The last 5 days have been amazing, days I will never forget. One moment in particular stands out:
It was the 4th day of our journey. The river was up 17 feet from it's normal level from the rain the day before, which showed no signs of stopping. I had just finished steering our canoe through a series of rapids, and I was looking forward to drifting down the long, narrow stretch of sheer cliffs 1,000 feet tall that I saw in front of me.
I snapped out of my daze when Mary, my canoing partner, screemed "Holy ****!" 5 feet in front of us was a giant, ****-off whirlpool that was 3 feet deep.
"Paddle!" I yelled. Mary jammed her paddle into the water but missed completely because the whirlpool was now right under neath us. And that was when our boat capsized.
Shocked by the freezing water and the quick turn of events, I clung on to the bottom of our canoe, which now faced the dark sky, and grasped for air. I looked down the river for a place we could swim to and pull the canoe out of the water, but I saw nothing for the next half mile. "Whatever you do, don't let go of the boat" I yelled to Mary, who was doing nothing but bobbing up and down in the water with a look of terror on her face.
The seconds began to tick away, slowly turning into minutes passing by. The threat of hypothermia began to become more and more of a reality as time passed.
The first person to reach us was my friend Kel. He was in a kayak. I grabbed a hold of a line attached to his boat and continued to hang on to our canoe with my other hand. The rope burned my hand as it rubbed against the webbing between my ring and pinkey finger. He was our only chance at getting to shore. However, the current was so strong. There was nothing his little kayak could do.
Behind me I saw the other 7 canoes start to raft up. By the time they reached us, we had been in the water for close to 10 minutes. The wind was howling; the rain was still pouring. They pulled us out of the water along with our canoe, bailing the water out of it and setting it back into the water.
Before we left our campsite in the morning, everyone who had a thermos cooked up hot tea just in case anyone rolled their canoe. Cup after cup Mary and I drank, hoping to heat up our bodies. We exausted the warm drinks, and there was nothing left to do except to get back in the canoe and paddle like **** to try to get our bodies to warm up.
Away we went. At this point I knew that I was Ok. In the past I have experienced early symptoms of hypothermia: loss of concentration, uncontrolled shivering, inability to speak and concentrate, etc. "Mary, are you ok?" I asked. All she did was nod. "Talk to me, tell me something" I said, and all she could do was nod. And this is when I became very, very frightened.
I yelled back to my friend Mark for help. Mark used to work for Outward Bound on New Zealand's South Island. He was our friend and guide on this journy, and I turned to him for support. Together we watched over Mary, yelling and screaming at her to paddle. Never before has anyone had such a loud and demanding 2-person cheering team. Slowly she began to respond, and soon after we reached a shelter and had lunch.
We docked our boats, and all we could do was cry. We were both Ok. Shaken, but Ok. We had been saved by the combined effort of the group, and pulled through with the help of each other.
The rain continued to fall, and the wind continued to whip across the Whanganui river like a belt against a disobedient child. After lunch, we got back in the canoe, and paddled feverishly to our shelter for the night. Upon arival we built a raging fire, drank a ton of rum, and helped ourselves to some fine New Zealand bush weed. As the rain finally settled down, the sun came out and casts a comfortable ray of light across the porch of our hut. I finally realized the meaning of "groupwork" and "togetherness" because without the help of the 13 other people on our journey, we would have floated all the way down to the Tasman Sea with the rest of the logs, trees, and farm animals that feel into the river from the raging storm that swept across New Zealand's North Island.
But hell, just another day on the job right?