Happy screams filled the air as we rafted over eight-foot waves and six-foot drops. The White Salmon River of Washington flowed clear and blue around us, splashing me with the occasional tidal wave. Even though it was a mid-July afternoon, the water temperature hovered around a refreshing forty degrees. I was at Adventure Treks summer camp on our last full day together. Over the course of the past fifteen days, I’d made seventeen new best friends and done some amazing things, such as backpacking for miles along the Olympic coast and scampering up tall granite cliffs in Icicle Canyon. Our rafting trip down the White Salmon was the grand finale – everyone was happy to have a fun break, as we’d just come down from climbing to the summit of Mt. St. Helens the day before. I’d been having a fantastic time all day, but the experience was tinged with sadness – the next day, our entire group would be at Portland International Airport, flying back home.
After plummeting down a small waterfall, Seabass, one of our instructors, yelled, “Forward!” Everyone knew what this meant – to paddle in perfect time as fast as you could while the rafting guide maneuvered the raft to the correct place. I dug my yellow plastic paddle into the water and scooped water away from the raft. The rafting guide pushed our raft to the side of the river, right under a highway bridge.
Sam, the lead instructor, led everyone out of the rubbery orange rafts and up over the grassy bank of the river onto the road. The group followed him across the asphalt and out to the center of the bridge. “Okay,” Sam smiled, turning around to face us, “who wants to go first?”
Mary Virginia, a girl with long dark hair and bright blue eyes, raised her hand eagerly. After a short safety demonstration by Sam (keep your hands on your shoulders, point your toes, and scream as loud as you possibly can — for fun), she stepped up on the ledge of the bridge. Without seeming to think about it, she hopped off. She whooped as she fell down and hit the water. After a brief second underwater, she emerged, beaming. “That was awesome!” she called up to us.
Max, Kristian, Sarah and Alex jumped off. All of them seemed to have a great time, so why was I so scared? Finally, it was my turn in line. Seabass helped me climb slowly onto the ledge. I looked down at the cold, rushing water that splashed thirty feet below and the faces of my friends in the raft, gazing expectantly up at me, silently cheering me on. My hands and knees were shaking so badly that I could hardly balance on the four-inch strip of concrete. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and jumped.
Though I was falling for less than a second, it felt like hours. I couldn’t see anything but I could feel the empty air beneath my toes. I screamed as loudly as I possibly could, an earsplitting shriek that pierced the air. I splashed into the strong current and felt it carry me along. My life jacket pulled me to the surface. Wiping drops of water from my eyes and looking up toward the bridge, I patted my helmet to let the instructors know I wasn’t hurt.
I front-crawled to the biggest raft where John, another instructor, grabbed the top of my life jacket and hauled me over the side of the boat. I grinned and watched my friends jump from the bridge as well.
For the rest of the rafting trip and all through our last hours at camp, everyone was giddy and excited. Excited not to go home, but to be together. Almost everyone had jumped off the bridge and we were all amazed that we could do anything like jumping off a bridge. Today, because of camp and the bridge jump, I feel like a more confident person. I had a great time on that rafting trip and love to remember it today.