Last fall, I participated in a writing pen pal project put on by the Idaho Commission on the Arts. The program, called Writers in Residences, supplied participants with writing prompts from which you were to write a story and send it to your pen pal. At the conclusion of the project, each writer could submit a piece for publication in a zine. Here is my story that appeared in the zine. I hope you enjoy!
No Lazy River
By Carolyn Fenzl
© 2020, Carolyn Fenzl. All rights reserved.
Just before noon my blood pressure was still normal. After all, we were just sitting on a park bench in Boise’s Barber Park chatting. It was a mild 82 degrees, and even the ducks that waddled around us on the ground, scavenging for berries and crumbs, were enjoying a break from the normal August heat.
I eyed my cell phone to check the time and noticed the raft rental stand would be open in just five minutes. I mentioned this to my friend Lydia. You’d think at almost twenty-five years older than me and happily retired, she’d relish taking it easy. But here she was, just shy of her 68th birthday, practically bouncing with excitement. This whole endeavor had been her suggestion. Thinking fondly of the still lakes and calm rivers I grew up with back east, I readily agreed to float the river with her.
I didn’t become nervous until we got in line at the raft rental stand and I overheard the teen in the office tell the family in front of us that it should be fun because the water was high and fast. I looked warily at Lydia, but I didn’t want to crush her enthusiasm by backing out now.
When it was our turn, I spewed a bunch of first-timer questions at the teen, attempting to alleviate some of the anxiety welling up in my chest. We took her suggestion of renting the largest raft available for a more stable ride. I eyed it as they pulled the raft out of its storage bay and handed it off to us. It could have easily fit a large family or probably my entire book club.
Standing on opposite sides of the blue behemoth, we pulled the float across the grass and down to the river’s edge. I worried about the exertion this exercise – and the entire day – would have on Lydia, but while she grumbled about its awkwardness, she showed no signs of trepidation. So, although the butterflies in my stomach made themselves known, I put on my best excited face as we shoved off into the water.
That’s the point when my blood pressure rose. The water immediately grabbed the raft and pushed it forward at a frantic pace. We clamored to try to steer, but both of us appeared to have forgotten how to paddle effectively. We had been warned by the teen in the rental office to stay toward the middle of river as it was dangerous to get caught up on the tree branches hanging low over the river’s edge on either side.
The raft seemed to have its own mind as the water helped it along toward the opposite edge of the river from where we pushed off. It was hard work paddling against the force of the rushing water and eventually we lost our fight and the raft crashed into a tangle of brown, crackly tree branches.
“Lay down!” I frantically ordered Lydia. We both went flat into the raft to avoid having our eyes poked out or heads taken off. At the same time, we tried to unstick the raft by using our paddles to push off from the riverbank. My nerves had me almost in tears, when suddenly a wave of water worked with our paddles and pushed us back toward the center of the river.
We had only been on the river about fifteen minutes and I had reached my limit, but there was no way off now until the end. Even Lydia’s enthusiasm had waned. She seemed a bit frazzled and began to complain.
The river continued to push us rapidly forward as chilly droplets of water spattered us. It was a relentless flow of rushing flat water and tiny waterfall-like drop offs that sent the raft splashing hard into the water below. We had just fallen over one of the drop offs when the river split two ways around a pebbly shallow in the middle. This would have been a great time to communicate with Lydia, but instead, she paddled one way and I the other, which inevitably made us crash into the shallow.
The raft was stuck.
We had been warned to stay in the raft as the water could easily sweep a person away. But try as we did to dislodge ourselves with our paddles, the raft remained marooned. Lydia informed me that she had balance problems so it would be difficult for her to get out and help push the raft free. I sighed and warily jumped out of the raft. The cold water eddied around my ankles. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to jump back in once I had freed it before it started moving again. My temples pounded as my blood pressure soared again.
It took several large pushes to unwedge the raft, and as it started to float free, I desperately clung to the side to try to jump back in. My wet legs made me slippery, and we started to float before I was fully back aboard. No doubt my adrenaline helped give me the super-human strength I prayed for to clammer back inside.
By this time, there were many other rafts on the river and our time was spent avoiding a crash. After all, this was no lazy river and the last thing we needed was for us and anyone we hit to end up in the water. But luck was on our side the remainder of the float to the disembarking point at Ann Morrison Park. That is until we tried to drag our immense raft out of the water and up the embankment. It had taken on some water during our adventure and was now heavy as well as awkward.
Several teen boys from another raft exiting the water noticed our struggle and assisted us. Lydia and I were so glad to be done with our excursion we didn’t look back as we headed to the shuttle bus that would take us back to Lydia’s car at Barber Park. There would be no annual river floating adventure for us, as so many others did. But it would make a great story one day.