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Common sense always the best advice

SHERRY MAYS

All I can remember is snorkeling along the coast off of La Jolla in southern California four years ago. It was a day after a heavy rain and the surf was up and rough.

We were persuaded by some area children to head into a cave that led to a steep cliff below a roadway. Once in, it was almost impossible to get out.

The surf funneled waves through the dark and narrow cave about seven feet at its widest width. The waves rushed through, carrying the boys and Russell directly over me. I couldn’t beat the waves out of the cave and ended up getting beaten by them – slammed repeatedly against a rock.

Finally, driven by pure adrenaline, I took in a big breath and shot through the cave deep under the wave. I got out, ripped off my mask and started swimming freestyle into the shore.

I knew I was a strong swimmer, but looking back, I realize how stupid I was to venture into the ocean without a life vest. Hello… Granted I was buoyant in the ocean, much better compared to the sinking feeling in our alpine lakes, but it still was a stupid move.

Stupidity is what gets most people in trouble while recreating. It’s the feeling of conquering nature, whether skiing through unsettled powder, diving in open water or kayaking along of the rivers.

I love the Truckee River, but I have taken out my fears of the awesome power of water on it. Ever since that day in La Jolla, I’ve had an extreme fear of open water and swiftwater. I’ve backed out of rafting trips that I could have had tons of fun enjoying.

Once diving on the East Shore of Tahoe, I almost had a panic attack at about 75 feet below the surface. I was really fatigued and, when I went to return to shore from the edge of the “abyss,” the lake’s bottom gave me the feeling of having to run up a steep hill in a headwind.

What kept me from shooting to the surface was the fact that I wasn’t alone, I had plenty of air in my tank and I was trained to stop and rest. So I did and my dive buddy did. Problem solved.

Training and being properly equipped sometimes makes the difference between life and death.

I agreed to participate in Truckee Fire’s swiftwater rescue class, and although I had to work and take photos for my story, I put on my drysuit, a helmet and life vest and shot through the rapids at Truckee Falls, just below Olympic Heights. I did it in an attempt to get over my fear of river water and it worked. It worked because I was properly equipped and I wasn’t alone. I thought: If they can do it so can I. And I did.

I knew that I was strong enough to get to shore and if not, someone would help me. I knew I wouldn’t drown because I had my life vest on and I knew I wouldn’t turn hypothermic because I had my drysuit, gloves and booties on.

So why do people shoot the river without training, without the proper equipment and without others who are trained? Our area rescue personnel work for days and years to become proficient as river rescuers and then they are held responsible for people who get in the water without a clue.

People who get in the river should be responsible for themselves. It might not look cool to wear a helmet and tan lines might be ruined by life vests, but tan lines won’t matter when a person is being prepped in a morgue.

There are inherent dangers in the water – currents, obstacles and cold water. We have them all here. All I can recommend is for people to either enjoy the river from its banks if inexperienced or to sign up with a professional touring company.

Don’t be stupid. The lives that you may endanger could be many in the event of a rescue.

Be smart and have a fun and safe summer. I know I will, because I’ve learned my lessons.

Sherry Mays is the Sierra Sun’s features and community news editor.

Sierra Sun E-mail: sun@tahoe.com

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