Karen’s Smith River Adventure

As I was describing in the last post:  A few days before leaving Crescent City, California in August, I had an adventure. Yes, Paul was with me, but it was my special adventure. We drove the winding road up to the river, the Smith River which cuts through the Redwood covered mountains.

“For thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, I extend peace to her like a river. . . ” (Isaiah 66:12).

img_3364 Our goal was to swim in the clear, cool river,

but this time, we stopped at a spot before Slant Bridge

and walked the trail down to the cool, emerald stream.

We heard the chatter of young voices and their parents.

Reaching the beach we could observe

the slanted bridge above to our left and look across the river to view a high cliff.


Can you see the young people on the ledge, ready to jump?

Can you see the young people on the ledge, ready to jump?

To the right we saw the smooth river  begin to tumble, spray, and bubble, as rushing rapids formed before the river curved left, following the river bed below the lofty, green hills. The air was fresh.
Beneath the chatter of happy voices, I heard the rush of the playful waterway. From the rapids came a roaring sound like the chanting of monks, continuous and rhythmic.

The edge of the rapids, before the river takes a downward turn.

The edge of the rapids, before the river takes a downward turn.

We settled our things near an unoccupied rock and slowly stepped into the water. Oh, yes, I expected a brisk chill. However, like a bath of ice, this water shocked my skin and muscles.  Slowly, slowly, I descended, letting more inches of me adjust. Up to my knees, hips, waist, and finally shoulders. Now I stretched out in a breast stroke and swam. Alive! I hurt less when in water, and in this brisk river, I seemed to hurt even less! Supported by water, I feel free. In the Smith River I felt so alive!

Swimming, important to me since age ten, is the closest thing to a sport that I’ve every had. I took all the community and YMCA classes available in our area, took and maintained my instructors certification for many years, and taught swimming lessons at a number of YMCAs and summer camps. However, I’m a pool and lake swimmer. I’m not experienced in rivers, but from my training, I knew certain cautions unique to rivers. Nonetheless, the sound of the rapids lured me. Teens were playing on the left bank of the rapids which did not look deep because of the somewhat lower water table. In fact, less depth made the water more bubbly, as the rocks below were closer to the surface.

Paul sat on the beach for a while before entering, but I was already swimming. We were both being entertained by the children, youth, and young adults (more kept coming) who were jumping off the cliff. Some were bold and some were frightened but determined to overcome their fear and jump. Their friends and family on the beach cheered them on. Others performed twists, turns, and flips, showing off their talents. Most were happy “just” to jump. We enjoyed the spectacle and participated in the sense of accomplishment as a boy probably around age ten made his first jump and as a young teen girl, after many tries and back offs finally accomplished her maiden leap. Yea! We cheered with the others.

Paul was in the water now, enjoying God’s nature and the playful, young people.

Paul is swimming in front of the cliff, where the water is smooth and looks lazy.

Paul is swimming in front of the cliff, where the water is smooth and looks lazy.

The rhythmic chanting of the rapids continued to call me. I swam closer. Purposefully. They are not deep, I saw. The are joyful! They are also strong! Stronger than I realized. Closer and closer I breast stroked, head up, enjoying the amazing views and sounds. Then I felt the pull — under me and before me, pulling me forward and down. Alert but not alarmed, I knew I must protect myself. My left hip smashed against a rock, then my right and my tailbone. Knifing pain shot through my core. I must stop myself.

One boy on the far beach, probably 12-14 years old, heard my call: “How do I stop?” I do not know if he could hear my words over the roar, but he understood my need, and modeled from the beach the position I should take, planting each foot and hand on a rock like a crab. I needed to hold my own against the current. I tried to find solid rocks below me to position myself as the boy showed, but the current kept taking me. I tried to protect myself from further incursions with rocks. My feet, wrists, and hands ached from the impact and force while my backside continued to shoot arrows of pain up my back. I must stop myself. My hands slipped off rocks squishy with moss. Other rocks moved and gave way beneath my grasp. Finally, I found some clean, solid, unmoving stone. I held myself there, but the current was crashing into my back and I was in the middle of the stream. I must get to the side where the flow has less forward force.

From my view, it did not look like I could climb out of the water from either side – the left side was too far, and the right side seemed unapproachable. I needed to get out of the middle and then climb the rocks north against the current and back into the calmer water beneath the cliffs.img_3363


Once I was positioned like a crab facing up, feet wedged against larger rocks resisting the force and hands under me on smaller, stable rocks, I took my left hand and left foot, and flung them over me to the right, turning myself over.  My hand and foot groped until they found unmoving rocks on which to be planted. Now that I was face down, I started climbing the rocks against the rapids as if I were climbing a mountain, although the angle was gradual. It felt like mountain climbing to me because of the forward force of the roaring water which I was opposing. Each time I positioned myself on a rock ahead of me and pulled myself forward, I felt the pleasure of my muscles working for me.

