A Summer of adrenaline
Summer should be a thrilling time for all college students. Ask yourself this: while you were away during the summer months, have a job that you hated? Did you listlessly count down the days until the start of the school year because you couldn’t bear the monotony of your static existence? Or, did you seize the opportunity to learn something about yourself, your passions and life in general?
During last winter break, I began to plan out my summer. I spent the wintry days in painstaking deliberation about how I wanted to make the most of my time off from school. “What should I do?” I pondered. Various ideas ran through my mind, which all shared a common theme. All of the ideas involved the great outdoors. The possibilities were endless; I could work as a counselor for an outdoor camp in Colorado, as a guide for a zip lining tour company or even as a guide on a whale-watching boat in Alaska. Or, and this one peaked my interest in particular, I could work as a whitewater rafting guide. After a few days of introspection, I opted for a whitewater experience.
Now, the ironic thing is that prior to my summer as a whitewater rafting guide, I did not have a paddle stroke to my name. Up until the summer, I had mostly concerned myself with terrestrial pursuits, such as hiking and backpacking. However, the novelty of the idea greatly appealed to me; I craved something fresh and unfamiliar. Whitewater rafting also had the perfect recipe: the outdoors and adrenaline. After all, those two ingredients are my soul’s sustenance.
Fortunately, not much time elapsed before I was hired by a whitewater rafting company within the Nantahala Gorge in North Carolina. I had never been to North Carolina before, but I was excited by the prospect of immersing myself in an entirely new environment.
Let me fast forward to my arrival in North Carolina. My first night at the Gorge was somewhat surreal, possessing an otherworldly and ethereal quality. As I arrived at the company site, I gazed at the employee housing with unfettered delight. It seemed like a summer dream come true. Three wooden shacks, which were adorned by seemingly random pieces of ornamentation, formed a half-circle. In the center of the half-circle was a fire pit, giving promise to the possibility of future times spent around campfires. The shacks were enveloped by trees, which reached grandly into the sky and formed a cozy, protective canopy over the shacks. Colored Christmas lights, which dangled from the shacks and the trees, cast a comforting, fluorescent glow into the dark thicket of forest. To put it quite simply, the place screamed, “charismatic.”
The first few weeks spent at the Gorge were chaotic. Whitewater rafting was entirely unfamiliar to me. Therefore, I set about trying to acquire that “river-sense” that every river guide must possess. Learning to read a river is no simple task, especially for the novice. It’s almost analogous to getting to know a person. The river has a distinct personality that needs to be figured out in order to allow for the comfortable commingling of human and river. As I spent more and more time on river, the Nantahala begrudgingly opened up to me, and I began to learn about some of its secrets and quirks. It was a learning process that was both difficult and exhilarating. The unpredictable nature of whitewater rafting was alluring, and it drove me into a heightened state of awareness whenever I was guiding. Pumped up by an adrenaline-induced high, I couldn’t quite get enough of the Nantahala.
The wonders did not end there, however. As corny as it sounds, the most affecting moments came during my exchanges with the people I met there. My co-workers and I were a motley crew of characters, each one of us dynamic in our own way. Yet, we all shared one thing in common: a prevailing love for whitewater and an affinity for nature. I learned many important lessons through my interactions with these people, and these relationships formed an integral part of my experience in the Gorge.
I recall one instance in particular. I was given a family to guide down the river. A young girl, who was around eight years old, was in tears before the trip even began. Her conspicuous fright gave me the added pressure of alleviating some of her anxiety, as well as giving her an experience that she would enjoy. As the trip commenced and the raft bobbed up and down with the motion of the waves, the girl’s crying subsided and was replaced by an indomitable grin and delightful laughter. After the trip, she ran up to me with her hands held wide, and embraced me. Let me tell you, that was one memorable hug.
My experience as a guide was jam-packed full of moments like those. It was a seductive summer, one that engaged me in every way. Never once did I find myself counting down the days until the start of the school year. It was a summer lived moment-to-moment. The only downside is that I’m now going through whitewater withdrawal. I’m determined to get my fix soon.
Lauren Strohmeier is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.