5 Lessons Rafting the Futaleufú Taught Me About Marriage
At 41 years old with three teenage kids, a stubbornly independent personality, and an excruciating divorce under my belt, I surprised even myself by remarrying. I consciously avoided making it a big, frilly, expensive deal and had a simple and sweet ceremony in a forest glade on our property in Patagonia. The only part that I began to get stressed over was where to honeymoon. I’m a travel writer, my husband had already traveled the world over as a backpacker, and I think we wanted to one-up everything we had already experienced to make it the most memorable trip either of us had ever taken.
Would it be picnicking outside of castle ruins in Scotland or sleeping under the stars in Tuscan vineyards? Actively sailing a tall ship together through Antarctica or reading to each other by candlelight in a Bedouin tent in Jordan? In the end, we found ourselves in the midst of everything we had wanted to avoid, which was allowing any part of the wedding to be complicated or stressful. So we decided to forget the fuss and instead road trip through our adopted homeland of Argentine Patagonia—where I had been living for a decade but him less than a year—to make this region feel more like “ours.” Our destination would be Futaleufú, Chile. While this adventurous destination may not be the first spot that comes to mind for traditional romance, it was perfect for us.
Futaleufú (the name of both the small town and the legendary river known for its Class IV-V+ rapids) is a serious rafter’s dream. It is accessible via Puerto Montt in Chile or the Esquel and Bariloche airports in Argentina. Ask many experienced guides and they will most likely tell you that the “Fu” is on their list of top five rivers in the world. Between the intimidating granite Andean peaks and lush green forests on both sides of the river, and the surreal frosty-turquoise color of the water, the Futaleufú River looks straight out of a fairy tale.
Here is what rafting the Futaleufú together taught me about how to approach my marriage…
1) Leave the past behind to focus on the present. Learn and move on.
As we ran Casa de Piedra rapid, it didn’t matter that my husband had flipped out of the raft in the beginning of a half mile-plus stretch of Class V whitewater called Terminator rapid earlier in the day. It didn’t matter that a few rapids back I cranked myself hard more than once with the T-grip of my oar. What was important was the rapid in front of us at that moment and setting ourselves up to handle it the best we could.
I don’t want to let the pain of my past marriage taint my new partnership. I don’t want to spend energy I could use to create a healthy present on being bitter over, or consumed by, a difficult past. I’ve learned plenty of lessons, and I want to be able to apply them to any new hurdles that come our way. Every rapid is different – just like I can’t run Casa de Piedra based on how Terminator was, I can’t approach my new husband as though he is no different than my old one. Here’s to being fully present.
2) We are so much stronger when we remember we are supposed to be working as a team.
On the river we were in the front left and front right of the raft, setting the rhythm. We were at our most powerful the more we were able to communicate and sync together, tackling the rapids together. Through the most difficult rapids I was constantly checking in to see that we were coordinating, that our energy was fully working with each other’s, not against. When he flipped out of the raft in the beginning of the Terminator section, it was not every person for themself. I knew that without him in the boat our team was much less strong, and getting him back on board was critical not just for him, but to the efficiency of the whole raft.
No matter how much we may disagree on an issue in the future, I want to remember that it is not me vs. him. It is us vs. the situation.
3) Who we surround ourselves with is important.
Our guide, David, was pure joy and led us confidently through the rapids with a good mix of solid experience and a much-appreciated sense of humor when his rafters were getting tired. There were two other rafters who showed a tireless work ethic and fearlessness that helped us all through some tricky rapids. And there were two final rafters who seemed to just be along for the ride. The guy behind me lacked focus and he hit my oar more than his own oar hit the water. The other guy was so busy fiddling with his GoPro settings that half the time he wasn’t listening to paddling directions nor was he even in a ready position going into a Class V+ rapid.
I saw how the energy of those around us affected us. I saw how some in the boat helped me feel confident that we could manage any situation on that river. I saw how others in the boat made me question whether we would make it through the minor Class II ahead without them causing some sort of unnecessary distraction from the task at hand.
As my new husband and I tackle our own unavoidable “rapids” in our future, I want to be surrounded only by those who believe in our partnership, who support us in staying focused, and who help make our journey an enjoyable one.
4) Be adaptable and always have a plan B and C.
Before every major rapid, we stopped and talked about how we would approach it. We were then given a plan B and a plan C. Sometimes everything went ideal and as planned. And sometimes, not so much. One missed eddy and the plan had to shift and shift fast.
I would be naive to think that I can plan our future together and that everything will go down exactly as I had hoped. That would set me up with expectations and I would most likely end up disappointed. I want to remember to flow, to point ourselves at plan A but to know when to be flexible and shift to plan B. To not be rigid, but to be adaptable, creative, and relentless when it comes to problem solving.
5) It’s how we handle the bumpiness, not the flat sections, that makes the journey memorable.
At the end of our Futaleufú rafting trip, my husband and I certainly didn’t sit around a campfire reminiscing over how well we paddled the flats. It was the near disasters that we pulled ourselves out of that we relived in great detail. I told him how proud I was to have him on my team, focused like a machine, fighting for control, as we hit massive walls of water. We laughed over him scrambling not very elegantly to try to get back onto the raft in a quick “rest” stop of the Terminator section as the brutal second phase of the rapids loomed ahead.
Rafting the Futaleufú drilled home the idea that it can be the hard times we will face that can bring us closer if we let them. Our life together will inevitably be filled with calm waters, tumultuous waters, and everything in between. And by facing bumpy moments together, with focus, hard work and a sense of humor, hopefully one day we will be reminiscing as an elderly couple over a campfire about how wonderful our journey together has been.
Photos: Cathy Brown; Outdoor Patagonia