In the process of getting back to life, this last weekend I went on a previously planned whitewater-rafting trip in Vermont
with my friend Bill Spitz. We joined an all male group of 20 others.  The core of this group had been rafting together
every fall for some 20 years. Some others, like us, knew one member and just joined in. After the truncated Costa Rican
rafting last month I thought this might also let me scout out a future family trip. At minimum I expected a relaxing day. It
was not to be. I should have known better.

The West River is a rather tranquil Vermont tributary. However, two times a year the Ball Lake Dam opens its floodgates
and releases 6 months worth of accumulated rain and snow. Saturday at 10 am sharp was the start of one of those
releases. This turns the West into an almost continuous raging whitewater rapid as you in essence ride the 5-hour dam
release down the valley. One starts, along with a horde of others, by clambering down the steep front of the rock filled
dam to put in just where the water is gushing out of it’s base.

Bill, four others and myself piled in with our guide, a young women named Erica. She cheerily asked if any of us had
rafted this river before. Well no, we said and she then confessed to the same. It is nice to have a guide who is honest; it
would have been nicer to have one who knew something about the river. Or if not this river at least something about
rafting. The guide gives only three basic instructions: paddle forward, backward or stop. You would think that’s not
so complicated but you need to all paddle together, at the just the right times, and then to switch off fast. A prerequisite to
success is hearing her commands over the roar of the current. In our boat the front paddlers got the messages passed
forward telephone style. This just didn’t cut it. All this only partially explains why we started off going backwards and
approached the initial rapids sideways tilled sharply left. It was disconcerting but not yet disastrous. That would come

Unfortunately practice time was not available since about two minutes into the trip we found ourselves approaching the
first real rapid requiring a test of our joint skill. Well we had no joint skills and were going to fail this test - big time. I donâ
€™t know very much about rafting but I do understand the guide is supposed to have the group working together and
driving the boat through the rapids and around the rocks. I emphasize around. We entered this section in total disarray
and the raft immediately came to a jolting stop on a giant rock. Jay unfortunately did not. This was I believe Jay’s first
- and possibly last - raft trip. One would not think that a guy 6’ 3’ and 230 pounds could fly that far that fast. He
was out of sight in a flash. Rick the prime organizer of the group, was also in our raft. He had proudly told us that in 20
years of rafting he had never become “a swimmer�. This streak was on the verge of being broken. As the upper
part of the boat “climbed� the rock the lower part was being inundated in the rushing water being released only a
few hundred yards upstream. Rick, on the down side of the raft, claims he intentionally abandoned ship to avoid the raft
tipping. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t, but it really didn’t matter. Meanwhile I was fully focused on clambering
up the high side of the raft, which was completely vertical and pinned to the rock. Maybe 10 seconds later, once I felt
reasonably secured, I looked back down to see how the rest were doing. They weren’t. To say the least it was
disconcerting to see the raft was empty. It was just me, the raft, the rock and the rushing water. I did spot some rapidly
receding yellow helmeted heads bobbing in and under the raging cataracts below. As the raft was becoming unstable,
being buffed by the current, I clamored onto a rock only to find our trusted guide had done the same. She seemed pretty
distressed. Perhaps she realized it was a bad career move to lose five of her charges, two minutes into the trip, at the start
of three miles of rocky rapids with absolutely no hope of recovering any of them. She was after all working for a rafting
company whose brochure emphasizes the “highly skilled� nature of their guides.

What now I asked? After a moments thought, jump in she said. This was not the advice I was hoping for. There was
clearly no way for the two us to release the raft, and apparently no way to get rescued from the rock. She seemed
adamant, and after all she was the guide, so I reluctantly complied.  

Fortunately, that morning, the lead guide had given us clear instructions on precisely what to do in the highly unlikely event
anyone went over board.  1st - simply look for help from your raft, they will quickly pull you back in. Bill tells me he
followed this advice as he rocketed down stream. Eventually it must have dawned on him that he would reach the Atlantic
before we reached him and he got a local kayaker to ferry him toward shore. I obviously had the advantage of knowing
Erica would not be rescuing me, so I proceeded directly to advice guideline number 2. This was to maintain a sitting
position and keep your feet in front of you so they hit the rocks first. This sounds great when sitting around half listening in
the morning but one doesn’t exactly envision hitting rock after rock after rock. The feet become less enamored with
this advice after around the fourth sharp rock. Advice guideline 3 was - if still not rescued – “swim aggressively to
shoreâ€�. Another piece of nice sounding advice but one that is surprisingly hard to follow from a sitting position.  I also
learned that in this position, in a furious river, even with a life preserver, you spend half your time under water.  When
above water you tend to focus first on gulping for air and then on the fact that your body is being dragged over sharp
rocks. The final complexity is that we were told in the river “the paddle is your best friend�. Still holding it in my
right hand just let me use my left had to occasional, in calmer rock free moments, make a dog paddle like stroke toward
the closer left bank. Most whitewater rivers have lulls, in this ones the rapids were continuous for miles. Moving toward
shore was going painfully (I use this word advisedly) slowly. Massachusetts was rapidly approaching.

