Torie stood on the river bank and looked at the rapids. Her stomach churned at the thought of junior high kids canoeing down them to their next campsite. She turned to the big blond man standing beside her, “Surfer Boy, I thought we paddled an extra two hours to avoid this.”
“These aren’t real rapids; close, but not quite, and, yes, we bypassed the real ones.” Seth turned to glare at his canoe partner, “And I told you not to call me ‘Surfer Boy.’” That’s when he saw her worry. “The kids will do fine; they’re so light they’ll skim across the top without much problem.”
“What about us?” Torie asked.
“This isn’t bad, even loaded as heavily as we are with the extra gear. Maneuvering will be slower and more difficult, but I’ve shot worse without a problem.”
Later, after sending off the team leaders and kids, Seth and Torie settled into their canoe. They were bringing up the rear to help any stragglers. Seth looked at the independent, single mom he’d been teamed with at the last minute and said, “Follow my lead. If you fight me we could end up in deep trouble.”
Torie’s gaze didn’t waver from his. “I’m not a fool.”
“No, you’re not, but this isn’t something you can handle on your own.”
“Lead on, Surfer Boy,” Torie said.
Seth dug his paddle in and Torie felt the current grab them.
“Rock on the right!” She hollered as they gained speed. Seth switched sides and steered clear of it, only to push them into the path of another rock. Torie dug hard and got their nose away at the last second.
“Good save!” Seth called out just as a hidden current pulled them across another rock. Torie winced as the canoe scraped, her paddle pausing mid-air.
“Dig!” Seth hollered as he dug deep and added a twist in an effort to get clear of the rock.
Torie felt like her arms were being pulled out as the current pulled them first one way and then the other. Always into rocks. She lost count of the times they scraped: sometimes on the sides, sometimes on the bottom.
They rounded the bend and the breath caught in Torie’s throat. Ahead was a maze of rocks and white water with no apparent way through.
“Oh, no!” she said.
“Don’t let fear paralyze you and don’t watch the rocks slide past. Once our nose is past it, forget it. Just keep paddling and don’t look back.”
Torie felt like a pin-ball as they bounced from one rock to another. They were pushed toward a rock and she watched it slide past.
“Dig!” Seth’s voice cut like a whip. “Don’t look back!”
Torie’s head whipped around. Frantically she dug in, but it was too little, too late. They slammed into a boulder. The canoe shuddered and groaned. Torie held her breath, sure they would capsize, or worse, crack-up.
“Lean right!” Seth hollered as he reached out and pushed. He groaned with effort but managed to get them away just enough that they stayed in one piece and upright.
Just as suddenly as the rapids had started they ended and they were shooting along calm water.
Later that evening Torie slipped into the deep shadows near the river. Her mind swirled and raced just as the river had. Another shadow materialized nearby.
“You did good today.” Seth said quietly.
“I choked and we almost bought it. That’s not good.”
“Life’s a lot like shooting rapids. You can’t go through life without hitting rocks; you just can’t keep looking back once you’re past them. You have let go and get ready for the next run. If you look back you’ll crack up on the next boulder without even knowing it was coming.”
Torie sat and listened to the river for a long while, thinking. Eventually she blew out the breath she’d been holding. “Thank you for keeping us in one piece and dry today. And thank you for sharing what you just did.” She took a deep breath before continuing. “You’re right. I’ve gone through life always looking back at my mistakes and I’ve run into countless boulders as a result. It’s time to turn around and get paddling again.” She turned her head toward him, “Thank you, Seth.”
“You called me ‘Seth.’” Amazement laced his voice.
Torie laughed. “Don’t get used to it, Surfer Boy, and don’t get a fat head because I said you’re right.”
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