Gary Lee and the Raft Trip

When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. Isaiah 43:2 NLT

     In the middle of the above picture you can see the foot and hand of a man who flipped out of his raft on a river not far from our home. People come from long distances to experience the thrill of rafting and kayaking some of our local rivers. It’s probably a very good thing that Gary Lee and I didn’t have access to waters this big when we were growing up.

     We did, however, discover a stream a few miles from where we lived that appeared to have the potential for a thrilling raft ride if we timed it just right. We were in high school, and sometimes I’m amazed that we ever lived long enough to graduate.

     The stream ran through a big forest, so there were numerous dead trees and branches we had to move out of the way to make our float a success. We didn’t know who owned the land, but that fact never seemed to slow us down much in our endless exploring of the surrounding woods and fields. So while the spring snow was still on the ground, we spent countless hours hiking up and down the banks of the creek, dragging logs and branches out of the way.

     Gary and his brother Dave owned an actual raft. It was a nice two-man job that looked official enough. It even had a couple of real paddles. We’d sometimes take it to the national forests and float the bigger rivers with it.

     I had a tiny one-man raft that may have been more suited for a swimming pool than a stream. My paddles consisted of a couple of boards that looked like they just might work. With my heavy winter coat that probably came from a thrift store, I think I exceeded the recommended weight-limit of the little raft by quite a bit.

     Finally the big day came when the spring rains fell, the snow melted, and the stream swelled to several times its normal flow rate. Gary, Dave, and I loaded up our rafts, such as they were, and drove as close as we could to our launching spot. As we carried our rafts across a snow-covered field, we could hear the stream rumbling through the trees ahead of us.

     When we got to our launching area, the stream was a sight to behold. Big chunks of ice spun past, churning and dipping in the frigid water. Logs that we’d never thought of moving out of the way now hung far into the stream. We looked at each other.

     “She’s rippin.”

     “Yeah.”

     “It won’t be high for very long.”

     “Yeah.”

     “We spent a long time clearing out a place to float.”

     “Yeah.”

     “Who wants to go first?”

     I launched my little raft into the torrent with Gary and Dave close behind in their two-man unit. Things went well for quite a while as we sped down the river. It was a pure thrill gliding past the trees and brush, icy water tossing us around like big corks in the stream. Timing with our paddling was critical, and we barely missed countless logs and rocks, spinning from one near-crash to another. We were even starting to entertain thoughts of a second run.

     That’s when it happened.

     As I flew toward a sharp right turn in the stream, my left paddle caught nothing but air while the right one dug in and forced me even faster toward shore. When my raft hit the bank, the rushing water rose up over the right side of my raft and flipped it over in about a nanosecond.

     I managed to get my right foot out of the raft, and as I struggled to touch bottom, I went into the stream up to my waist. My next step put me in up to my chest.

     Chunks of ice rushed past. I think I may have sucked in all the air within a quarter mile. I remember looking up and seeing Gary and Dave staring at me as they approached, eyes wide and mouths agape. Then I saw them nearly double over in laugher as they whizzed past, their cackles and snorts rising over the sound of the ripping stream. At that moment, I simply failed to see the humor. I tried to scream at them, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t exhale to save my life.

     I managed to clamber up on shore and gather my wits. Man, that was some cold water! When I could finally breathe, I screamed a good one. Then I hollered at Gary and Dave, who had long since floated out of sight, to grab my raft if they could. Along with anything else of mine that drifted by.

     I was headed for the truck.

     Although they did manage to retrieve my raft, we didn’t make a second run at floating the stream that day. I don’t remember, but I may have spent the next month trying to get warm.

     Years later, when one of us would bring up our big rafting adventure, Gary would still cackle as he recounted the incident from his perspective:

     “Man, your eyes were as big as saucers. And I could see the water just getting sucked up into that big old coat of yours like a giant sponge. That was hysterical.” Then he’d start guffawing all over again.

     I wonder if Gary and I will get to watch that episode of our life when I finally make it Home at last. It might not be as good as I remember it. But then again, it might even be better. I do know it will be a lot warmer watching it the second time than experiencing it the first.

     I’m just so very grateful that Gary Lee made the decision to call out to Christ before it was too late for his run down the river of life.

     I miss him. See Gary Lee and the Big Tree

     If you’ve got a good friend with whom you haven’t talked in a while, consider giving him/her a call and recounting a story or two. It might do you both some good.

     Have a great day.

2 Comments

  1. Rocky

    I had a similar experience years ago and periodically think about it as I’m reminded that the Lord was watching over me then, and many, many other times before I even knew Him!! Very much enjoying these stories and how perfectly you match up Scripture to them. Looking forward to catching up on, and continuing with your blog. Thanks.

    1. Thomas

      Hi Rocky,

      Thanks for the kind note.
      I wonder if I’ll ever know how many times the Lord has protected me from disaster. I’m sure it would fill a large book.

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