Zero Regrets: The Power of the Countdown

4 Min. Read

Paddle boat water slide Gates of Lodore rafting trip

3-2-1, Go! Why Jumping into Adventure Headfirst is Good For Our Souls

At 8 years old, Josie said to me with grave sincerity, “If you do a countdown, then I have to do it.” She stood at the top of a boat slide, a makeshift slip and slide made of one upturned paddle raft, two guides down below throwing buckets of water, plus one brave soul whose job it is to hurl themselves headfirst down the boat towards the eddy below. Josie was that brave soul. Eyes closed, little fists clenched, she inhaled and said with steel, “do it.” We shouted, “THREE! TWO! ONE!” and she leapt.

Josie leaned into her fears a myriad of times that trip down Idaho’s Main Salmon River. Whenever she found herself staring down a fear she’d utter through gritted teeth, “do it” and then we’d shout out a countdown. The look of elation on her face upon successful completion of the challenge at hand never got tiresome.

Three years later I still remember the solemn vow she had internalized so wholly.

I have to confess that I myself am a weenie when it comes to cold water. The countdown vow has proved useful to me when I waffle on the scorching shore staring longingly at the cool, refreshing river water in front of me, knowing I’ll be so much happier as soon as I’ve cooled off, but still struggling to commit.

Rogue River rock jump

More recently, on a Wild and Scenic Rogue River rafting trip in western Oregon, my friends and I traded numerous countdowns. The one time I almost didn’t follow through on a countdown, Eric yelled through squealing laughter, “Respect the countdown!” I unceremoniously toppled off my partially submerged rock diving board, wanting to stay dry, but torn by the immense power of getting to the final number.

Our sunny days on the Rogue turned cool and drizzly by our fourth. We traded countdowns to cooling swims for the building up of warm layers. I was bundled in fleece pants underneath my dry pants when we arrived at the base of a natural water slide. Up a wooded and moss-laden, boulder garden side creek lay a deep crystal clear swimming hole. Feeding the pool was a waterfall that cascaded down a smooth divot in the rock face for 15 feet before dropping three more feet into the deep pool below. That divot was just wide enough for a human body. I’d been dreaming of this natural water slide for three sunny, hot, cloudless days. Yet here I was, shivering.

We stood below this majestic natural amusement park, cold and curious. There was a heavy pause as we stared, a slight tension as we silently vacillated. “Are we doing this?” I asked trepidatiously, feeling an intense pull to capitalize on this moment that might not come again, but also secretly hoping we would just decide it was too cold and somehow walk away regret-free. 

“I’ll do it if you do,” Eric said.  I inhaled sharply and steeled myself. “I’m gonna need a serious countdown for this,” I thought to myself as I shivered my way out of my fleece layers. 

Just as we were buckling our PFDs over our bare skin it started to drizzle. “The rain is right on cue” Riely said with a smile. We took the long way around the cliff to stay dry. It rained harder. We all had goosebumps. 

I don’t even remember who counted down for me, all I remember is that my muscles were shivering and my heart was racing, and my breath was stuck somewhere between “What the heck are we doing?!” and “Heck yes! How cool is this?!” I sat down in the icy creek water with a shrill exhalation and eyes squeezed shut.

Shortly after the “THREE! TWO! ONE!” I heard my own scream instantly lose all volume as I splashed into the pool below. My shriek-filled exit of the pool was littered with gasping laughter. The three of us stood dripping and frozen on a boulder at the base of the falls, and all I could say through my elation was, “Again?”

I have zero regrets from that day.

If Josie taught me anything, it’s that the things we have reservations about doing are often also the things that will fill us with the most joy, catharsis, elation and contentment. So go ahead, say yes to adventure! And if you need a little encouragement, don’t be afraid to ask for a countdown.

Photos: Paddle boat water slide – Josh Spradlin; Rogue River rock jump – Ashley Sozzi; Tate Creek water slide on the Rogue River – James Kaiser

Portrait of Jasmine Wilheim on the river

Jasmine Wilhelm

Jasmine Wilhelm is a high school English teacher, photographer, and river guide. An Idaho native, she spends her summers guiding for OARS Dories Idaho and feels blessed to guide on the rivers she learned to boat on.

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