A Near Miss Brings Our Mortality Home
We go from thinking we are indestructible to facing the truth of our impending death
Coming face to face with our own death is a shocking wake up call, to say the least, but coming face to face with your child’s possible death is terrifying!
I used to love all the adrenaline producing adventures in life : the thrill rides at a carnival, jumping out of an airplane, racing on a speedway track and even participating in a speedway demolition derby.
But the experience I want to write about today is one of my all time favourite experiences, white water rafting.
Well it WAS one of my all time favourite experiences!
When I lived in Darwin, Northern Territory, I flew over to Cairns, Queensland for an eight day adventure packed trip of a lifetime. My brother flew in from Perth, Western Australia to join me and it was a trip I’ll never forget.
Neither of us had ever been to Queensland before, so it was all new to us both.
Cairns had, only a month before, been devastated by a tropical cyclone. So much so that the sugar cane in the cane fields were still laying down.
During our eight days, I had booked a tour for each of those days and one of these tours was white water rafting. Again something neither of us had ever participated in.
The day arrived, we were picked up from our accommodation and travelled, via bus, the two hours it took to arrive at the Tully River. My little brother had mentioned that he was terrified but was still game to give it a go.
While we were getting set up with life jackets, oars etc and being run through the safety information, it was mentioned that because of the recent cyclone, the river was dangerously swollen and there had been a fatal accident the day before. They’d lost a very experienced guide, as he’d become trapped underwater by some rocks and they hadn’t been able to save him.
It was for these reasons that we were not going to be rafting from the normal starting point as it was too dangerous. Instead we would be starting about halfway along the normal route, where the river was tamer.
Not what my brother needed to hear that day, he was already terrified but we pushed ahead.
The very first rapid set we barrelled through saw a young girl sitting next to me, thrown into the air and unfortunately she landed close enough to me, that I was pushed over the edge of the raft and into the water. As my head broke the water, hands grabbed me and pulled me back into the raft.
The rest of that trip was a lot of fun, a few more scares but nothing to write home about. My brother finished the day saying, “we need to do that again” — we both had a ball.
Anyone who has read my writing will know that trip to Cairns was life changing for me. Only six months after that trip I packed up my life in the Northern Territory and moved to Mission Beach, Queensland — which happens to be a half hour drive from Tully and the river we white water rafted on our holiday.
When my oldest son turned thirteen, he had asked me for a skydiving ticket or a white water rafting ticket, for his birthday.
Now I’d always been an adrenaline junky, that was until I had children. Something changed in me and I realised that accidents can happen and I’m not indestructible after all.
So when my son asked me for those tickets, I was not liking the idea at all but I also knew I couldn’t wrap my children in cotton wool.
I chose, what I considered was the lesser of the two evils, and purchased two white water rafting tickets for his birthday. That way he could invite someone along and have twice as much fun.
Bless his little cotton socks, as he asked me to join him. I’m still not sure that was a good thing, as watching your child in such a dangerous encounter, is not my idea of a pleasant day.
However, thankfully that day went off without a hitch and the worst that happened was a case of sunburn.
So now I’d become a little more blasé and when a tour guide, on his day off, asked if the boys and I would like to join him and his two sons for a day on the river rafting, we jumped at the chance.
I never dreamed that invite would turn into a day of terror, a parent’s worst nightmare!
The day started well and we hit the river mid morning. The raft was a smaller version than the ones used by the tour company, but there were only the six of us.
All was well until we come to a section of the river that was really rough.
We had caught up to that day’s tour and watched as all the larger rafts went through without an issue. This tour decided to stop and film us coming through, as they were friends of the guide we were with that day.
A recording of the horror as it unfolded!
As we hit the start of the rapids, we were pushed off course a little and thrown into a whirlpool next to a large rock. My oldest son was flipped out of the raft and I never saw his head rise from out of the water.
I was screaming at everyone to find my son. I was totally frantic.
Unfortunately, I had to just hope that my oldest son was okay because at the same time my youngest son had been thrown over the side. However, he had managed to grab the rope tethered along the side of the raft.
Our raft was stuck in this whirlpool just going round, and round, and round, while dragging my youngest son with it. The water kept crashing down over his head and his little face showed me how terrified he was.
The off duty guide in my raft was screaming at me to pull him in, which of course I was trying to do.
However, unbeknown to me, underwater my youngest son was tangled up in amongst all the oars and when I was trying to pull him in, all I was managing to do was lock the oars tighter around him.
Eventually I worked out what was happening and managed to untangle him from the oars and pull him back into the raft. His poor little legs and stomach was already showing signs of dark bruises, from when I was locking him in the oars.
Meanwhile, we are still spinning in this whirlpool, the guide using an oar to push against the large rock, in an attempt to push us out of the whirlpool, without any success.
I still had no idea where my oldest son was and kept screaming for someone to find him. I thought he was under the raft, stuck!
Finally, someone called out that they had my oldest son and pulled him to safety. I could now see him standing, unhurt, with the tour groups. It seems he had been sucked under the raft and out the other side. Someone grabbed him as he floated past them.
We, on the other hand, were still stuck in that whirlpool and not a single soul tried to assist us but they did film it all — how very nice of them.
Eventually, we were lucky enough, that one more push on the rock and we were out of that whirlpool.
We rowed over to land and stopped for a lunch break. Never had I been so thankful to have my two feet and my two boys on dry land.
I wanted to call it quits after that but the only way to get back to our transport home was to raft the rest of the river. We were only half way. As terrifying as it was, we had to finish the day on the river before we could go home.
For the next hour or so we rafted the rapids without any issues and just as I was beginning to calm down, we hit a particularly violent rapid and the entire raft was tipped upside down.
I ended up under the raft and as I was trying to throw it off me, I was screaming at the guide, “what the fuck have you done with my boys this time?”
I had no idea where they were, until I came out from under the raft to see both boys being swept down the river.
I quickly swam to the river bank and climbed out. I knew I could run faster than I could swim.
I flew along the river bank and then as I got close I ran in, swam over to my oldest son and pulled him to the bank and to safety. Then I ran along the riverbank and did the same with my youngest.
I just wanted this day over!
Again we hopped back in the raft to travel the final distance.
The last section went well and I was never so happy to see my car. Without a word we climbed out of that raft, hopped into my car and drove home.
Not a word was said to my guide as to be honest, I didn’t trust myself to say anything to him. I left him standing there next to his car, watching us leave.
It goes without saying that the three of us have never been white water rafting again!
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Originally posted on Medium
About the author
My first love is poetry — it’s like a desperate need to write, to free up space in my mind, to escape the constant noise in my head. Most of the time the poems write themselves — I’m just the conduit holding the metaphorical pen.
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