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The River's Edge

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JENSEN, UTAH--Jonathan Sedmak, 21st Force Support Squadron, rafts down the Green River in Dinosaur National Monument, Utah during the Spring of 2017. As a river guide, Sedmak helps to provide safe passage for Airmen through whitewater rapids. (Courtesy photo)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --

               Nearing the end of the canyon, while one of my boat mates slowly rowed our raft through the calming water of the Green River, I wrote in my journal about our week-long expedition that was coming to an end. Looking back on those words forces memories to surface, like rising bubbles of a creature hidden below. Stories shared around campfires beneath the stars, songs sung to make flat water more interesting, being shocked by the beauty of the enormous canyon walls surrounding our little rafts and intense moments of heart-pounding rapids. Writing these stories on our raft, I look back on how I ended up where I was, and how none of this would have ever happened if I took life more comfortably. Years before, with only a single day of rafting underneath my belt and not knowing exactly what I was getting myself into, I started my training to become a river guide.

                Standing along the Arkansas River in Colorado, we studied the rapids we were setting out to conquer. At first, the rapids seemed confusing and impossible to navigate, and each obstacle turned our raft in unpredictable directions making the rapids even harder to maneuver our way through. With careful and patient guidance, our instructor gave us the expertise to become skillful boatmen. Each day the river changed water flows, creating an entirely new set of obstacles that once were memorized but now presented fresh challenges we were eager to defy. With this, our skills grew and we learned to negotiate the ever changing rapids with finesse. However, a skilled boatman is not defined by how cleanly they can run a rapid, they are defined by how they react when things start to go wrong. Handling situations of stress with a calm, collect attitude shows true proficiency.

                With each day, the river grew larger and faster, forcing us to bring out bigger boats to handle the ever growing waves. As the river rose, so did our fear and respect for the dangers we were confronting. One day, a complacent trainee guiding our boat flipped our raft over in the middle of one of our most technical rapids, dumping us all in the river for a brutal swim. Ice cold water rushed around us and we glanced off rocks and boulders like pinballs in an arcade. Afterward, battered and bruised, adrenaline slowly subsiding, we shivered in our soaked outfits along the shore and gained a respectful mind toward the dangers the river presents.

                Now, with calming waves lapping at the side of the boat, pen in hand and a gentle breeze pushing us toward our destination, I thanked my past self for not giving up that day. Although the challenges are many and often seem overwhelming, the rewards and experiences gained through the journey that started years before have been well worth the effort. With another successful trip coming to a close, we pushed on to gain the take-out, and soon we would be back at our daily lives with more stories to tell and more memories to be shared.

                Peterson’s Outdoor Recreation is offering a River Guide Information Meeting from 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, March 13, at Outdoor Recreation, Bldg. 640, 830 Tinker St., Peterson AFB. It’s free and anyone who wants to become a river guide is encouraged to attend. To sign up, call John at 719-556-4867, Option #1, or send an email to Peterson.outdoor.rec@us.af.mil.

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