Published on the NRS Duct Tape Diaries, June 8, 2019.
I glanced desperately from the clipboard in the ranger’s hand, back to my boat, then up to her expectant face. Did I have three oars with each boat? The feeling before I could muster an answer was the real-life equivalent of that dream where you have an exam for a class you never attended.
No, I did not have three oars for my boat. I did not even have one or two. All three oars were nestled in my garage, three hours away from the put-in. This was hardly my first rodeo, as boat captain or trip leader, but at that moment, I was deeply uncertain of my own value as a human being. A few calming words from a friend, two phone calls, and one more friendly ranger got us on the water that morning, but the experience gave me a big dose of humility (for which I was, let’s be honest, probably a little overdue). I’m lucky I boat with good people. Forgiving people.
There are a lot of rules for whitewater rafting which are pretty straightforward: leave no trace, follow permit requirements, wear your pfd, hit the V, etc. These rules have websites with resources and (mostly) friendly neighborhood rangers who can answer any questions. Follow these rules to stay safe, break them at your own risk. This we know.
There are, however, a few rules involved in boating which are less obvious, but equally important. These unspoken rules are the social norms and expectations the rafting community has for its members. Of course, they vary a bit from state to state and between boating groups, but these rules are the ones that make river friends for life and get you invited back year after year.
Unfortunately, understanding these rules is difficult for some of us.…
The ski slopes have their Jerry’s, but on the river, we’ll just call him Milton.