Dear kids: In the grand scheme of things, excitement is a relative thing

Posted September 15

If my children ever read the collection of stories I’ve written in this column, there is a chance they’ll someday see the last one about how they were “the trip I did not take” and maybe feel a little bad.

I don’t mean to say my children robbed me of my dreams — they’ve far fulfilled them in ways I never knew possible — but there are a few practical, logistical changes that came to some of my interests when I had children.

Life is still an adventure, and one of the things I’ve learned is you never know what thrill — what escapades and excitement — is waiting around the corner. Sometimes, there’s even a little danger.

When life’s little adventures fall into your lap, I say dive in. It may not be the experience you expected — but sometimes it’s even better.

I had one of those unexpected adventures this summer.

I have a friend who is the artist in residence for Holiday River Expeditions, a river-rafting company based in Utah that guides groups of people through the great Western rivers — the Green, the Yampa, the Colorado, Salmon, San Juan and so on. Each has a story of its own, some smooth, others full of whitewater; some cold, others warm, with different geological formations and birds drifting overhead.

I’ve always wanted to float down a river — it’s one of those dreams I had that wasn’t quite practical with little ones.

So when my friend told me about her upcoming trip to Lodore Canyon and asked if I wanted to come, I was a little surprised when I heard the words, “Yes! Absolutely!” come out of my mouth. I did not hesitate.

My saintly sister-in-law agreed to watch my children while I took off to Vernal for a four-day trip down the Green River from Colorado and back into the Beehive State. I brought journals, pens, books, sunscreen and a small camera. I thought I would spend hours writing, inspired by the beauty around me.

But what happened was this: I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the canyon walls long enough to form any words to describe what I was seeing. When I lay in my sleeping bag at night, I could only stare straight up at the stars peeping through my mesh windows. I fell asleep with the feeling that my body was still rocking and bobbing on the raft, the thick green water was rolling along in my line of vision, and the sun was baking my knees and feet.

I fell asleep before I could open my pen.

There is something about floating down a river that is both exhilarating and calming at the same time. I spent hours lying on my back, staring at the red walls of an erupting fault line soaring above my head, and minutes perched on the lip of the raft, one hand anchored in, one hand out, screaming with delight as I faced the rapids.

I decided to get into an inflatable rubber kayak to try out a few of the little rapids the experts call “wavy trains.” The kayak was a “ducky.”

The guides told us this rule of thumb: If you find yourself out of the raft (or ducky) in a rapid, point your nose and toes downstream and just float to safety. My artist friend told me the secret to kayaking is to go with the flow. So as I started sliding gently downstream, I tried to fight my urge to control every inch of my direction. I tried to relax a little. But when the sound of the water around me picked up — a little like a utility fan on a medium setting — and the waves started bouncing me along, my pulse quickened and I gripped the paddles stiffly.

I came to a rapid, headed straight for a scary-looking rock outcropping, and I froze. I didn’t know what to do. If I paddled, I would surely crash. If I didn’t, I would capsize. Back-paddling wasn’t an option because I didn’t know how. So before I could make a decision, I bumped into the rock, turned sideways and got dumped into the rapid.

I came up gasping for air. It was cold, and I was panicky. I tried to grab the paddle and pull myself back into the kayak, while I marveled about how tall and powerful those waves were. Nose and toes, I thought, nose and toes. I pointed them downstream and came out of the rapid unscathed, adrenaline racing.

“It looked like you just let the river take you,” my guide said.

“I was trying to go with the flow,” I said.

I’ve thought about that moment for a long time. It was exciting, scary, empowering and invigorating. I was terrified, but I’d do it again. My river experience was equal parts challenging and comforting, and I surprised myself again and again as I willingly pushed at the boundaries of my comfort zone.

When it was all over, I was just as spellbound, in awe of the rawness around me, and a little sad to leave that world behind. There was one thing, however, that drove me on with even greater excitement.

I could not wait to get home and see my kids.

Amy Choate-Nielsen is a full-time mom and part-time writer. She spends her days at the park and her nights at the computer. She writes about family history and her quest to understand life while learning about her deceased grandmother Fleeta.


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