Stories Travel

Help! Caught On a Raft In a Hail Storm | Colorado

October 21, 2015

“The older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.” Or so goes the line from Mary Schmich’s famous graduation speech. I couldn’t agree more. And that’s why, as I found myself flying over rapids in a hail storm, I couldn’t imagine anyone else I would rather be having this disaster adventure with (or honestly could even handle it with), than my best childhood friends.

Colorado Springs rafting

Before getting to the near death experience, I want to take a moment to talk about how much I love these girls. Sarah I’ve known since I was three months old, and Emily and her older sister Laura I’ve known since I was 5. We grew up together, from slumber parties and awkward stages to college in different states and dancing like crazy to ‘Wrecking Ball’ at their weddings.  Despite growing up in the same tiny town with parents who are best friends, we ended up very different people. But I never laugh as much as when we get together (a sadly rare occurrence), and they’re still the first people I would call if I found myself in jail or some equally horrifying situation. You know that scene in Gossip Girl (please tell me you watched Gossip Girl) where Sabrina confesses her deep dark secret of ‘killing’ someone to Chuck, Nate, and Blair? They’re my Chuck, Nate and Blair.

Anyway…it’s almost impossible to find a way to coordinate all of our schedules and bank accounts, so we had never all traveled together, which seems crazy, until earlier this year, when Emily, Sarah and I visited Laura in Colorado.

Getting there was a bit of a disaster, as Sarah doesn’t like flying and it was actually one of the more bumpy flights I’ve been on. Emily and I were exchanging raised eyebrows and clinging to our coffees as we tried to persuade Sarah the extreme turbulence was normal.

Once safely on the ground, we feasted on chili and hot dogs, hiked, drank, saw a concert at Red Rocks (SO cool! Definitely a bucket list item), zip lined, and finally, we went white water rafting.

It started out ok. More than ok, actually. We bounded over the first few rapids easily, amazing ourselves and especially amazing Dallas, our guide, who clearly had no faith in us to begin with. We didn’t have much faith in him either, or at least much interest. There were four ruggedly handsome guides, each joking with their teams and showing off their rippling (young) muscles. Then there was us. The Dream Team, ironically named because we actually had no idea what we were doing, and Dallas, the older, jaded guide who didn’t think our lack of experience was funny. We were also joined by a guy named Swayze (yes, really) and his girlfriend, who were quiet and I think a little afraid of us. Anyway, Dallas told us how we would probably fall out of the raft into the freezing cold water, and we were ashamed to admit he was probably right.

White water rafting

Soon though, we were high fiving paddles (we’re so cool) and bonding over how we were very much still IN the raft.  As we progressed to Class 3 rapids, and managed to splash over a Class 4 or two, we were feeling pretty pleased with ourselves.

Dallas even told us we “weren’t even close to the worst” team he’d had. Yes! With the most intense rapids behind us, we had some time to gaze at the staggeringly beautiful scenery that is the Royal Gorge.

Caught up in the tranquil, beautiful views, we barely noticed the first raindrops. Or the ensuing downpour. We were even ok with the first pelts of hail. And then, the sky really let loose. Giant hail poured down on us, unceasing, forcing us to hide our hands and curl into ourselves. Lighting flashed around us (really great as we were IN THE WATER and it’s one of my biggest fears anyway), and thunder added a dramatic effect. We couldn’t see three feet ahead, and from what we could see even Dallas looked worried. We huddled, freezing and in pain, for a good 10 minutes. Finally, the torrent began to slow, and we seized the opportunity to paddle as fast as we could to the end. (Luckily this happened in the last mile of the trip, otherwise I think my hands might have fallen off). As we piled into the bus to take us back to the tour office, the cold really set in. I couldn’t move my hands or feet, and Sarah had to warm my hands and peel my shoes off for me (1. See why I love them? 2. I think I have circulation issues).

We couldn't take photos during the storm, but this is the aftermath.

We couldn’t take photos during the storm, but this is the aftermath.


So much hail!

So much hail!

Later, over beers and Jameson shots, our now best friend Dallas told us he’s been doing this for 20-plus years and this was one of the worst experiences he’d ever had. He confessed he almost had us get in the water and take shelter under the raft. I didn’t confess that I was SO thankful that didn’t happen, as I don’t think I could have taken the cold. As it was though, Emily had welts all over her arms, and we all had a renewed respect for mother nature. To calm us down and simultaneously rev us back up, Sarah sang karaoke to ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart,’ her signature song, and with that, white water rafting was complete. The rest of the trip to Colorado was amazing, but it was all overshadowed by the ‘time we survived the worst hail storm Dallas had seen in more than 20 years.’

We survived!! And then of course the sun came out.

We survived!! And then of course the sun came out…

You know those few times in life you think you might actually die? Where you see the headlines flash before your eyes? In this case, ‘Four Wisconsin Girls Killed in Colorado Rafting Accident’ and in the past things like ‘American Kidnapped After Accepting Ride Home From Jordanian Airport With Stranger’ (more on that one later) or other scary sounding situations that turn out to be fine. Well, there’s no one I would rather be in a situation like that with than these girls, who were able to give horrified but hilarious looks throughout, down celebratory drinks after, and immediately laugh in the face of trauma and start planning our next rafting adventures…since we’re experts now, you know. 🙂


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