On one of my summer trips this year, I got the sudden, surprise opportunity to go on a free Class 3 whitewater rafting trip on the South Fork of the American River with the Whitewater Connection rafting company.
When I was healthy, I loved whitewater rafting. I went at least once every year on guided trips, and dreamed of learning to kayak at a Class IV level. But rafting is called an “extreme sport” for a reason. It’s physically demanding, from eyeballs to toes. Paddling correctly means using my hips and my core as much or more than the shoulders and the arms. I have chronic pelvic pain, so my hips and belly and back are where my pain lives. Which makes correct paddling…let’s say challenging.
But but but…free rafting trip! With my 70-year-old father, no less. Dad had never set foot in a raft before in his life, and was intrigued and willing to give it a shot.
We had a fabulous time! My body remembered how to paddle correctly, and was able to keep up with the pace of the Class III trip. We plunged through some white water, bounced off a few big rocks, got thoroughly soaked, paddled hard, and sat still and silent, glided down the river through scenic valleys that are not accessible by road.
When I was young and strong, I preferred to sit in the front of the raft–you get more control and more splashes in that position. This trip, I was more than content to let the two twentysomething guys who were our trip companions take the front-of-raft positions.
By the middle of the trip, I was feeling some pain. I took a painkiller and kept on paddling. The pain stayed very much in the background of my mind, when I noticed it at all. The fun and excitement of the activity totally overwhelmed the pain. The fact that my dad was also having the time of his life, grinning manically through every rapid, helped too. To introduce him to rafting and have him love it so much that he was willing to buy the silly pictures they take from rocks as the rafts negotiate the rapids absolutely made my day.
I had a magnificent trip!
The next day was…less magnificent.
When you play with pain, you pay the next day. Thems the rules–challenge them at your own risk. I knew the risks when I decided to go rafting. And the consequences were, to me, moderate. I spent the rest of the week-long trip enduring a higher-than-normal level of pelvic and back pain, plus sore muscles up and down my back and my core. That’s a tough set of pains to deal with, especially faced with two more full days divided between sitting in the car and hiking around parks and museums and shopping areas.
So I dealt with it. It made the end of my trip harder, but not impossible. My dad helped out all he could, schlepping bags and assisting me in every way he could. Thank you Dad! I honestly don’t think I could have done it without you.
- The rest of the trip would have been easier, possibly much easier, if I hadn’t gone rafting. I would have been in less pain for several days.
- Rafting caused me to spend two days mostly in bed when I got home from the research trip. Ouch.
- The positive consequences of the rafting trip outweighed the negatives for me, despite the weight of the negatives consequences. I’d do it again.
- I can engage in mild to moderate outdoor sporting activities, with unpleasant but survivable consequences. Yay!!! (This wouldn’t have been true for me even a year ago.)
How is it possible that I feel so happy and positive about an activity that definitely hurt me? Easy–I DID IT. I succeeded. I made it through the whole trip, and climbed out of that raft under my own steam.
And now I have the memory of myself out there on the river, paddle in hand, water in face, dad at side, scenery all around, feeling alive in a way that’s indescribably wonderful. The pain calmed down in less than a week. That memory will be with me forever. I’ll have those silly photos of dad and me plunging into the white water on my wall for decades.
My pain will ebb and flow for the rest of my life. It’s just there, kind of like my hair and fingernails. But an experience–that matters. Experiences create memories that distract from the pain, and make it clear that I’m more than just a pain patient, that there’s more to life that pain.
Photo (c) fortherock on flickr