The Killer Kern. That's what they call it. The Kern River has claimed over 280 lives since 1968 and another 8 this summer alone.
When I met Ed from Mountain and River Adventures back in February at the LA Travel and Adventure show, white-water rafting seemed the perfect fit for Monica Goes. It was something I was afraid of that was also doable for the average person. But when story after story started coming out about the extremely dangerous water levels this year and the accidents started piling up I had some MAJOR second thoughts. I'm all about facing my fears and pushing out of my comfort zone but I have no desire to put myself in extreme situations with bad odds. Ed and I texted back and forth about my concerns and by June I had decided to cancel the trip. With one more attempt, Ed offered to meet my friend (and camera girl) Kristin and I for drinks to talk about the river, the number of accidents, and how a "potential" shoot would look.
After learning that less than 2% of accidents occur on commercial rafting trips and being reassured that we would not only be rafting with Ed, but he would take along his best guides for the trip, I began to feel better about the idea. He also explained that most accidents occur when people don't wear a PFD (personal floatation device) and make bad choices like drinking and swimming in the water. We decided to move forward with the shoot and scheduled it for the end of July when the river levels had gone down a bit.
All this to say, my nerves were still going crazy as we drove up to Kernville and began our rafting excursion. To start the day, Ed gave us a tour of the different rafting companies and showed us the levels of safety that are taken before each trip. We watched other groups go to get a feel for what to expect and then it was our turn.
The first push off, I was shaking and then we were off and at the river's will. I slowly got a feel for the waves and concentrating on paddling in time helped me stay focused. With each class 3 rapid I was feeling more and more confident. The screaming turned more into cheering and the breaks of calm water helped me feel secure and ready for the next batch of rapids.
About halfway down the river, we stopped at a calm water section and Ed explained that he wanted to flip the boat with me in it to see how it felt and learn how to react. The fact that I could hear rushing waters from the rapids up ahead was enough to get my heart rate cranking. But I trusted Ed, and figured better to learn what to do here then in the middle of a sketchy section. "It's completely planned, I usually do ok under pressure, and I'm in good hands" I told myself. The second we flipped, I forgot all of that and freaked! I'm not a great swimmer and immediately took in a mouthful of water. When I tried to surface my helmet hit something and I realized I was under the raft. I bobbed a couple of times and couldn't surface. My brain panicked, I immediately went to worst case scenario in my mind. I kept thinking I would feel Ed yanking me in the boat any second now and quickly realized he wanted me to figure it out, and then suddenly I was gasping for air as I surfaced from under the boat. All of this was less than a few seconds. Shaking and coughing up water I had a new scary realization; I don't do well under pressure under water and my mind goes into straight up panic! What if I were to fall out in the rapids? What if I got caught up on something? What if no one reaches for me and I'm on my own?
After a few minutes of going over what I did right and VERY wrong and having some time to calm down, it was time to continue our journey. By the end of our first run I was on a high of adrenaline rush. I LOVED the rapids and it was like a really fun rollercoaster, but I also feared what could happen if I went in. Time for round 2!
This time I was more prepared and excited. I embraced each exciting wave and just made sure to be really, REALLY tucked into the boat. Feeling awesome and getting more comfortable, Ed threw our next potential challenge at us. He wanted to show me some class 4 rapids and where the guides go for fun after work. He explained, we'd just "look" at the river and they would leave it up to me if I wanted to try it.
By the time we drove an hour into the mountains, we were losing daylight. We arrived last to find about 20 guides, all off from work, and ready to raft down this mountain stretch. I didn't have a whole lot of time to think about it or consider the dangers, we were going for it. As everyone prepared the boats, I looked out at the rough waters and tried to hide my tears from everyone. I was truly terrified. I was also reassured that I was in the best case scenario and going now with, not only two guides, but around 20 professionals.
As soon as we pushed off, I knew this was a very different scenario. There was no calm water to prepare myself, we were immediately bouncing around. What were little yelps in fear on the class 3's were now full blown screams of terror. Our other guide Sean could not stop laughing at me. He said my face kept switching between smiling ear to ear and screaming my head off. This was truly a rush and taking my fears on full force. About 3/4 of the way through I really started to embrace this wild ride. The energy of everyone around me howling at the end of each run and the rush of cold water had taken over. I was in full-blown, petrified, heaven. THIS was living! As we reached the end, I found myself sad that it was over and wishing it was longer.
Sometimes I face a fear and think "Awesome, checked that one off the list and NEVER AGAIN." But every now and then I do something that absolutely terrifies me and not only come out feeling hyped up with excitement and accomplishment, but also with a new love and appreciation for it. I don't know that I've ever gone so extremely from one side to the other. But it just goes to show you, you never know until you try. And this time, facing my fears created a new love and I can't wait to go rafting again!