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Perusing the Pennsylvania Rapids!
by Christina Xenos

Pennsylvania RapidsThe rain soaks through my clothes even before we carry our raft down to the river. With gray clouds showing no mercy, I know this rain will be a constant addition to my whitewater adventure.

The mist blurs the peaks of the Allegheny Mountains, my heart pounds as I fear being sucked into the churning waters or the rocks that jutt out at us. A Kingfisher swoops down in front of my raft as we set off to overtake the mighty Lower Youghiogheny River. I breathe in the moist woody aroma of the air, calming -- this can’t be too bad.

After making it through numerous class I and II rapids, our guide, Jess, hastily warns us about the impending Railroad Rapid and the infamous Railroad Rock. We brace ourselves against the raft. Jess yells, "Paddle one…Paddle two." 

But we are not quick or strong enough as the unforgiving current sweeps us into the rapid and it pins us against Railroad Rock. The water starts to rush in, my eyes grow wide in disbelief, my breath quickens. I have no idea what we can do to free ourselves from this watery prison.

Jess orders us all to the front of the raft so we could try to force it around the rock. With our adrenaline burning through our veins, we quickly and carefully scramble to fit in the front section. Nothing. My heart is now in the pit of my stomach. Jess then stands up and hooks his rope onto the side of the raft and bounces on the end. The stubborn piece of thick rubber will not budge. We are all trying to hang on in the front when Jess decides on a final solution: He tells us to step out of the raft onto the rock.

All five of us manage to pull ourselves up onto the rock. We huddle close together as we see our raft become completely submerged under the water. The current seems to be flowing faster now. If we can't get the raft free, I have no idea how we can make it to safety.

Jess jumps off the raft into the frigid water trying to pull the raft away from the rock. I have a horrible vision of him losing his grip and being carried down stream in the river's clutches. Our eyes are only glued on him in a burning anticipation. I notice that my teeth are chattering, from fear or pain-I can't tell. And suddenly, just as quickly as the river griped us in its clutches, it sets the raft free. We hurridly retake our places and help Jess back into his seat.

I thought I would feel relief after we made it back into the raft, but I notice my white knuckles from my grip on the paddle. The river calms. It's amazing how it can turn from a bubbling chaos to a calm sheet of smooth glass. I feel stronger from overcoming this obstacle and facing my fear. I feel as though I could overtake any rapid or rock that stands in my way.

That feeling only lasts for a few moments, however. It is quickly shattered when we hit Riversend rock and are pinned again.