The Guardian and the Guarded

March 18, 1999

Life has a habit of catching folks off guard. Or perhaps I should say, you can be on your guard, prepared, and still be pitched into the river.

The afternoon was just perfect for July in Quebec. A group of us was standing and listening to our "instructor." You know how it is when you have heard the same message over and over? Maybe you listen with half an ear, and in any event, with the mental enthusiasm reserved for eating a giant bowl of gruel early in the morning. Besides, when you put together a group of over achievers in any one place, there is a propensity to want to "skip the small stuff" and get the show on the road.

This afternoon the agenda called for a raft full of overachievers on one outing.

Ok, so you had to be one to qualify for the company trip. Sell a bunch, and you were the hero. "We are pleased to invite you to the meeting"…where we will pat you on the head and tell you what a good boy you were.

At least someone in the bunch had the foresight to put this little adventure together. I take no credit. I was standing in the lobby of the hotel and overheard a conversation about rafting. Now I was along for the ride, and quite happy at that. Everyone else was out playing golf or tennis or taking a mindless tour of the countryside. But not our group, we had to sign waivers. The ever-present waiver.

I sure have signed a lot of them in my time. This one was a little more blunt that most:


You can break bones.

You can die.

Sounds like fun to me.

When do we start?

The company that sponsored the golfing had felt sorry for our group and agreed to charter us a bus. I am not sure however, if they specified a homicidal, or suicidal bus driver for our group. That woman careened around curves in a full-blown tour bus that would give me pause in a Porsche. I had a front row seat, and wondered if I should have signed a waiver for the bus trip.

Insert French Canadian accent here: "I jest luv driving ze bus."


Drive and stop talking to me.

She did get us there on time.

Finally the introduction was over and we dragged our rafts down to the water. We had a full contingent of guides, guardians, and us city folk, many wanting to prove just how this was going to be no big deal.

You could just see it, Look buddy, we've been there, we signed the waiver, now shut up and let the games begin.

I was prepared and delighted at the thought of getting out on the river. I had been through this before, quite a few times. This summer I was in great shape and I knew that I could carry my weight, ok paddle, with ease.

After an hour or so of great rafting the guide called out for a change. He told us that we were going to enter a section of more serious rapids put me up in the right hand corner of the boat.

I'm not sure if it was power or weight that he wanted in that corner of the raft.

My feet were anchored. I was planted, and I was not going anywhere. All of us in the raft had suddenly gotten religion because 2 members of the other raft had just been thrown out in the previous series of rapids. Although they had no broken bones, they were seriously bruised and deeply shaken.

The boat slowly drifted into position.

The guide called out left back, right forward.


Guides are yelling.

Arms are straining

Feet are struggling to hold position.

You know what though, you can use all the force you want, have all the best intentions of contributing to the success of the "mission," but when your corner of the raft submerges under a giant wave, you are going to wash out into the current with the slightest of ease.

In the blink of an eye I was thrown into the river.

Ok, ok, ok. You know the drill.

Feet first, to bounce off rocks.

Get your self positioned.

Flow don't fight.

HOLY SHIT, how are you supposed to see, when the waves are several feet over your head?

Wham- feet hit the rock, bent the knees to adsorb the shock, somersault over the boulders and find yourself under the froth.

Frantically I fought back to the surface and tried to get my feet back in front of my body.

Suddenly he appeared.

The guardian

He was low in the water and paddled furiously to catch up to me. Aiming his kayak with precision he got in front of me and yelled:


Skinny little thing, a kayak. My guardian was probably only 20 years old and weighed 150 pounds if that. He motioned to me what he wanted me to do. I was not to lie across the kayak, but to slide onto it from behind and try to stay balanced.

Yea right! Nice idea in calm water, but in the middle of a seething river, massive boulders and deafening sound. Not only that, but here I was, 215 pounds dripping wet, without the bonus of a wet suit full of water or a soggy life jacket. It was no small task to drag myself up and onto that little strip of spaghetti.

I think I had achieved a shaky sense of balance for all of about three seconds when he turned and yelled again:


I peeked around his back into a wall of froth and foam. The dark blue of the river was gone, replaced with churning white. Great gray masses of rock loomed in front of us.

But you know what? A funny thing happened in the next few seconds. The guardian and guarded communicated to each other. Not a word was spoken, nor attempted. The roar of the river would have snatched them from your lips and beaten them into silence.

But we connected. He caught on quickly and I was pleased.

We set off together down the center of the rapids.

You see, what happened was this. He had the paddles, but I really controlled the balance of the kayak. My legs were thrown to each side to act like an outrigger on a canoe. I shifted my weight to ride with the waves. Once we had weathered two or three major sets of rock he knew I was riding with him.

Instead of heading for shore, we took on the river together.

Right smack down the middle of the river. Boiling water and all. I am here to tell you that a ride through the rapids with your eyes three inches off the water is a ride to remember.

It was over too quickly. When the river had lost it's anger we drifted toward the shore. I floated free of the kayak and grinned at the guardian. He grinned back.

Sometimes they guard you.

Sometimes you get to help guard them.

When you can ride together, it can be the experience of a lifetime.

Even if you had to do it in a pink helmet.