Thursday, January 15, 2015

My First Time Camping - SPLORE FA Rafting Trip 2014

©2014 Judith van Praag
The following may come as a surprise to some, I went on a white water rafting trip. That's right I traveled to Grand Junction Colorado and embarked on the trip of a lifetime with a company called SPLORE last September. 
Yes! I floated down the Colorado River, not for a few hours, not for a day, but for five days. And we camped out in the wilderness along the Colorado river. Imagine that!
No, I had never camped in my life. Everyone knew that, and helped throughout. Prior to the trip, I was worried that I was going to be too much of a problem. I quickly realized that everyone banded together to help. Not just river guides, volunteers, or providers, but even FA participants. I have never experienced such a high level of love and trust from a group of individuals. 
I had seventeen people helping me survive in the wilderness.
©2014 Judith van Praag
Living with a disability brings the need for a sense of independence. I know that I am not entirely independent. Yet, any time I can say to myself, "yes, I can do that," it makes me stronger. There are many things in life that I know I cannot do. Asking for, and accepting help can be difficult, and that can hold you back. I don't want to ask for help if it's going to be a problem for someone.

September 4th was the day of the "put-in" on SPLORE's rafts near Grand Junction, CO. 
That happened to be the 22nd anniversary of my sister's death. Michelle died of leukemia at age fourteen. She was a year older than I, and a great example when it came down to doing new things. It seemed fitting I'd step outside my comfort zone on that day.
SPLORE river guides and volunteers have the ability to make you feel comfortable about asking for help, because they offer assistance without belittling you. I cannot stress enough how important this is.
Joe Kittel posted a poem on the FA Rafting trip Facebook page about floating down the river. The river is always moving forward, you can leave your past behind. I was doing just that.
The landscape was absolutely breathtaking. The sun was so bright it splashed everything in gold. The sky was crisp and clear. The sharp angles of the rocks and cliffs in the canyon were a brownish-red color with green foliage peppered throughout. The sound of streaming water was calming, peaceful. All that combined makes me think of U2's "In Gods Country".
Gabrielle Ford told me that the people she met on the river were like family. I now know exactly what she meant. We began this adventure mostly as strangers, and now this group, or family, will be part of me forever.
©2014 Judith van Praag
I'll never forget the night by the campfirewhen Smiles sang her beautiful version of Bonnie Raitt's Angel from MontgomeryI swear the hair stood up on the back of my neck. Chris fed me a ton of information about wheelchair improvements. In addition, his calm demeanor set the tone for me during the trip. Brona's quick wit and sense of humor was inspiring. One evening Katie let me borrow her walker to stretch out my legs. She went to her tent without, simply so I could keep my feet up. That was sweet. I remember Gabe jumping into the water by her self with a gigantic smile. The obvious joy on her face showed that SPLORE is doing the right thing. Gordo's laid-back attitude and whimsical approach to life makes me not want to take things too seriously. Judith and Gary took care of me and everyone else with a perfect sense of enthusiasm and care. They were the reason I was able to go on this trip. Lindsay and her spunky attitude brought so much life to the camp. Will, Nancy, and Andrew are my heroes because they embody what I want to be in life. On the last day of the trip, Darrell put his arm around me on the shuttle ride back to the hotel, to keep me from falling into the aisle. I was very touched. Kate let me borrow her jacket so I wouldn't irritate my arms while resting on her suitcase. All of these people had such a huge impact on me in a short period of time. 
©2014 Judith van Praag

Thanks to SPLORE!

FYI: I was diagnosed with Friedreich's Ataxia (FA) at age fourteen. FA is a rare inherited disease that causes nervous system damage and movement problems, but does not affect cognitive functions, one in 50,000 people is affected in the US. 
In September 2014 I participated in Splore's 5-day white-water rafting trip.