December 19, 2014 —
Thanks to Parker Mikesh for sending in this story about his COBS rafting expedition!
The summer before my sophomore year, I went out into the desert and discovered the kind of man I can be, and will become. I spent one week on an Outward Bound Expedition out in Colorado, during which I traveled down the Yampa River by raft through intense rapids and other natural obstacles, creating fantastic memories and learning more about myself than I ever expected.
Three rafts were launched on day one, the first, a supply raft, and the other two, carriers for the all the members of our group. I came up with the group name for my first half raft crew, Nice Dynamite, which really described our chemistry and work effort perfectly. I was the first to captain when the option came about to cross through our first rapid. It was a class four, which is no walk in the park, and I tried to back out of my decision to captain, but I could not get a chance to tell our instructor, Bob, that I needed to. I truly believed that it was a need, not a want, but a need.
Once Bob and I had scouted the rapid from land we returned to our vessel and he told me to lead us off. And I did. And I thought I was going to die. The rapid has a four foot drop directly into a water pit which causes a reverse flow and can flip a raft easily if the raft becomes lodged in the hole. I did not have my life flash before my eyes, I did not talk to God, I just vividly remember making the decision that I had to not only get through my fear and the challenge, but that I had to get every single person around me through it as well. And I did, and Bob told me that the process was beautifully executed. I was literally the captain of my own ship that day.
That night I told everyone when we were sitting around the fire, reflecting on our day, that I was surprised that they were comfortable with me captaining them. Some people jokingly said that they were not, I fully expected that. But once the laughs died down, I had 14 people looking back at me smiling, complimenting me on my bravery and capability. I have never been more taken back and appreciative than during that group reflection period.
Bob pulled me aside that night and asked me to walk with him down to the river after everyone split off. We sat on the bank and he told me that he had never seen someone go from so terrified and so aware of a risk, to so focused and composed. He asked me what changed, and the only reasoning I could give him was that we had to make it through that rapid. I took the job of getting us to the other side, so I had to get the job done right. The rapid pushed me into a new state of mind.
The entire trip was incredible, and once home, I realized that not only was I a better leader, but I was a better person. I became obsessed with getting work and chores and jobs done right the first time, to the best of my ability, and I yearned for the feeling of approval from others who saw my work. My own vision of what I could create and do for myself, and others, was cleared when I went through that rapid. I understand the reality of accepting a challenge, whatever it may be, and I am ready and willing for more. College is my next rapid, and the effort and spirit required for me to survive and conquer it is in me. I have matured and readied myself for the challenges ahead, whether scholarly or other, and I am the ready captain of my ship.
photo by Jess Winn