[Author and river guide, Bridget Crocker. Photo by Tony Demin.]
“This upper section is called ‘The Labyrinth,’” Roland says, cinching down his frayed lifejacket. “It’s been run maybe three or four times before today. I’ve seen it a couple times and I’d say it’s pretty solid Class V. Lots of steep drops through tight chutes. There are a few slots we have to make—it’s not an option to miss them. I think I can remember them all, but we’ll have to scout as we go. There’s no way out of the gorge once we start.”
Normally I would be anxious about taking a flaccid shredder down a little-run Class V boulder garden without the safety of other boaters along or even an evacuation route. Plus, Roland forgot his helmet and we have no throw bag. Oddly, I couldn’t care less. I feel no hint of the usual Class V jitters or concern for our lack of preparedness. It occurs to me that I may be spared a trip to Cathedral Point, as our little daytrip down the Labyrinth is suicidal enough.
Roland’s remembered correctly—there’s an enormous, fallen ceiba tree braced across the only feasible entrance in the rock-riddled rapid. Everything looks distant and two-dimensional in the flat light. We scooch like crabs across a series of mostly submerged boulders over to the downed snag and try to kick it free without success. Standing next to the drop, we study the current, noting that there’s more clearance if we pass under the tree on the right side of the chute. If we hit the left side, we’ll be tangled in the scoured ceiba branches and either get pinned against the knotty obstacles or swept out of the boat. Below the chute, there’s a nearly river-wide death sieve of rocks that’s completely impassable; a swim here would be heinous at best. We simply have to clear under the tree on the right, then haul ass over to the left side of the river to drop down and out of the Labyrinth.
I start to feel it then: adrenaline buzzing in tune to the thumping of whitewater, flooding my body until I want to thrash out of my skin, kicking and punching. Looking down at the water rushing under the tree, I realize that more than anything I want to live. My survival switch has been kicked, and I suddenly become the girl who highsides huge oar boats on strainer islands, who hand-walks shredders off rock walls to rescue friends. I am the creation of all the rivers I have known and the knowledge they’ve instilled: I am constant, adaptable, and strong-willed.
I lean out and put my hand in the water as I always have, and ask the Naranjo River for safe passage. “My hands are your hands,” I say. “Use them.”
Read more, and if you're in the area, don't miss Bridget's reading Sunday, December 4th at 3 p.m.