Monday, December 27, 2010

What I Did On My Winter Vacation, Part Three

After much looping around mountains we arrived. We were literally in the clouds. I felt like we’d been sucked into a placewarp and ended up in Switzerland (not that I would know – I’ve never been there). The Guayabo Lodge sat on the top of a mountain. It’s backyard was the Turrialba volcano (because it isn’t a true trip to Costa Rica unless a volcano threatens to blow) and the food was fantastic. It was cold and we decided we felt like we were in the Alps in early summer. Even though we’ve never actually been there.

We’d decided to end up there only because it was roughly half-way back to the airport and was relatively near white-water rafting. We weren’t expecting the amazing views and the yummy local food.

Bill doesn't look right until he's had his first full cup of coffee.

No one seemed concerned about the smoke coming out of the volcano so
we weren't either.

After we checked in we wandered around the grounds, had a home-made dinner and then hung out in front of the communal fireplace for a bit. Went to bed early, yet again, in the hopes of waking up in time for a 7:45 a.m. departure to the Pacuare River for 18 miles of whitewater rafting.

As we went to sleep I decided I was scared.
“Bill, I am scared,” I said.
“Seriously?” he asked.
“Yeah, I think so,” I answered.
“Don't be nervous. It will be fun. You are still going to go, right?”
He sounded concerned.
“Yes,” I said. “But I don’t want to fall out.”

He knew what I was referring to.

Western Pennsylvania, 2003 (I think). The second adventure race I had ever done. The bulk of the race took place along the Youghiogheny River. My teammate was a virtual stranger who I’d met at the climbing gym a few weeks before. He was my AR sugar daddy, offering to pay my entry and for a place to stay if I would race with him because he didn’t know anyone else who even knew what adventure racing was. All I had to do was drive him, our gear, his girlfriend and slobbery but adorable dog across the state – he was a pure city guy and didn’t have a car.

The race turned out to be a glorified out-and-back with no real navigation. We were plugging along, slightly better than mid-pack when we got to the paddle put-in.

“Have you ever been in whitewater before?” my teammate asked.

“Uh, what?” I questioned as we dropped our raft into a river that appeared to be perfectly flat. We took off.

About a mile later we found ourselves in Class II rapids. Fun! The river seemed to be doing most of the work. Then, Class III. And apparently Class IV. I felt like we were paddling up, over and down waterfalls. I was scared, but it was fun. Until I got bucked out of the boat and found myself going for an unexpected swim with a fully-packed AR pack on my back.

The only thought going through my head was this: “Keep your head up and your feet forward because if you get snagged on a rock bad things will happen.” Over and over again, for what felt like hours (but was only about 5 minutes) this thought replayed in my little brain.

I bounced off of boulders, got slammed by the rapids and grabbed mouthfuls of air whenever I managed to have my head above water for more than a second. I never panicked (impressive for me …I generally panic if I see a rock while on a mountain bike ride or if I almost run a red light) which probably helped.

Finally I found myself in a small calm pool of water. My teammate maneuvered our boat up next to me and I hauled myself and my sopping-wet pack back in.

I paid for this, I thought. No, wait, he did.

A few minutes later we were at the take-out. At first I was thrilled. And then we noticed chaos. We saw a woman being dragged by the straps of her PFD out of the water. She was grey. She was limp.
Her rescuers set her onto a flat rock and immediately started CPR. Medics soon arrived, threw her onto a backboard and began to negotiate the rocks and hills in the hopes of getting her to somewhere safer.

She was a racer. I’d met her the day before at check-in, along with her three-month-old adorable son. This was her first race after popping out the kid and she was excited to be back. I was impressed that, a mere 12 weeks after squeezing out a child and a placenta and whatever other grody things happen when a person comes out of you that she was in race shape.

And now she was grey and we sat in our boat and stared. The race ended early, about 25 miles short of the original course. She was a good friend of the race director. By the time we hit the finish we were told that the woman was in the hospital on a ventilator but was expected to be ok, largely because of the good physical condition she was in.

Reminder: Don’t turn into a blobby slob. You might die easier.

Anyway, as I slowly fell asleep I was a bit worried.

Fortunately, in the tortless land with of no liability law we managed to actually end up with a rafting company concerned with its reputation. There were five people in our boat, plus a Costa Rican guide, plus another guide in our kayak for rescue purposes if necessary. And a bonus dude who paddled ahead and took pictures.

Our raft had us, a guy from Montreal and a Slovenian couple on their honeymoon. Of course. Everyone was normal and everyone seemed concerned with making sure that none of their new raft buddies drowned.

Rafting was awesome. I don’t know quite how to describe it. So, instead, pictures.

Us and our sopping wet stuff made it home in time for dinner. Our last night. I hate the last night of vacation. The only thing that prevents me from crying is starting to plan the next trip.
I hate the last day of vacation fron the core of my being.
“So what’s next?” I said.
“What do you want to be next?” Bill asked.
“The Great Wall of China marathon.”
“That sounds like the worst, most boring thing I have ever heard of. What about climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro?”
“Like in Tanzania? Or is it Kenya?”

My geography sucks. Please buy me Geography for Dummies. Or the Idiots Guide to Africa. Actually I probably need both.

“Either, or. That seems like a good trip to me. Maybe REI has a trip and we can get a discount,” Bill said. Turns out he was right.


So far our pretzel barrel jar that we emptied to help us get to Costa Rica has 88 cents in it. Not even enough to get off of our block, let alone to Tanzania. We will get there, though. Just not any time soon.


Mallory said...

Awesome action shots! Hope you had a great holiday!

Abby said...

I was about to write that AR world championships next year are in Tanzania - but then I realized that they're in Tasmania.

Guess I need Geography for Dummies, too.

Joy said...

How come you never told me you almost died?

Natalia said...

Hi Laurie, thanks for visiting my bloggie and leaving a comment. I thought I had already commented on yours, but I must have screwed it up. Reading about your holiday is amazing, as are the pics! Whitewater rafting is pretty cool, though I have only done it once and never anything like your. Mt Kilimanjaro eh....very nice. So is Cape Town......

Julie said...

I just found you from the Running For Bling challenge blog.

WHAT a trip you had ~ Those rafting pics look amazing!

Good luck with training in 2011!!