When I was a teenager I went to aquatic summer camp in the Ozarks for a week. In the middle of the week, we took a canoe trip down the current river. There were over fifty of us on the trip -- three or so to a canoe. I didn't know how to steer, so I was remanded to the middle of the boat, not that it bothered me much: that gave me a chance to look at the scenery and chatter with my friends while we rowed...
The sky was a beautiful sapphire blue and the river was lined with luscious trees and high rocks...The one downer was that the water had a putrid smell to it, so when the bags we had with us in the canoe got wet, they stunk.
We had been floating down river for a few hours when one of our camp counselors told us we could stop and rest. We were all restless teenagers, so few of us were really interested in sitting on the river bank for very long -- a couple of the counselors took a group of campers across the river where there was a cave they were familiar with...
At first I wasn't interested in the cave...I was talking with friends and watching the water rush by -- I soon got bored and wanted to join the others. One of our leaders pointed out that if I crossed the river, the other campers probably weren't too far in and I could join them...
I wanted to do this, but I wasn't acquainted with the science behind swimming across a river. When you swim across a swimming pool, there is no current, so you end up directly across from where you started most of the time. In a river, there is a current and you move downstream with it -- so its usually a good idea to start crossing a little upstream so you down go too far down river -- I didn't know this and no one told me. I was used to swimming in pools and lakes, so I started swimming toward the cave, giving little or no thought to the moving river water.
Half way across, I lifted my head for a breath and noticed that I had moved away from the cave. "Duh," I thought, "now what?" The opposite bank was sheer rock and I wasn't clear on my position. Confused, I panicked and started getting swept down stream. Stupidly, I called out for help and swallowed some water.
"Am I going to drown now?" I thought. "Help Lord!"
I looked down and saw some rocks under me.
"Laura, watch out!" I heard one of my friends call from the bank. Ahead of me I saw a huge rock in the middle of the water. I grabbed it and held on tight. Once I regained my breath, I climbed up onto it and sat there for a moment, my legs drawn up in front of me...I felt like a mermaid on a rock in the middle of the sea (albeit an awkward, confused, and stupid one...). The rock was huge...maybe three feet across, so I was sitting pretty comfortably.
I hadn't been swept away as far as I had first thought. I was really only a few yards away from where I had started swimming and I felt like an idiot for having panicked (I was a teenager and I felt like I had acted like a child)...but now I was afraid to jump back into the water to swim to the bank, so I sat there...I figured my friends could retrieve me when they went by in the canoe...it would only be another 20 minutes till we started off again...
It didn't seem to occur to my fellow campers that I had made any mistake, that I was afraid, or that I was stuck on a rock in the middle of the river. They seemed to feel that I had discovered something fun and they wanted to join me. Four or five other teenagers swam out to the rock, climbed up top and then dove back into the water, whooping with delight...
I felt really stupid -- especially when each of them returned to the shore unscathed.
Finally after about ten minutes, a boy about my age noticed that I seemed frozen in place and asked,"Do you need help?"
"Blonde moment," I said sheepishly. "I'm scared of getting caught by the current again."
He smiled. "Its okay. I'll swim with you. Just move with the current and don't panic...you'll be fine."
HOW could I resist that?
We jumped in together and swam to the shore without mishap. A few minutes later, we were all back in our canoes, heading down river.
My friends still wouldn't let me try to steer.