T-Grip of the paddle with my left
hand and my right hand gripping the tight rope on the side of the raft,
I tried to hold on for dear life. The waves came before I could blink
and was unable to take in the deep breath I so desperately needed. Like
foam from a crashing wave atop a surfer, we were encompassed! The water
covered my head, then my body, it whipped the oar from my hand and tore
my hand from the rope.
was in the fury. I was under water. I thrashed around like a tiny
washcloth caught up in the final rinse cycle of a washing machine. I
gasped underwater taking it in through my mouth and nose. I actually
remember thinking to stay calm, you will surface but I honestly did not
know how. I was lost in the rapid. I was underwater and could not
breathe. I could feel the strong current pulling me so far away from the
reality of the safety of the raft. I was upside down and sideways.
strap of my helmet was making it harder to focus. It was constricting my
breathing, choking me tightly. My life jacket was lifting above my neck
adding another obstacle as I tried tofind an air pocket anywhere. It
just would not come. It was frustrating being so helpless.
it finally came. My head was up. I was kicking and fighting for my life
to stay on top of the water. I barely had my eyes open and I saw the
next wave hover over my head like a wave washing over New York City in a
movie. I was once again, pulled back down. I had barely caught a breath.
That short, single breath saved me. I was dug back underneath, this time
with an even greater vengeance. I actually thought, "This is
it". I did not know how anyone would find me. I was going to drown.
I have tears falling down my face right now as I type as it was so real.
The fear was all consuming.
just as I was sucked in for a third time, I was released from the
ferocity of the wave my body tired and aching from the thrashing. What
must have been only a couple of minutes felt like a lifetime of
was now up and out of it to trying to distinguish up from down. I saw
sky and frantically searched for anything to grab on to. I saw a safety
Kayak in the near distance and begged to get closer. I swam with all my
might just to grab that tiny rope in the front of this single man kayak.
chest was heaving and I was struggling to release the buckle under my
chin restricting my breathing.
it was over. I was safe. I gave a thumb’s up as I could not speak. My
first words were, “Where is the other guy?” The safety pointed in
the direction of the rapid, I saw him sitting in the raft. I did not
understand how. He was flipped and came out quickly and they immediately
pulled him back into the raft as soon as it was upright.
was so far away. I lay on my back as instructed with my legs wrapped
around the front point of the kayak as he paddled me to safety to the
raft. I was pulled onto the comfort of the inside of the raft. Again, I
quickly fumbled to release the four clips restricting my breathing by
the tight life vest that was too high on my body for comfort.
just lay back and let out such a sigh. My breathing was still labored
and I could now see the safety raft with the guide, the two British
girls and the Irish lad that chose to stay safe in the class 3. I
laughed, I sighed and I really was in a bit of a shock. But I was fine
said how frightening it was for them to watch me. They lost me
immediately after we flipped. They finally saw my head come up for a
second and then nobody knew where I was again. They just had to wait
like I did.
safety that saw me flip went to rescue me but the effort was futile. The
fury trapped him in his kayak under the raft. They had to go in and get
him out first. In the interim, I was lost. They had to wait for me to
surface to know where I had been taken to so they said they went wide
and spread out. That was how I spotted a kayak when I came up out of the
river so far from the raft, the rapid and the safety raft.
Nile current was strong and we were not done. The 5 of us gathered back
in our raft with our guide. We still had work to do. As two of us were
in front again, we led the pack in oaring ourselves to shore without
being pulled down river. I was overwhelmed, I was tired, and I hurt. But
the alternative was not an option. We had to paddle hard now to cross
the river to the shore before we were pulled down stream.
just find the strength. You ignore the fact that you just almost
drowned. You let go of the fear. You breathe, experience gratitude, and
paddle with the crew of strangers you have spent all day with. The two
of us in front were a bit speechless. We would just look at each other
as though we survived the unthinkable and we actually did. At least I
did! He said it was quick for him. He said he was up fast enough to see
that I had been lost underwater.
climbed the rocks up the side of the river up to the road towards our
bus. I got to the top and breathed my first real breath. I leaned
forward and water literally poured from my nose to the ground. My
sinuses were burning from all of the water I took in.
was surreal and over just as fast as it started. It was a crazy
experience. I really was exhausted and yet ready to party. All day, the
guides and I spoke of going out to the bars in Jinja town. They asked if
I was still up for it and my only reply was you better believe it!
an absence of vodka, I drank my very first beer ever on that 40-minute
bus ride home. It was a Nile Special. I never had a beer before but it
was well deserved!
I had plans today to repel down Sipi Falls in Eastern Uganda at the base
of Mt. Elgon near the Kenyan border. Feeling shaken still from yesterday
and knowing I would have to face my intense fear of heights atop this
325 ft waterfall after a rough 3-4 hour car ride from Jinja to Sipi, I
decided I had experienced enough drama for my 43rd birthday.
Although disappointed, I would have to return another time to tackle
this waterfall (which I did one year later).
aboard the bus was chattering, recounting the fabulous events of the
day. I was quiet and in my head. I was experiencing extreme appreciation
for life. When asked if I would ride that river again, I was quick to
say, “Absolutely”. My apparent need for adventure has a very short
memory. So, I don’t know what river is next but I do know, I’m up
for the challenge.
had survived “The Bad Place” and could wear my new hat that I earned