Every summer, from 1987 to 1991, I went whitewater rafting on the Ottawa River, near Beachburg, Ontario. I was introduced to the adventure by one of my journalism-school buddies, Marc, who had been doing it for a couple of years, prior, with his closest high-school chums.
I felt honoured to be invited into his inner circle of close friends.
Whitewater rafting can be as easy or demanding as you make it, but no matter how hard or how lightly you paddle, no matter where on the 12-person inflated rubber you sit, you have to keep your wits about you. You have to pay attention. One moment of inattentiveness could send you out into the raging rapids, or worse.
On my first trip down the first set of chutes, a person in the raft behind us didn't listen to her instructor. She sat at the back of the raft, paddling, one of her legs outstretched, rather than firmly bent, as required. Her raft, lightly paddled, went over the 10-foot drop and sent a rower from the bow catapulting to the back, landing on that outstretched leg.
We could hear the scream from down the river.
For the first couple of seasons, I paddled at the back, being nervous about leading the raft. I liked to sit at the stern, where I could clearly hear our guide as he steered next to me and shouted commands. In time, though, I learned that where the action was, was right at the bow, where you almost leaned over the raft, risked falling in, but where you attacked the waves head on.
If you reached out, dug into the water with your paddle, and pulled hard, you hit the rapids with explosive power. Water would crash over you and you would feel as though you were on the world's best roller coaster.
Only once, did the rapids throw me out of the boat. It claimed my friend, Andy, who continued to dig, in vain. We lost most of the rafts occupants, but man, what a great ride, on my back, down the raging waters.
For three of those years, I led groups of friends and co-workers; once, filling the raft, and thereby earning myself a free ride.
I never used sunscreen: hated the oily or greasy feeling on my body. Detested having it on my hands, making everything I touched become slippery, slimy. I never wanted to touch my camera after handling suntan lotion.
And every summer, on the Ottawa River, I burned to a crisp.
I earned the nickname Red-Bellied Rossasaurus because, when I wasn't rafting, I would lie on the beach at Wilderness Tours and fry.
I loved rafting, still miss it. Someday, perhaps, when my kids are old enough, DW and I can convince them to join us. The rafts have changed (they seem smaller and are now blue) and it looks like they have a guide at the front and back (we only had one, who steered, at the back).
Today's photo was shot in the summer of 1990. You can see the pinkness of my skin, though I don't think I was quite crispified at that point.
But there's no doubt: my nickname would be used at some point on that trip.