Government Rapids, San Juan River

Mary Emerick suffers a mishap in Government Rapids on the San Juan River (from her essay “Lessons of the River,” in the 2021 issue of Deep Wild: Writing from the Backcountry):

I heard Government Rapids before I saw it. There had been a few rapids on the river already, brief moments of heart-thumping rowing, but nothing that had seemed impossible. This rapid sounded different, like thunder from an empty sky. It burst from a V of smooth water to a whirlpool of white froth, running headlong through a narrow bend….

We set up for our run. I sat on a cooler, clutching a rope, as Jerry handled the oars. The raft in front of us expertly navigated the frothy water, kissed the side of the canyon, and was out to the cheers of the other rafting party, perched on the rocks. We were next.

The first few strokes went well, the raft lumbering through the waves, spray ricocheting off the bow. This was the tricky part, to weave past the rock that we were about to hit dead on. A widemouthed hole waited below, waves foaming around it. I instantly knew what was going to happen: We were going to slide over the rock and the raft would flip. “Rock,” I yelled ineffectually, and the next moment I was airborne.

My head smacked against a rock as I went under; I had foolishly not asked for a helmet, trusting in the raft. Too late now. My body plunged deep into the gritty water, propelled like a bullet….

Deep Wild Journal is the home for creative work inspired by journeys to places where there are no roads. To order your copy of Deep Wild 2021, visit

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