BEND, Ore. — As I floated past Hayden Homes Amphitheater in my tube, the Deschutes River seemed to slow as I approached Bend Whitewater Park.
Maybe it was the light traffic jam of tubes forming just before the Colorado Avenue bridge as some floaters exited the river and others entered the whitewater park in a single file. Or perhaps, it was my anxiousness about the whitewater park.
It would be my first time riding the rapids, and I was keenly aware of the potential dangers. It was only recently that a local Bend man ended up on the wrong side of the buoys, was sucked through the dam and died the following day.
My fiancé’s mother and brother were visiting, and we wanted to show his brother one of Bend’s quintessential summer activities. His mother had kindly offered to act as our shuttle service by dropping us off at Riverbend Park and picking us up at Drake Park.
We carefully heeded the sign that directed floaters to stay to the left of the buoys. Staying to the left ensures floaters enter what Bend Park & Recreation District calls the fish ladder. The fish ladder is rocky, but designed for inner tubes and other sturdy flotation devices, while the middle channel is meant for expert whitewater enthusiasts only.
Up until the bridge, our three tubes had been one unit as we held on to one another and the river carried us downstream. As we neared the whitewater park, it became clear it was best to go through that section individually.
The fish ladder rapids range from Class I to Class II, according to the Bend Park & Recreation District, so I also secured my waterproof bag to the handle of my tube so I could lend them my full attention.
We let go of each other’s tubes just seconds before the first rapid. From that point on, everything happened very quickly. The first rapid propelled me downstream and over the lava rocks, splashing me with water. It was thrilling.
But no sooner had I made it over the first rapid than the next one was approaching. I flowed through the next rapid and was splashed again as I dropped into the water below. The river pushed my tube into the rocks jutting out on one side of the channel, which I pushed away with my hand to continue down the river.
Before entering the next rapid, I focused on leaning back and flattening my body so I wouldn’t come in contact with lava rocks just below the surface. I still bumped against the rocks below, but the river carried me up and over and I continued my float downstream.
I made it through rapid, after rapid, after rapid, which quickly became tiring.
By the time I made it through the end of the whitewater park, I was relieved. I also felt a rush of adrenaline.
As the three of us found each other at the bottom of the rapids, we gushed over the thrill of the experience. Each of us had bumped into a few lava rocks, but we were left exhilarated.