White Water Rafting and Lightning

Hello beautifuls! These past few weeks have been so busy!

Yesterday (okay, since I’m finishing this post late it’s now technically the day before yesterday) my girlfriend’s company threw a picnic and white water rafting event for their employees. Nature?! Heck yes. So we went of course.

The Early Bird Catches the Bus

We woke up at 3:30 (we kindly waited to wake her sister up until a more reasonable -?!!?- 4:00) in the morning because we were under the impression that none of the public transit buses went to where we needed to be at the time we needed to be there. We met a very nice TTC driver with a cold who told us otherwise…once we were already almost there. She took us further than the normal stop because her shift was over and presumably she felt sorry for us unprepared but bright eyed little people anxious for our field trip.

We proceeded to wait around in an empty parking lot, entertaining ourselves for the next two hours and eating snacks from a Shoppers Drug Mart (a Canadian exclusive! For those not familiar with the ways of the maple leaf, it’s basically a big drug store with a post office in it and lots of candy) that was miraculously open 24/7.

I got a lot of funny looks once people actually started coming around because we had forgotten to bring a towel (an unforgivable mistake according to Douglas Adams) and ended up buying one that looks like a dinosaur poncho, which I promptly decided to wear for the next two hours of waiting. In case you need an explanation for this, dinosaurs are awesome and I don’t care if people on the street think I’m brain damaged.

On the Way

Finally the buses arrived and we were suddenly surrounded by people. I guess now would be a good time to mention my girlfriend and her sister are Chinese Canadian and I am very much white. The only white person there in fact, and definitely the only white person walking around in a neon orange child’s dinosaur poncho demanding hugs from my girlfriend’s embarrassed sister.

The bus ride there was uneventful. We slept most of the 2 hours, which was really easy after waking up at 3:30 in the morning. Finally we arrived. It didn’t take long until we were suited up with life jackets and our very own paddle, then marched to a safety lesson. After I was nearly suffocated by a group of people who apparently equated rafting with man-eating mosquitoes (have you ever inhaled bug spray? I beg you not to try it.) we were led to our rafts.

The Storm

We were on the river for about half an hour or so before, of course, it started to storm. And not just a little light rain shower “storm” either. Like, straight above our heads gigantic bursts of thunder and simultaneous lightning storm. We were made to pull our rafts over and evacuate onto some very untamed land under the trees to wait it out. People had to put garbage bags over their heads and everything, it was that bad.

Finally, it seemed to pass and we were back on the river and happily on our way again. We tried to race the storm but of course a bunch of inexperienced white water rafters aren’t going to be able to go very fast. However, had we waited just a little bit longer, the river would have done all the work for us, because it started rushing really fast.

We had to pull over again because the storm got worse, and we were basically stranded there until our very awesome leader Roxanne decided we should cross the river and get to an exit point. Somewhere along the way I found a baby toad and showed it to my girlfriend, who immediately grew attached and wanted to bring it home with us. She decided against it for its own good, though I’m sure she still imagines what life would be like with a baby toad by our sides.

We crossed the river when the storm was a little less deadly seeming, then hiked uphill through the woods in the mud (did I mention I’m still on crutches?) to find the road where they had a bus waiting for us. There were tiny, confused little kids who were sopping wet and not sure whether or not they found any of this very fun, and definitely a bunch of annoyed and disappointed adults. My girlfriend and I were having the time of our lives, she saw her first baby toad and poison ivy and everything, but everyone else seemed pretty bummed out.

Everything I Ever Wondered About Lightning

The whole time we were paddling through the storm, all I could think about was the lightning. I made my girlfriend take the plastic paddle and considered myself a prime target for lightning with my aluminum crutches. I then made it a point to learn whatever I could about how it works when lightning hits a river. Why don’t the fish get electrocuted and die when lightning strikes? How is it so dangerous for us and not them?

We were obviously exhausted yesterday so I didn’t get a chance to finish this post, which I’m doing now. I wanted to share with you what I learned about lightning and safety on the water. When I was a kid, we would go to my grandma’s house and swim every summer. When it stormed though, she always herded us out of there as quickly as possible, so I was no stranger to the dangers of lightning. But I really never knew the details until now.

Lightning isn’t fire, but it can cause fire. It’s electricity. Water is a conductor, meaning that electricity can go through water very easily, so if any part of a river is struck by lightning, the entire river and anything touching it is prone to that jolt. However, like any other good conductor, the water is affected only near the surface. The rest of the water isn’t affected by it unless it’s just a tiny jolt.

So let’s say the lightning strikes the river as we’re paddling happily downstream. People who didn’t have paddles in the water might be fine because the rafts are rubber and rubber is resistant to lightning. You could say it’s immune. But for people who are touching the metal paddles in the water, that electricity will surge right to you because metal and water are both conductors, and we are basically little bundles of meat ready to be fried.

Fish, if they are swimming near the surface during a lightning strike, can be seriously injured or even killed, but the ones swimming deeply enough beneath the surface manage to go on with their lives as if nothing happened.

In case you weren’t aware, lightning strikes from the ground up, not the other way around. It’s more likely to choose a target that is linked to some kind of metal, the higher up it is the better. That’s why Benjamin Franklin (or whoever) decided to fly a kite with a key attached to it, it made it probably the tastiest looking morsel for any self-respecting lightning to attach to.


Anyway, so there you have our white water rafting experience in a nutshell. My girlfriend laughed because when we were reflecting on the experience, from the perspective of the other people there, the only person who had any fun was the weird white girl in the dinosaur poncho. I really did, I had a blast but I’m glad that blast wasn’t literal. Sometimes we need a little brush with death to feel alive! haha.

By the way, before the storm, they took us to a little waterfall at the side of the river that poured out real freshwater from an underground spring! It tasted great to me and was completely ice cold too. It was so amazing!

Take care of yourselves everyone! I’m going to try to write a For the Kids post today so stay tuned!


About ammbassett

Hey everybody! You can call me A. I'm the creator of the blog "Upgrade Earth," and I hope to help inspire you into personally engineering the future of the planet we call home! Humanity is due for an upgrade and I think we're just the people to do it, so let's get started today!
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