“I can’t let Jodie be the only cool mom,” Linda, age 70, said with a playful smile as she set down her cup of wine and clipped up her PFD with assertiveness.
She had been watching from shore as a line of orange PFD-clad swimmers bobbed down the eddy line in front of camp. Dylan started it. He stood on the partially submerged rock that guarded our beach and dramatically launched himself into the eddy line where the swirling current jettisoned him downstream.
When he lost momentum, he exited the current, grinning, and floated upstream with the eddy to do it all again.
A gaggle of teenagers on our trip didn’t take any convincing; they immediately rushed the boats for their PFDs, thrashed into the water enthusiastically, and without instruction, threw themselves into the activity. Soon, some adults jumped on the bandwagon, enthusiastically, but with instruction. Later still, Linda joined in. She waded unsteadily out to the rock, and with a little less assertiveness than before, heaved herself off it. She just missed the fast current. Instead of the turbo boost downstream others were getting, she pivoted and swirled in the upstream current and had to work to swim downstream.
We shouted encouragement and cheered her on from shore. Too many voices bellowed advice surely lost in the wind, yet she emerged smiling, floating back for round two. Linda refined her approach and caught the current perfectly because there were, in fact, two cool moms on the trip (that’s a 100% ratio, by the way).
Jumping on the bandwagon gets a bad rap. And rightly so…sometimes. People who just jump on the bandwagon might not have strong convictions, they might not think for themselves, and they might sacrifice beliefs they have just to fit in. But sometimes…sometimes jumping on the bandwagon means you do something you might not have otherwise done. Sometimes it means you’re encouraged to be courageous, to push your own boundaries, and maybe even surprise yourself. Sometimes it means, you emerge from the water like a phoenix, dripping wet and elatedly gasping for air as you laugh with wonderful surprise and a swell of pride.
There were many moments on our July Main Salmon rafting trip where jumping on the bandwagon led to courageous actions and resulted in a sense of pride. Once John started it. Mollie, Sam, and Evie jumped on the bandwagon of his enthusiasm for stand up paddleboarding; reticence turned to ardency. Suddenly, paddlers were crushing lines through Class II whitewater and cheering on both the swims and successes of others. Another time Sam started it. Attitudes about inflatable kayaking flipped from fear to eagerness, spurred by his excitement and total disregard for the cool morning temps.
But perhaps the most powerful instance of jumping on the bandwagon proving metamorphic was Thomas. By day three, I hadn’t heard Thomas, age 17, say anything beyond introducing himself to the group on the first morning. He was quiet, reserved, and observant.
He seemed happy enough to hover on the fringe of the action. This was the case in the eddy at Groundhog Bar camp when people started hopping on the cliff-jumping bandwagon. What started as a single jumper, turned into a mass of floating, exhilarated laughter. The teenagers led the charge, the Millennials followed suit; the cool moms, supportive dads, and the excited guides joined in. The line to jump ebbed and flowed. Some, like Nic and Peyton, threw tricks that made us laugh. Some, like Evie and Mollie jumped silently, while others, like me, shrieked loudly the
whole way down.
Thomas wandered to the river’s edge where he watched from a distance. Later, he waded into the water and positioned himself on a small boulder just outside the adrenaline thoroughfare. He perched there for 10 or 15 minutes, quietly watching.
Suddenly, with absolutely no fanfare, Thomas stood up from his perch in the background and crossed the water to the freestanding batholith. He scrambled up the rock face, walked to the edge without pause, raised his right hand in the air, and gave himself a countdown with his fingers. When he reached one, he jumped.
I watched the moment unfold in slow motion. When his feet left the cliff, I cheered wildly. We all did.
I turned to his dad who was holding his hands over his heart; tears threatened, but his smile eclipsed them. Jack whispered with a disbelieving shake of his head, “He’s painfully shy and SO risk-averse. That… that was incredible.” Jack’s surprise, pride, and excitement all mingled in a joyful, breathy laugh. Thomas walked out of the water—no fuss, no commotion—and returned to his perch as if he hadn’t just done something bravely and wonderfully out of character.
That’s the thing about jumping on the bandwagon: sometimes it makes you braver. Sometimes it pushes you into a zone of invigoration and excitement not otherwise possible. Sometimes it turns you into a phoenix. That’s the thing about river trips, too, you usually emerge dripping wet, elated, and always changed.
Photos: Swimmer on the Main Salmon – James Kaiser; Paddlers on a Main Salmon rafting trip – James Kaiser; Cliff jumping on Idaho’s Salmon River – Jasmine Wilhelm