Yesterday, my husband and I spent a few hours whitewater rafting on the Lower Youghiogheny River in Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania. The rafting trip was part of our post-confirmation celebration mini-vacation adventure to southwestern PA.

Up until yesterday, my extensive river navigation experience has taken place in the Mohican Valley on the Black Fork/Clear Fork/Mohican Rivers. I could canoe or kayak that river blindfolded from so many canoe trips during my summers as a camp counselor and the decades–yes, decades–that I have camped along the Clear Fork. A trip along those rivers is what experts would call a “float trip.” There are very few rapids, no drops in the river, and it is generally a pretty leisurely trip.

The trip we took yesterday on the Lower Yough is Class III whitewater. It is considered a “drop and pool” trip since the rapids are separated by calm deep pools. Here are a few things I learned while enjoying the adventure:

  1. Pay attention to instructions. Before we even started the trip, our guides gave us some pretty detailed instructions–what to do if you fall out, how to work as a team to steer and move the raft, etc. These instructions are important. Even though they “assured” us that we wouldn’t likely have any “swimmers” on our trip, those precautions are important. (Particularly if you end up being the only one to fall out, like me.)
  2. When falling out of the boat, just own it. I fell out in slow motion. Literally. I knew it was happening, my fellow rafters saw it happening. I had time to think to myself, “Well, here we go. This is happening.” And then, I let it happen. Sometimes, we can see less than ideal situations happening right before our very eyes. And, if there’s nothing we can do to change the direction or stop it from happening, it’s probably best to own it, and then learn from it. You can bet I spent the rest of the day assuring our group that they were not as wet as I was, and that I had my feet extra-securely-tucked-in for every remaining set of rapids. I owned it. And I learned from it.
  3. Stay calm. This was probably the most helpful piece of instruction they gave us about falling out. Whitewater is fast moving, and in early May it’s pretty darn cold, too. It would have been really easy to panic when I landed in the water… but I remembered those words: “Stay calm. Head up. Toes up.” With those words in my head, I was able to avoid panic and trust that our guide would pull me back into the boat.
  4. Be aware of what’s coming. Our guide was a pro at this. He navigated us down that river like he’d done it a thousand time (which he probably had), but he was constantly making us aware of what was coming next. He would point out incredible scenery that we would have probably missed otherwise, and would give us step-by-step instructions for how we would navigate through the next set of rapids. That awareness was so important so that we could work together as a team to safely navigate even the choppiest rapids.
  5. Enjoy the ride. Yes, I got wet… more wet than the rest of our group. Yes, it was a little cooler outside than I would have preferred. And, yes, it rained for about half of our trip. But you know what? I had a heck of a time. It was a blast!

As we drove home from Pennsylvania yesterday after the rafting trip, I spent some time reflecting on the lessons above. The reality is that my life, and life in youth ministry often has the same feel as “drop and pool” Class III whitewater. There are seasons that require intense navigational skills, awareness, and just holding on, and often those seasons are followed by a bit of a “break”–calmer waters that give us time to just enjoy the scenery and catch our breath. So, as we’re navigating this crazy adventure called life, let’s remember these important lessons:

  1. Pay attention to the wisdom of those who are more experienced. Chances are they know a thing or two about what’s coming down the road, and you never know when you might need that advice.
  2. When an unavoidable situation happens, own it. Then learn from it. Own your mistakes and blunders, and then use them to improve yourself.
  3. Stay calm. Sometimes life is going to get really rough. Keep your head above water. Stay calm. Trust your guides. It’s important to have a safety net of community to pull you back out of the water, but in order for them to do that, you’ve got to be keeping calm.
  4. Be aware of what’s coming. Watch for warning signs. Pay attention to what’s going on around you. Watch and listen so that you can be ready for the next season of intensity.
  5. Enjoy the ride. Most of all, enjoy the ride.



2 thoughts on “Lessons From the Youghiogheny River

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