Me, Godzilla and God
article by Lou Davenport
I have been fortunate to travel to a lot of wonderful places by car, plane, boat and even on a train! I still love a good road trip though, I just don’t get to take many anymore. When you drive a 22 year old car, you just don’t venture too far out.
What seems like a lifetime ago, I met and married “Mister.” Now, I did love this man although it did not end well. But, it’s okay. I now remember the good times we had and most of them were on trips. So, Mister, this one’s for you!
Now, Mister’s idea of fun trips often differed from mine. When he told me we were going white water rafting, my first thought was, “NO! Not me!” I had no desire to be in a little rubber raft in white water! I love to watch that beautiful cascading water, but I have never wanted to be out in the middle of it! He had been rafting many times, of course. And of course, he loved it. First warning. I should have known. But, I was hoodwinked into going anyway. “Oh, you can do this! There’s nothing to it!” Second warning.
Off we went to Tennessee to the Ocoee River. I was so oblivious to what I was getting myself into. It was and is a beautiful place. I had researched and found out that the Ocoee is one of the top rafting rivers. It has three sections – the upper, middle and lower. The Ocoee River itself is a slow flowing river over rock formations. But, when the TVA turns on the water for hydro electrical use, it creates a whole ‘nother! The river rises and when that happens, the water gets busy and full of rapids.
Rapids are divided into a rating system. Classes 1 and 2 are small waves and ripples and ideal for beginners. Classes 3 and 4 get a little more intense and are for more advanced rafters. Classes 5 and 6 are those big, bad ones. NOT for beginners, so I just KNEW I wouldn’t be on any of those. I had trusted Mister to make the reservations, knowing he would book the easiest section since I had never been. Third warning.
The Upper Ocoee section was engineered and built for the 1996 Olympic water sporting events. It was rumored that the Chinese kayaking team broke so many paddles on this course, they went home! Fourth warning. There are names for it’s class 5 rapids such as “Blue Hole,” “Humongous” and “Godzilla.” Fifth warning.
I just KNEW I wouldn’t be on that section. I was a BEGINNER for goodness sakes! Oh, I was so blissfully ignorant. Sixth warning.
The day of the great adventure dawned crisp and sunny. We checked in at the outfitters. They outfit you with your paddle and helmet. Then, they sit you in a raft and show you how to sit on the inflated edge of that thing. There isn’t much room. You end up with one butt check on there! You have to wedge one of your feet up under that inflated thing as well. They rattle off all these instructions about using your paddle and listening to what the guide says for you to do. They direct you to swim toward the bank if you ger thrown out. They said all this so fast, I didn’t grasp it all. I was trying to figure out how to sit in the damn thing! Then, you sign a waiver…in case you are hurt or die! Seventh warning.
Loaded on old school buses with all the rafts strapped to the top, off you go UP the winding road. I was nervous. I kept hearing people talking about the all day float. I got to fidgeting around, thinking “NO! Not the all day float! THAT means the UPPER OCOEE!” I asked Mister, thinking there was some mistake. He said “OH YEAH! YOU CAN DO IT! I’VE NEVER RAFTED THE UPPER!” I replied, “OH HELL NO! I WANT OFF THIS BUS!” He could have his big thrill of FINALLY getting to raft the UPPER without ME! I was in a state of near panic but there was no escape!
Everybody excitedly got off that old bus and began grabbing their rafts and hurrying down to put in, including Mister. Not me. I was racking my brain to come up with something that would get me outta this! There was no escape.
Then, the guide positions you in the raft. I got put RIGHT UP FRONT! Eighth warning.
So, my only out was going to be to sit right up front in that death trap of a raft and hang on for dear life! And PRAY! There wasn’t any water sounds yet. I know why, too. If you did hear it, NOBODY in their right mind would get in.
We eased away from the bank onto smooth, fast moving water and that’s where I got this awful thought that I might could do this. Wishful thinking. But, then, you round a bend and you hear it. A huge, horrifying noise. To me, it sounded like Niagara Falls. But, you can’t get off! There’s no place for you to go! Just grab your ass and pray to the Good Lord, Jesus, all the angels and all the saints! Final warning!
Almost immediately we were right in the middle of some Class 5 rapids and the guide was yelling orders to paddle in this whitewater hell. REALLY? I was just trying to stay inside that raft. It was like riding some wild bronco on big, mean, serious whitewater! It seemed endless. And then, straight down we plunged into the deep and infamous GODZILLA! I think I blacked out.
In an instant, I looked up and saw only the blue bottom of that raft, with water churning every way imaginable. I had been flung right into Godzilla’s jaws! Another instant, I was laying inside of that raft and could not move. I think Mister had grabbed me and pulled me in. But that guide was yelling for him to PADDLE! I felt like a wet dish rag and I definitely did not like that guide. And we were still riding that wild bronco! With no strength from being beat up from that water, I just laid like a slug on the floor of the raft, praying for it to end soon.
When we finally made it to smoother water, I could finally say, Thank You God! HE helped Mister grab me. It was the only way I wasn’t trapped under there and beat too death by those big rocks. I have always been a believer, but that day on the Ocoee, I KNEW GOD WAS REAL! It dawned on me when we stopped for lunch, it just wasn’t my day to die and thanked God again.
At lunch, all these excited rafters came to tell me how good I had done! I wanted to tell them, “Thank you, but kiss my ass!” I wanted to slap the guide. He was laughing! But I didn’t, I was still scared, rattled and weak as a kitten. I didn’t know if I wanted to kill Mister or not for signing me up for THIS. But, I knew I still had to get down the Lower Ocoee for this nightmare to end. Then, it was time to put in”again. I was still shaking and if I had ever needed a few shots of tequila, it was right then. My only reprieve was Mister got put up front, me behind him.
Off we went, right into a big rapid with that guide shouting orders. I decided the only thing I was doing was keeping myself inside that raft by hanging on to Mister’s belt loop. If I went in, HE WAS, TOO! That guide could take that paddle and shove it (I never said I was a team player)!
I kept my eyes shut most of the way down that river and I never turned loose of Mister’s belt loop. I didn’t paddle either! It was enough to keep half a butt cheek on the edge of that raft and my foot wedged.
Finally, we got to the end of those miles and miles of whitewater hell and out of that raft. I felt and looked like a drowned rat. I kissed the ground. Back on that old bus, surrounded by all these enthralled rafters saying how cool it was, I remained silent. I was just thankful to be alive!
If you are considering whitewater rafting on the Ocoee River, take my advice. Stay away from the Upper Ocoee and “Godzilla.” Just go sit up there on the rocks and watch “Godzilla” grab folks. I bet God is sitting on those rocks. I know He was the day I went airborne!
I didn’t kill Mister, but I did consider whether he had bought a life insurance policy on me that I didn’t know about. But, it was a day I will never forget. I didn’t heed the warnings, but I’m proud to say I rafted….ONCE! I would much rather watch other rafters, not be one. But, I did buy myself a tee shirt that said, “I Survived Godzilla,” (with a little divine intervention.)