'Did I just pull my son into the water with me?'

October 3, 2019

Earlier this year, we asked you to tell us your wildest, most wonderful, most life-changing travel story for a chance to win a G Adventures trip for two. And we've selected the winner! Below, read how Eric Gabriel and his son experienced a life-changing — if momentarily terrifying — excursion in Washington, U.S.:

My 10-year-old son Rogan and I had just returned home to Pendleton, Oregon, from an adventure-filled Jackson Hole road trip. I thought that it would be great to get some more white water rafting in, since he had just been exposed to it on our trip. So I contacted River Drifters in White Salmon, Washington, and booked a trip down the White Salmon River.

It was great to see Rogan participating as part of the crew — rowing and in rhythm and really digging in. At his age, he has some fears of heights and things he just hasn't been faced with before. But he killed it, and I was definitely the proud father.

On the river, there is an eight-foot waterfall you can opt to go over towards the end of the trip. Because Rogan is too young to go over, he would have to get out of the raft prior to making the run. Whenever we hit flat water, the team and guide would practice our positioning in the raft so we could properly take on the falls. I was in the front of the raft, which meant I would have to take my feet out of the foot straps, drop to my butt, and lean back and hold the middle strap. Easy enough!

The last time we practiced it we were all in sync and had felt pretty good about out chances with the falls. As we were giving each other high fives, we were coming upon a small Class 2 run — a little bouncing, but nothing big. I turned back to check on Rogan, who was right behind me, with my feet still not in the straps from the last practice run. We hit a little bounce and I lost my balance and found myself falling out of the raft.

I began to actually panic (I do not panic), flailing and reaching for the nearest thing to hold on to ... which was Rogan's life vest. I went straight back into the water — and he came with me. My first thought was: "Oh s--t! Did I just pull my son into the water with me?" My second thought:"Oh S--T! His mother is going to kill me!"

I went under and then up in time to see the guide pulling Rogan into the boat — then it got a tad squirrelly. All of a sudden I went under and I couldn't get out. I could feel that my hands could get above the water, but my head and face couldn't. I thought, "This cannot be the end ... Rogan can't even drive!" Suddenly I popped out. Catching my breath for a split second, I stood up in the river. Then I remembered that you are not supposed to stand up in the river so, in a panic, I dropped to my back and floated over some more rapids and finally saw the river's edge.

I began swimming for the edge and, the river being as shallow as it was, I would slam parts of my body against every other boulder trying to get to the edge. In about three strokes I went about 20 yards. When I made it back to my raft with the crew, I noticed Rogan was on the verge of tears. In a consoling voice I said, "Hey buddy, it's okay, I'm all right." Rogan pulled his sunglasses off, eyes full of tears, and responded as only a child can: "DAD! YOU PULLED ME IN!"

Apparently he was more concerned about getting wet than losing his dad.

Next thing that came out of my mouth was,"Do. Not. Tell your mother."

His response?

"Oh, I'm telling."

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