This Monday morning wasn’t a typical one for me and some of our New Life Program (NLP) participants. Instead of coffee as a wake-up call, we, along with several other Mission staff, were awakened by the sensation of snowmelt on our faces—well, sort of. At 7:45 a.m., 25 of us gathered outside of the Wilderness Aware Rafting office in Buena Vista, Colorado. Together, we were headed down ten miles of the Arkansas River aboard five rafts, endearingly referred to as “rubber” by the energetic staff at Wilderness Aware.

A Day on the River
A Day on the River 1

The guides were well-equipped with knowledge, skill and quirky jokes. I enjoyed observing our participants laugh and nod as the lead guide gave us instructions and mentally prepared us for any unwanted swimming occasions. Amidst the power and beauty of the snow-capped mountains, it was impactful to see the men light up with both excitement and sunshine.

A quick bus ride took us to the raft entry site, where we separated into groups and learned commands to row and navigate the swiftly running water. On the river, it became clear that teamwork was the name-of-the-game to avoid sending a friend overboard or tipping the raft altogether. My team had a bit of early excitement after getting caught on a submerged boulder that pulled up one side of the raft and threatened to send us all under water. We executed the “left side” command, throwing all our weight to one side of the raft to keep it from tipping while our guide, Logan, expertly dismantled us from the rock. After this incident, we got our act together and kept it coordinated, gliding through the journey with finesse even as we took on rapids with names like “Pinwheel” and “Toilet Bowl.”

A Day on the River 2
A Day on the River 3

When it was all said and done and our feet were back on the ground, everyone was bursting with life and excitement. Having shared the experience, it felt natural for us all to connect and chat. I struck up a conversation with an NLP participant named Travis who expressed how much he loved being in the mountains and how it made him feel. We spoke a bit about the program and how it’s giving him structure and stability after losing contact with his former wife and child. In that moment, we both felt grateful for the morning we had just had.

For me, it felt like a treat all around to spend time with program participants and staff with whom I don’t often cross paths. To do so in such an expansive, beautiful setting made it even more special. Wilderness Aware Rafting donated two half-day raft trips to Denver Rescue Mission so that 51 of our staff and program participants could have this incredible experience. A big, big thank you to Wilderness Aware Rafting for blessing us with the trip and bringing us together!

Written by Rebekah Sipe, graphic designer.