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Everyone’s Still Breathing…

January 15, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

We used to have a little saying on the river when I was a guide: “What’s the worst that could happen?” (we would then look at each other and put our hands up) “we could die!” And then we would be off over some waterfall or into a swirling mess of pulsating hydraulics. The first time we said it, it was more of a joke than anything else, but as the years passed and we witnessed death first hand the saying began to morph.

First it happened while eating pizza one night after an especially long Middle Fork trip. The day before my fellow guides and I had nearly lost a guest. Standing along the bank I helplessly watched a helicopter lift off a mile upstream racing her lifeless body to the hospital. Standing there too, starring me down were sixty pairs of eyes anxiously awaiting me to tell them the trip was over. That we could all pack up and go home for the day. But instead I had to inform them we were only half way through. Leveraging a select number of guests and my fellow guides, I was ultimately able to coax everyone back in the raft and continue downstream. Later that afternoon I threw up everything I had while hunched over a pit toilet. Even though the guest didn’t die and turned out to be fine, I had nearly lost someone who trusted their life with me. The worst part was I was in the water at the time swimming frantically for my own raft which had flipped just seconds before. 

The conversation that night during pizza was grim. We were all still shell-shocked. Even the four pitchers of beer weren’t helping. 

“You okay?” My best friend at the time asked.

“I think so,” I remember mumbling back. “It’s all my fault.” In reality it wasn’t, but I felt responsible as the senior guide on the trip. Ultimately there were six guides and everything had to go humanly possible for this to happen. I couldn’t blame myself but I wanted to.

“You know our saying,” he said a few minutes later. “It really hit home yesterday.” And that was the end of it. We never really spoke about the incident again.

Two years later while holding the head of a rafter who had bashed his skull into a rock, the sinking feeling of watching another human die came over me again. This time though it wasn’t my guest and wasn’t even from the company I was working with, but a private rafter who had fallen out and misjudged the strong current as he swam for safety. There were seven of us holding things down and pandemonium was unfolding all around. I could hear the helicopter in the distance and prayed for it all to be over. Then I noticed a tear in my gloves. God please don’t let this man have AIDS I can remember thinking.

Just yesterday while in the middle of editing a large video project for Bicycling Magazine, my computer died. The screen suddenly went blank and my heart momentarily stopped beating. Then a question mark appeared and began to flash. I put my head in my hands and tried to keep from losing it. I knew I had just about everything backed up, but the last two weeks of editing and last two years of Final Cut Pro presets were not. I spent the remainder of the day putting my computer back together using money slated for a ski trip to Vail, and trying to stay calm. Then just before 4:30 p.m. while sitting in the parking lot after just dropping off my laptop I remembered the saying: What’s the worst that could happen? I thought. I could die. Or worse, someone I care about could pass. And then it hit me, this was just a glitch, a small inconvenience and luckily didn’t involve a helicopter.

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