I climb into the inflatable raft with the others. Sweden’s Kalix River stretches ahead of us clean and clear, sparkling in the mid-summer sunshine. Löve, our guide, informs us that with current water levels, the river is very calm, and barely merits a grade three on the internationally recognized river rafting scale. I am apprehensive, but the scenery is so beautiful it would seem a shame to miss out.
Soon, the raft is on its way, floating serenely before picking up speed to enter the first rapid of the afternoon. This, I have been assured, is the biggest of the whole trip, and to be honest it doesn’t look too bad. Or so I think. As the craft begins to buck and spin, somewhere, from the depths of my psyche springs a surge of pure primal terror. Suddenly I’m back on the Zambezi, over a decade ago, hanging on for dear life to the rope on the side of the raft as I’m dragged through the middle of a three part grade V rapid on the outside, tossed around like a shirt on spin cycle. Right here, ten years on, in the mere moments it takes to pass through this comparatively sedate set of rapids in Swedish Lapland, the tears come unbidden and my bravery flees.
I seriously consider going back to the mini-bus. Parked at the start, it is still visible. A brief pause at the riverbank and my raft mates are soon encouraged to take to the water sans raft for the next turbulent section. It’s choppy enough that they whoop with delight as they spin round, bobbing about in the foaming water, but they’re perfectly safe. I watch from the bank, shudder and attempt to regain some self-respect.
there were moments of pleasure, observing bird life and the scenery as it passed, but on the whole, it was seven hours of unadulterated terror, punctuated with frequent tears and further "unique perspectives on the river." I had sworn never to raft again.
Lara Dunn has been travelling since birth. She has been writing professionally about active travel around the world since 2000, and is particularly fond of places where trees, cactus or rocks outnumber people. Thankfully, there is still a long list of places to visit where this is the case. Two feet are good, two skis are great, two wheels are even better. There's always a bag packed, but almost always the wrong one.
Lara can be contacted on lara.dunn[at]btinternet.com Or follow her on Twitter at @LaraDunn
For more information on rafting in Swedish Lapland, visit www.creactive-adventure.se
My mind travels back to 2000. Finding myself in Victoria Falls, it had been all but obligatory to brave the mighty Zambezi, and, besides, I hadn’t known any different. Thousands of testimonials saying what a wonderful experience it was couldn’t be wrong, surely? A flip on the very first rapid of a seven-hour day set the tone of what was to come, however. Yes, there were moments of pleasure, observing bird life and the scenery as it passed, but on the whole, it was seven hours of unadulterated terror, punctuated with frequent tears and further “unique perspectives on the river.” I had sworn never to raft again.
Standing beside this crystal clear river in the north of Sweden, in midsummer, does seem a world away from the crashing violence of that great African river, boasting some of the World’s fiercest rapids, but can I pull myself together enough to get back in the raft now? Yes, I can. The ten years between my visit to Africa and today have given me experience enough of my own weaknesses that I can handle them a little better these days. Let’s look upon it as a challenge…….
Soon my tears and fears slowly start to recede as we meander down what is one of Sweden’s cleanest rivers, a protected area where no industry or building can harm it. In a particularly serene section, we are encouraged to swim. My terror has subsided to such a degree by this point that I jump out of the boat to join the others with barely a moment’s pause. It’s only when we have to battle against the current to rejoin the raft that I experience just a little echoing frisson of my former anxiety. Tree covered banks seem to flow past quickly, a handful of smaller sets of rapids still make me grit my teeth a little but they quickly pass. Ripples abound as we float along, the tell tale signs of fish, possibly even salmon, which are common in this river. By the time we’re dragging the raft through a field of multi-hued wild flowers up to the van waiting for us at the road, I’ve come to a conclusion. I’ll never be an ardent whitewater enthusiast. Indeed, I’ll probably never actively seek out rafting opportunities as I travel. However, I am genuinely sorry to see the end of our afternoon on the gloriously wild Kalix River and I could perhaps be tempted to repeat the experience here.
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