Thursday, June 22, 2017
Without a Raft
Ever since I first went rafting on the Puyallup with Chu Sum back in November, I've considered it as the hidden gem in my home town. I say "hidden" because I don't know anybody who's actually spent any time there. In fact, after all my years living in Puyallup, I only recently had the idea to go have a look. As it turns out, the Puyallup river has several sections where one can take on rapids of varying difficulty. With Chu Sum we had taken on the lower level which had only a few easy rapids, and not so many obstacles. With Austen, on the other hand, we didn't have that choice. Unfortunately, the section of the river that I was familiar with was not running at a safe level, so we had to go to a different section where the difficulty was a bit higher. Austen and I didn't see any reason why a little extra challenge would be a problem, so we went for it.
On Thursday, June 22nd, we met for lunch down by Graham before parking our cars - one at the planned exit point and one at launch point. We then pulled out my rafts. I had bought an extra one so that friends could come rafting without us having to all cram into one boat. I had found a good deal on one on the Walmart website for just 15 bucks. As we inflated the rafts, the reason for the low price became clear... The new raft was not only small but, as we would later discover, quite thin. Still, the level we were rafting was apparently not that much different than the one I had done before, so we had no reason to expect any problems. It also didn't hurt that we were both trained lifeguards with considerable swimming experience.
It started out really well. We were both cruising for probably an hour without any problems whatsoever. We hit a few rapids, and had to navigate around a couple of funny obstacles, but overall it was a beautiful day to be on the river. I had taken the older raft because I was taller and Austen had volunteered to take the smaller, newer one. This, of course, didn't end well for him. At one point, he got hung up on a branch which, after he grabbed onto my raft, resulted in us both getting pulled under the rapids. He couldn't quite get himself up far enough to free the rope so, as I recall, I ended up having to pull us both up so that we could get the rope loose. This was perhaps a bit of a close call, but we managed to get free and continue our journey down the river.
At another point, there was a tree blocking about half of the river. We both noticed it a bit late and weren't able to paddle around it in time. Austen was a bit further in where it was harder to get out and around. This was also the place with the most pointy parts... After I hit, we were both laughing, as he was presumably about to get stuck on the log as well, but then it happened... he disappeared. It actually took me a moment to realize that he was gone. It had looked like his raft was just folding a bit but then, suddenly, he went under.
It took a good five seconds or so, but Austen finally resurfaced about four feet down on the fallen tree. Holding on for dear life, he waited while I pulled myself over to him so that he could climb into my boat. I'm not sure if the life jacket was more helpful or detrimental for him - I think it was probably pulling him more up against the tree than out from under it. In any case, I was thankful that we were prepared enough to deal with the situation. While taking a short break, we confirmed that Austen was a little scratched up but, otherwise, none the worse for wear. We then continued down the river for the next few hours without further consequence.
Despite his brief moment of uncertainty, Austen was his usual lively self. At the end of our journey, we came to an old pipe bridge. After loading up the rafts, we climbed up on the bridge and had one last look over the river. All in all, it had been a pretty cool experience. Next time I'll just be a little more careful in selecting my equipment!