Heroes on the Salt

Summer Adventures, Part I: Facing My Fears

“But I can’t swim. What if I drown and ruin the experience for everyone? I bet the water is freezing cold. And what if I have to use the bathroom?” 

A slight chill crept along my insides as my heart raced. I folded my arms across my chest to protect myself from the threat of dying in that deep, flowing river.

Courtney assured me. “Mom, you’ll wear a life jacket and the wet suit will keep you warm. We’ll find a bathroom on the way.”

Seven of us squished into my jeep, backpacks loaded with water bottles, sunscreen, and cameras. As we drove through Arizona’s Salt River Canyon, excitement filled the car. Fear penetrated my body, so I imagined reclining inside a large raft, floating peacefully down the river, appreciating the beauty of cacti in the desert against golden rock formations.

On the way, we stopped at an outhouse invaded by flies. I held my breath and struggled to keep my swimsuit, tank top, and bike shorts from falling to the grimy floor. 

Nearing the site, warning signs read: “…this activity can be HAZARDOUS, INVOLVING RISK OF PHYSICAL INJURY OR DEATH.”

My stomach churned as I signed a waiver accepting my fate. 

Once aboard the raft, we didn’t sit in it, but on top of it, with only our feet to hold us there. I froze when the guide handed me an oar for maneuvering rocks and rapids as if I knew what to do with it. When an enormous wave washed over us, I quickly understood the meaning of “Class IV.” 

Before I could catch my breath, my family had rescued two men and a woman thrown overboard from another raft. Nick reached out and pulled a man almost twice his size into our raft, while Daniel lifted the woman into the raft where he sat, and our guide helped a third person to safety. The woman bled profusely from colliding with rocks. 

Are we sinking? Is this bleeding lady going to die right here in OUR raft? These thoughts crashed through my head while the others calmed her, used the guide’s first aid kit, and applied bandages to her wounds. Lucky for her, the sight of blood didn’t faze them, and they were able to maintain composure, unlike me. 

The sun’s intense heat smothered me, and claustrophobia started beating against all the layers I’d worn to keep from freezing to death. “Will someone help me get this life jacket off? I’m suffocating,” I heard myself say. Eyes rolled. “Seriously mom? Right now?” But, seeing desperation on my face, Courtney managed to help me out of my distress.  

The next day, I bragged to family and friends that we had rescued three people during our adventure, saying we were heroes on the Salt. The truth is, it was others in that raft who were the true heroes, unselfishly putting a stranger’s needs before their own. 

Yet, in an unfamiliar way, maybe I too was a hero for having the courage to make the trip and do the thing I feared most. 

Author: Leslie J. Cox

Leslie Cox is a writer of creative non-fiction, focusing on personal essay and memoir. Her essay “My Favorite Chair” was a runner up in the WOW! Women on Writing Q1 2020 Creative Nonfiction Contest, and she published two essays in “Her Vase” in 2020. Her essay "Distracted" appeared in the Pure Slush anthology: "Love, Lifespan," and she has enjoyed contributing to guest blogs and book reviews. Prior to semi-retiring from health care administration in 2019, Leslie wrote and published trade articles and a guidebook for health care professionals for HCPro. When she’s not writing, Leslie tutors students K-12 in the craft of writing, and that fills her up!

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