To many people, young, healthy, and strong, this would have not been too much of a challenge. For me, at age 62, living 34 years with Fibromyalgia (FM, among other issues), this was a challenge. A mission. I was excited to feel my body cooperate with me and slowly do what I asked of it. Pull forward. Climb. Reach. Pull forward. The force against me seemed to want to smash my face into the rocks. I help my head up, fearful of further harmful impact. My experience with FM is that small injuries traumatize my body, and like falling dominoes, the pain spreads. What may take some people a few days or weeks to recover from may take me weeks to months.

Finally, Paul saw my situation and swam toward the rapids. I yelled over and over. “Stop! Stop!” Finally, he did, and swam to the rocky shoreline to reach for me from there. This did not work. I started to be pulled back into the middle and downward. I would have to finish climbing the rocks, rivaling the currents. I did, and I did, and I did. Finally, I pushed off with my feet and could perform strong, broad arm strokes, pulling me in to the calmer current that moved above the rapids. I continued to swim into the deep emerald water flowing beneath the cliffs where smarter swimmers knew to stay.

The water’s cool temperature soothed my bruised, angry, and shouting body, but I, in all my foolishness, was happy, happy, happy. Utter satisfaction. It was the sheer thrill of physical victory!  I remembered my distant training for emergencies: stay calm. I never panicked. I calmly knew the Lord was with me all the way, so much so that I did not need to use words to ask or to sense His presence. I just did what I needed to do in this emergency.

Riding back to our friends’ house was not easy for me, and for the next few days, I could hardly sit. I lay on my tummy a good bit. Our friends laughed at my story (they know the river well and how to behave in it), but I did not explain our concern for how my body would recover. It did take several months (not nearly as long as I thought it might, showing that at 62, I am stronger than I was at 52 or 58!). My discomfort continued to increase after we returned home.  My pain increased and spread.  We thought I might be having an appendicitis attack. I visited my doctor who ordered some tests. My muscular bruising was not only on my back side (looking like ripe black and red raspberries), but I had bruised my abdominal muscles and intestinal lining. And there were the old issues with my hips and spondylolisthesis (a long-term vertebrae problem from old injuries).

With prayer, God’s mercy, fish oil (and other supplements), and water therapy (ha!), I’m back to my version of normal. Crazy as I am, this adventure in the rapids of the Smith River was worth the pain, in God’s grace, because of the victory I achieved!

God says in Isaiah 66:12 that he will “extend to [Israel] peace like a river.” Rivers, as my experience shows, do not always flow peacefully. What might God be communicating though this simile, this comparison, and through other usages of rivers described in Scripture?

While this post concludes a three part series, it also acts as a seque into our next series in JNC. What are the roles of rivers and water in the Scriptures? What is God communicating to us about Himself, ourselves, His creation, and His providence? Before this adventure, I had never pursued such a word study. Now that I have, I’d like to share some fascinating discoveries!

Near our river entry.

Near our river entry. I’m sorry that I don’t have any pictures of me in the rapids, but then, I was busy having an adventure!























Categories: Travels | Tags: | 7 Comments

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7 thoughts on “Karen’s Smith River Adventure

  1. Marty and Brenda Zuidervaart

    Amazing writing and scary adventure!!! Praise the Lord for His giving you strength and endurance to get out of your plight and safe once more. I’m sorry for all the physical suffering also in the after-effects. ~ Brenda

    • kltolsen

      Thanks for your response! God was kind to me in my foolishness!
      And today — today is our 36th wedding anniversary! Unfortunately, I’ve been sick, but I’m doing a bit better, and we’ll celebrate later this week. Isn’t autumn the most beautiful season of the year?

  2. Louis Mann

    Your insight from every “adventure” is amazing to me, my friend. I am thankful that God gives you the ability to take every circumstance and see in it God’s handiwork in your life.

    Happy 36th Anniversary to you and Paul. Time has a way of making love more beautiful. Enjoy your special day and all the blessings God has ahead of you.

    “The godly are showered with blessings.” Proverbs 10:6 (NLT)

    • kltolsen

      Thank you, Louis, for your gracious reply and encouragement! I appreciate the verse you’ve shared! May we all be soaked with such blessings!

  3. Marty and Brenda Zuidervaart

    Karen, your way with words provided me with a vicarious adventure in the river. I am grateful that you remain on “this side of the river” although adventuring in John’s river of life (cf. Rev. 22:1-5) would trump anything here on earth. I am grateful because it’s premature to let you go there. (: >)

    • kltolsen

      Thanks, Marty! You make me smile. Your biblical reference anticipates (purposefully so on your part, I’m sure) the direction of my next series. Your Rev. 22 reference may even be a spoiler — of course, I’ll end there — or maybe I can describe something beyond this. . . . We will see!
      I’ve been having fun researching the theme of river/water/sea in the Scriptures. If I were to explore the science behind God’s amazing creation of H2O, I’d deepen the pool of spiritual ideas flowing from this stream of thought! Oh, my! I think I’m all wet!

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