It is strange the multiple thoughts that go through your mind at times like this; how beautiful it is with the leaves beginning
to change, that Tamara might not have like this so much after all, that maybe I should have actually read that liability
waiver. Other mysteries now become clarified. We were given full wet suits for the trip that I was told would keep us
warm. I had wondered why mine looked like parts of it went through a meat grinder. Now I knew. Regrettably, I was
unwittingly playing the role of the meat. On, over and under I went. Ten minutes down I passed Jay lying prostrate on a
rock in the river. We didn’t share greetings as I was largely under water at that point and he did seem to be in a
conversational mood. Perhaps a mile down river I had finally worked my way over to the side and was picked up by a
raft of young women from another trip. We moved on down stream finding my mates scattered where they washed up on
shore. Eventually Erica, Jay and the lead guide showed up in our raft. They had somehow pulled it off the rocks with
ropes and picked up Jay on the way down.

Now happily all reunited in our raft we were informed we were just upstream of the river’s most challenging section.
We were about to head into the only class IV rapids on the river. The double S curve around a series of boulders was
called the Dumplings (emphasis on Dump). We had of course missed the three miles of practice and team preparation all
the other rafts had. Never mind. Erica gave us clear instructions on all the turns and maneuvers we would need in order to
safely and successfully navigate this section. You will not be surprised to know we did not get a chance to apply any
them. With the head guide watching helplessly from shore we approached the rapids. Upon hitting the very first wave we
missed our turn. With remarkable consistency we smashed headlong into the first major rock. But in one way this time we
were more prepared. We had all been ready to and successfully held on for dear life. Miraculously no one bailed out.
Erica directed us through a panicked set of maneuvers moving us to the rafts high and low sides to try to dislodge us from
the rock without dumping us or flipping the raft.  It was all to no avail; we were firmly stuck with the raft at 45 degrees
and taking on water. She then climbed onto the rock and pulled the raft from the front while we pushed off. Ultimately
this started to work. As we peeled off from the rock it perhaps occurred to her that as our guide she might want to join
us. She proceeded to dive into the front of the boat getting perilously close to pushing me out in the process. But as
holding on was my primary focus I stayed aboard. Lying in a heap the front of the boat she may have had a flashback
from some guide training class, namely that rafts are always guided and steered from the rear. As we started down the S
curves of the Dumplings no one was controlling or steering this boat.  We were like a rudderless cork entering a
whirlpool. Erica shouted some directions from her position on the floor in the front. Some of us heard them but none of us
listened. Around we went spinning down the S curves into the main stream of the current and yes AROUND all the
rocks. Nature’s flow, good fortune or perhaps not having a guide saved us from further disaster. We emerged on the
bottom intact.

We paddled to our pickup point, through the relatively tranquil waters below, without further incident. As tactfully as I
could I asked Erica if this was one of her more “eventful� trips. She responded earnestly that this was “the most
eventfully trip I ever had in my life�. No doubt I thought, what I really wondered was this perhaps her very first rafting

I write this note mainly to find out who is going to be joining our family when we try to actually raft this river during next
spring’s release. Tamara can’t wait. Alas Erica may not be working there anymore but I am sure they will have a

POSTSCRIPT - It’s a small, tiny, teeny world - Tuesday Sept. 26, 2001

Some things seem too strange to believe.

As background: Bill was the only member of this group I knew, and he only knew one other member who was not in our
raft. This large group was connected via college and I assumed all still lived in the Northeast states.  Jay and Rick ended
up in out raft by random; basically being at the bottom of the dam at the same time we were. These are the only two
members of our raft whose names and faces I remembered. Keep in mind that although it was a 4-hour raft trip we did
not actually spend that much time together in the raft.

I went to Tamara’s meet the teacher night Tuesday, two days after the rafting.
- In the mass of parents who where there I find that I am standing next to Jay in the gymnasium
- He has a daughter in 7th grade Albert Leonard JHS
- She is in Tamara’s “section� and in three of her classes (they of course know each other)
- When introducing his wife she is talking to one of Randye’s closest friends
- Randye has met her before as she is a friend of this friend
- On leaving the school I walk into Rick, who it seems also lives in New Rochelle
- He has children in the 6th and 8th grades
- He tells me earlier in the day he ran into Bill walking on Park Avenue
- Bill’s office is on Park Ave. As is Rick’s
- It turns out they work in the very same building
- They determine the reason they looked familiar to each other is they use the same elevator bank every day.

Martin Friedrichs