White Water Wisdom

This article, the first prose entry to appear here in awhile, will be published in an upcoming Departmental Newsletter. It is your basic "what I did on my summer vacation", with a bit of a scary twist….perhaps appropriate for publication at this spooky time of year!


RF 🙂





White Water Wisdom


I have never had an affinity for water, certainly not of the swimming variety.


When the opportunity arose to accompany my partner, Janine, on a white water rafting excursion in Maine, hesitation would fairly categorize my reaction. The fact that many of our fellow adventurers are health care professionals from her workplace at the regional hospital seemed only vaguely reassuring. Nonetheless, in a determined display of that curious bravado which middle-aged males sometimes feel compelled to exhibit, off I went.


The scene of the crime is the aptly named Dead River, which includes the longest stretch of continuous white water on the eastern seaboard. After receiving instruction in proper paddling and rescue techniques, and “gearing up” in wet suits, helmets, and (one could only hope) the world’s most buoyant life jackets, we commenced our journey in a thunder and lightning storm. Charming, and perhaps prophetic.


While the weather soon improved, the turbulent waters did not. The guides, positioned at the rear of each raft, barked out a steady stream of instructions. On the infrequent stretches of calmer water, our guide would inform us of the riskiest areas of the upcoming rapids, and suggest steps we should take in the event any of us fell out, or the raft overturned. Just before entering the aforementioned extended stretch – more than a mile in length – she regaled us with the story of a rafter who had drowned a year previous. Apparently the heavy hydraulic action of the underwater currents had pulled him under, and held him there, for more than eight minutes. This section would be just on our left as we rounded the next corner.


Mere moments after telling this story, we were into it, but unfortunately not at the correct angle, speed, or with our paddling efforts suitably coordinated. The raft tipped precipitously, nearly ninety degrees from horizontal, and my five comrades disappeared over the side, leaving only the guide on board with me. None of my raft mates re-appeared for what seemed a very long time. They initially surfaced underneath the raft, and the sheer force of the tumultuous water had literally pinned them in place. As frightened faces finally started popping up alongside, I remember repeating the rescue instructions in a sort of feverish mantra inside my head: “One knee down, brace the other foot under the raft collar, grab the life jacket at the shoulders on both sides, pull, and fall back into the raft”.  I was able to assist two of my companions, including Janine, back on board. Our bucking dinghy somehow remained afloat through all of this; we gathered up various paddles, and resumed the day’s journey without further mishap.


In the world of adult education, we often speak of the challenges that adults face as they begin to embrace the concept of life-long learning. Perhaps the most daunting of these is the fear of repeating past failures. As a non-swimming, but nonetheless surviving veteran of white water 2007, I have a truer and deeper appreciation of just what it takes to overcome those challenges.



copyright r.b.franklin 01/11/07

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