I’ve spent a good amount of time on rivers. As a kid growing up in South Texas, tubing down the Frio or Guadalupe rivers was an essential part of every summer. I went whitewater rafting with friends and continued the tradition with my dad out West. When I moved to Georgia, I again spent time on the river, especially now with the Chattahoochee just down the road.
Rivers teach us about change. Unlike trails on land that stay static for months or even years on end, rivers swell and retreat seemingly with a mind of their own. Smooth waters are replaced with raging froth as boulders or logs divert the flow. Formerly deep wells become shallow graves lined with smooth stone when rainfall fails to meet the river’s demands. No matter how many times you have traveled those waters, they can still catch you by surprise.
A lesson I learned one summer rafting with a friend and her family on a river north of San Antonio. It was a stretch I had done before. In fact, I had even rafted it with her family on the previous summer. But this year was different. The usual drought had been relieved by drenching rains the week before and the river was full. Very full.
For the first part of the trip, we welcomed the swollen waters. You see, rafting (or even tubing) in Texas is usually broken up with intervals of walking the flotation device for a spell when the river becomes too shallow to support its draft. We used to joke about it being a sort of Texas portage. A normal portage is performed when the waters are too treacherous to approach and the craft is carried over land. In a Texas portage, the flotation device is simply carried over the small trickle of water while carefully stepping around the smooth stones that line the river bed until the water is again deep enough to support a craft.
So on this particular day on the river, we were simply happy that no Texas portages (portagii?) were necessary; the river was more than capable of carrying the raft with my friend and I, her parents and her brother. We were laughing and joking, eating soggy Pringles and drinking warm Cokes when we started to hear the noise. It started out as a dull roar, almost like bad reception on the car radio. But soon the noise was unmistakable. Water. Whitewater.
The recent rains had turned an upcoming portion of the river into a raging torment, made even more unpredictable by the damns created by debris moving down the river. Throwing the Pringles down, we scooped up the inadequate paddles and frantically rowed the boat ashore, narrowly escaping the tumultuous waters and our increasing panic. Where we carried the raft through the brush and bramble of the shore until we could safely place it back onto the water where we continued the remainder of the trip without incident.
That was my first real portage.
It wouldn’t be my last.
Our success on a challenge is greatly influenced by our view of the trial. If we see every section of impassable whitewater as an insurmountable obstacle, we will either remain stuck above the falls or find ourselves dashed on the rocks below.
But if we realize that the perceived obstacle is simply a detour in our plans, we will gather up the necessities and portage until it is safe.
Like the river, our lives often change without warning, causing us to leave the flow and construct a new path. Portage is not a sign of failure; it is a sign of acceptance and faith in the journey.
Sometimes you have to leave where you are to get where you are supposed to be.