While I was in Buena Vista last month, I did a lot of rafting. A LOT. As in, I went on five rafting trips in the span of three days. The second of my five rafting trips was a night float, and it was an incredibly surreal experience that I want to try to put down in writing so as not to forget how profound it was.
As far as I can tell, night floats are fairly common within the raft guide culture (which is another topic all together), and what happens is that when the moon is full, it sheds enough light on the water to be able to navigate the river at night. I felt a little apprehensive about the idea of a night float, purely because in the 48 hours that I had been in BV, I had discovered that when raft guides go through their initial training, they learn how to “read” the river, and once they know how to do that, they’re able to guide a raft full of unexperienced hooligans through the river’s rapids skillfully and generally without causing personal injury to anyone. Once I had already committed to participating in the night float, I started thinking “How can you read a river when you can’t see clearly?” I thought my fears were realized when the moon was obstructed by clouds for half of our trip, but the human eye is very adroit at adjusting to the dark, and while we couldn’t see perfectly clearly, we weren’t rafting blind, either.
The night float created a really strange and conflicted feeling inside of me. On one hand, I was terrified because this was only my second time rafting, and the waves that I had seen during the day seemed one hundred times more ominous and frightening in the near-pitchblack night. But on the other hand, my entire raft consisted of raft guides who had navigated the river hundreds of times before, and even though I had only met them the day before, I somehow trusted them. Two guys, Adam and Curt, took turns guiding, and their approaches were very different: Adam had a really intense energy and was a little terse in his rafting commands, whereas Curt was very laid back and never seemed ruffled even in the most daunting rapids. I felt safe with them, but I was still uneasy.
Going down the rapids in the dark was one of the most visceral experiences I’ve ever had: it was like a perfect marriage of beauty and terror. In spite of the huge dark glassy waves, the river was absolutely gorgeous and I was in constant awe of its personality, as if it were a human communicating with us. It was almost spiritual in that regard. But there was also not a single moment where I wasn’t thinking “I could die doing this.” As the other people in my raft continued to banter and high-five each other on a successful run of the rapids, I found myself growing quieter and quieter to the point of complete silence, because I was feeling so many emotions simultaneously but had no idea what I was actually feeling. It was a very strange sensation.
All of which is to say: I’m 100% glad that I went on the night float, and I think I would probably do it again if I had the opportunity. My description of what was going on internally for me during the trip probably sounds really scary and like I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have. I think in the moment it was really overwhelming to feel everything all at once, but in the aftermath I felt like I had experienced a profound catharsis, like I went through something intense and came out better on the other side. All in all I’d say it was a supremely positive experience, and if you ever have the chance to go on a night float, I’d tell you to do it in a heartbeat.