Facing the Beast

We held our paddles aloft, touching them together over our heads like a totem to victory. We were shouting something in Maori, which always manages to sound fierce and battle-cry-esque, though I was told it was a blessing to the river gods.

My heart was thumping wildly in my chest, and my breath was coming in short. A few meters away was the crest of a 21-foot waterfall, and we were about to go down headfirst.

“Paddle!” Our guide shouted urgently. And we all dug into the water with the paddles that just been over our heads.

One stroke. Surely my heart is about to explode!

Two stroke. Ohmygod, is this really about to happen?

Three stroke. Gasp!

“Down! Down!” The guide called over the roar of the beast just a few feet in front of us, as we felt the powerful pull of nature and gravity take hold of our raft. We all assumed our Down position, crouching into the center of the raft and holding onto the ropes inside with every ounce of strength we could exert. The front of the raft started tilting… And suddenly I was looking at the eye of a great white hurricane, hurtling into it at breakneck speed. For a moment, everything was white foam and green water and a shock of cold, and then… Air. We were upright. We had taken on the beast, and had survived. Euphoria isn’t a strong enough word to describe the feeling. We had started our journey as six strangers, but now we were whooping and high-fiving each other like old buddies.

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We were in Rotorua, New Zealand, on the Kaituna River. Earlier in the day we had gotten a crash-course in river rafting basics from our dreadlocked guide, and had practiced down some rapids and small-ish waterfalls. The climax of the trip is the 7 meter waterfall, touted as the ‘highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world.’ On paper, it sounded like a lot of fun, and a few travelers we had met along the way said it was not to be missed. The only time I had any doubt was as we were shouting a Maori blessing to the river gods, about to go over.

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But the moment we made it to the bottom, I totally understood. That was a rush I’d experience again in a heartbeat.

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