Grace in the Hand of God: An Arkansas River Story
It’s that time of year when the snow is starting to melt, the rivers are running high and the whitewater rafting business is gearing up for one big “All Paddle” on The Arkansas River. So, it seems like a good time for a river story.
I had never done Class IV Rapids before, so I invited my friend Grace along for the free river raft ride. I had been given the white water raft trip as a “media” perk, hoping that I might write about my adventure and in turn bring them more rafting business. They said I bring a guest, and I’ve found that it’s a good idea when you’re going to encounter “intense, powerful rapids requiring precise maneuvering in fast, turbulent water,” to bring along a friend with a name like Grace. Or Hope or even Buoyant. It increases your odds of survival.
After arriving at the raft company’s headquarters along the Arkansas River, we zipped up our wet suits (optional depending on the time of season), listened intently to the safety lesson, pulled on our helmets and boarded our paddleboats with a nice couple from Chicago and our raft guide: Billy-from-Boston.
The trip was incredible. Our raft team worked together like a well-oiled machine: “forward three!” and “back two!” By the end of the trip we were doing high fives with our paddles and singing river songs. It was a raft trip not soon forgotten!
And then . . . we reached the Hand of God. In brief, the Hand of God is a rock in The Arkansas River where the water’s current has carved out a hole that drops down five feet where it meets the river. The raft companies usually “put out” here and give people a chance to hang out on shore or experience the Hand of God.
It’s really not that scary, especially if you can swim, which is always a good idea if you go rafting. Billy-from-Boston docked our raft at the Hand of God to check out the action. It was a busy day on the river and lots of fellow rafters had gathered on the shore as spectators.
“Anyone want to slip into the Hand of God?” But before Billy could get the question out, Grace was out of the raft and headed towards the rock. Our faithful guide followed up, quickly behind her. I reluctantly followed.
Now Grace is from Leadville, born and raised, so naturally when she reached the top of the rock, she turned to the crowd and informed the other rafters that “Leadville was in the house!” The crowd loved it and Grace played it off for another 30 seconds and then turned and looked down into the Hand of God.
“Oh wow,” she said with trepidation.
“So what you do is . . ,” explained Billy, “lower yourself down into the hole and . .”
“Oh wow,” Grace interrupted. “Hmmm. I don’t know if I can do that. It’s kinda far down there.”
At this point, the crowd on the bank was getting louder: “Leadville! Leadville!”
“Now once you get down into the hole . . ,” but Billy never got to finish that sentence either.
Grace had been motivated by the chanting crowd, and with a do-or-die approach she began to lower herself down into the Hand of God. However, at the last second, Grace did something that turned this simple riverside dare into a prime-time reality show. She turned to our faithful river guide and asked, “will you hold these?” handing him her eyeglasses as Grace plunged into the Hand of God.
Now for anyone who wears glasses, you probably gasped a little at this part of the story. Panic can set in pretty quick when you can’t see! As Grace shot down into the Hand of God, cheers erupted from the riverbank.
“Woo-hoo! Leadville’s representing!” And they waited for their newfound river goddess to pop up on the other side of the rock, as did everyone brave enough to take on the challenge.
At this point, I approached the top of the hole’s chute to assess the situation. Grace’s head was neatly encased in her life vest, which was doing its job: keeping her afloat. She was spinning herself around in the hole, trying to get her near-sighted bearings, moving her hands along the wall of the cylinder.
Billy-from-Boston was calling down the next set of instruction, “Ok, now use your hand to find the spot where you can duck under. . .”
It was too late. Grace’s sightless fear was setting in – quick!
Then, in true comic form, Grace began to shout: “Fear Factor! Fear Factor!” as she spun around and around in the Hand of God.
By now the crowd on the bank started to wonder what was taking so long, as their chants rose above the sound of the rushing water: “Leadville! Leadville”
I knelt down at the opening of the Hand of God.
“Grace,” I said calmly. She looked up from her spinning and “Fear Factor” squawking long enough to refocus. “Put your hand over at three o’clock. You’ll feel the break in the rock that you duck under to get back out to the …” This time it was me who didn’t get to finish.
Grace had found the portal and pulled herself under, releasing herself from the Hand of God and popping up into the river. A bounty of accolades erupted from her legion of new-found fans. “Long Live Grace in the Hand of God!”
Have fun and be safe on the river and when you’re spending time In The ‘Ville.