I knew it was over before I even went under. The kayak had turned backwards, a rock leapt up behind me from beneath the white water, and I gave in. I think I heard the river gods laugh as I got a noseful of water. To tell you the truth, I was laughing too. What business did I have in a kayak anyway?
The scene was the Nantahala River in North Carolina. The cast of characters? About 70 ninth graders from Hammond School, where I teach 9th grade. I was roped into this unlikely adventure by a sense of professional duty. Actually, I have always liked chaperoning field trips - it's the "adventure" part that got me into trouble this time. I prefer paved cities, show tickets, fine restaurants, and other low impact activities that do not require me to strap myself into a narrow tube designed for speed, flips, and rock collisions. But I do like the water, and I figured a minor case of terror shouldn't prevent me from joining in on the "fun."
The first day was spent on the lake learning how to hang upside-down in said kayak, how to exit said kayak for dear life, and how to regain one's breath in very very very cold cold water. Surrounded by 14-year-olds who were having no trouble conquering this task, I tried to act like an adult and follow instructions. I did it, and it was worth it. Plus, I figured that if I did not push through a little personal fear on the water, I'd have no right to ask my students to push through their fear of published writing, public speaking, or test taking. Life gives us all challenges, some of them requiring helmets.
The next day was on the river, and my goal was clear: enjoy the scenery, enjoy the kids, and stay upright. Two out of three ain't bad, as they say. It really was inevitable. Friends and family are not shocked. By the time the kayak had hit 90 degrees, I'd pulled the loop and pushed my body into the river. Honestly, it wasn't that scary, and I'm a decent swimmer. The falling out was relatively fun; it was the shockingly cold water that gave me the trouble, constricting my lungs and making me gasp for breath and look altogether pathetic as I grabbed ahold of our guide's kayak and got escorted to the shore like the out-of-shape school marm I am. I decided to take it as a wet badge of courage, and good storytelling for my 8-year-old. I find that if you can tell a story just right, you can reel in a little bit of lost dignity with a cleverly wrought phrase or two. How did I do?