Predictably, I joined the Canoe Club.
New Zealand is two-thirds the size of California. Australia is essentially the size of the United States. The weekend I paid forty dollars to go on a trip with the Canoe Club, a storm the size of Australia hit New Zealand. In 80 mph monsoon gusts of wind, rain, hail and devastation, the Canoe Club guys wanted to raft for two days and camp for two nights. Outside. In tents. In one of the largest storms of the year on Earth. Everyone signed up still went.
So that we delayed driving directly into the tempest, my driver suggested we leave Saturday morning instead of Friday night. When we left Auckland, the rain was still bombing around and mighty gales harassed my sanity.
Because the rain had been too painful to sleep in, the night before everyone had relocated from the dirt to a backpackers' accommodation a quarter of a mile down the road. I was pleased about this, as I would spend Saturday night under a roof instead of homeless in a storm.
When commercial rafting, the guides take about twenty minutes to pump up the rafts and assemble everything. With the Canoe Club, it took over two hours. Thirty of us huddled in small groups whispering happy, sunny memories as the rain pelted our bodies and the winds leaked into our souls. Dutch Girl danced to keep warm. But she's a good dancer. She gyrated and swung and thrust. I curled my toes to try to prevent hypothermia. I was wearing sandals.
I had borrowed a military jacket from the boyfriend, and a wet suit from the parents I work for. I struggled putting on the wetsuit more than I've struggled with anything in my life. My legs were too big, my neck too wide, and my hands too frozen. I broke nails and wet skin ripped off my fingers. It was the dad's wetsuit. As I zippered up the neoprene eighteen minutes after starting, I realized I might have trouble breathing. Dutch Girl then pointed out that I had put it on backward.
"Isn't it painful having the zipper in the front of your throat?"
Yes, it was painful. I couldn't swallow properly. But my body couldn't take going through the process of getting the wetsuit off and back on again. My life already hated me.
One of the raft guides wandered over and looked at me like I was wearing a bikini in 2010's biggest storm in the world.
"Do you have any poly pro?" he asked.
"What about booties?"
He sighed again and provided me with a pair of booties for a six-year-old. When I shoved my feet in, I felt like I had nipple clamps across my toes.
I didn't have any poly pro, but everyone else did. Poly pro keeps you warm, dry, and comfortable. Before we ever got on the river, I was sopping wet and considering the possibility that frostbite might spread across every inch of my skin.
Once we were on the river I tried to concentrate on staying inside the raft. Because of the rain and my eyesight, I couldn't see rocks until we collided with them. I also couldn't detect the movement of the other paddles. Thus, I couldn't synchronize. I primarily held on. The wash of rain had flooded the river. The rapids were faster and the water deeper. We flew down the river. I didn't know until later that every raft threw at least three people into the water, and almost every canoer flipped over. By the end of the run, strangers were in our rafts, and our rafters were in strangers' rafts. One person was still in the river.
That night, I was still so wet and so tired that when I assisted in making dinner, I cooked the pasta for the spaghetti before the carrots and garlic and onions had even been diced. When my driver walked in and saw what I was doing, he confiscated the knife and tossed my bottle of wine into my hands. This was good, as I was thirsty and sure I was about the chop off part of my finger.
Many drinks and a few hours later, I noticed that in addition to myself, a few of the rafting guides were suffering from speech impairment and loss of balance. I went to sleep confident that I was God and I would stop the rain.
I awoke the next morning to the sounds of rain and snoring. The rain crashed into the windows of the backpacker's dorm. The one most responsible for our lives, the Captain, slept on the floor underneath a bottom bunk. He didn't have a blanket.
The storm continued, and we persisted in rafting a second day. I would have rather stared at a white wall. But, because everyone else did, I stood in the rain, contracted hypothermia, and put on the wetsuit. It only took me fifteen minutes the second time around.
We altered rivers the second day. Twenty-seven seconds in, the first raft got stuck on a rock. After four minutes spent dislodging it, the raft inched along for another thirty seconds before getting jammed on another rock. Every raft lodged on the same rocks. It was like watching a flock of sheep follow the leader, each one in procession tripping over the same stones. What should have taken four minutes to raft down, consumed forty. Three hours later, we were where we should have been after an hour.
I was confused, because rain poured down on us, but the rafts stuck on rocks every minute. We later found out that nobody had released water into the river from the dam.