Churning Water and Environmental Understanding: A.C.E. ECO Club Goes Whitewater Rafting

Smiles before miles on the river: A.C.E. Operations Analyst and ECO Club manager Ben Kantner, right, stands with Mohammad and Abdulrahman.

Smiles before miles on the river: A.C.E. Operations Analyst and ECO Club manager Ben Kantner, right, stands with Mohammad and Abdulrahman.

In Seattle, May is a season of abundant spring rains and fleeting glimpses of summer sun.  The forests around Puget Sound unveil a lush green, punctuated by the rushing whitewater of rivers ferrying freshly melted snow to the lowlands.  Similar natural events are taking place east of the Cascade Mountains, but with a healthy dose of sun.  So last month A.C.E.’s ECO Club left urban Seattle and headed past the Cascades, about two hours east as the Subaru drives, giving A.C.E. at SPU students the opportunity to enjoy a whitewater rafting adventure during this prime season.

Paddles above your head is the only way when the big ones crash.

Paddles above your head is the only way when the big ones crash.

As they journeyed through mountain passes and evergreen forests to the Wenatchee River, the landscape changed from wet forest to dry rangeland.  Along the way they discussed the potential impact of Climate Change on the lands they were seeing: Climate Change was a new concept to a couple students.  However, they quickly understood as high-level science was made tangible through experiential learning—the connection was the water.  All around, the relationship between snowpack, the rivers, and the orchards of the Wenatchee Valley illustrated the effect rising global temperatures would have on our food supply.

But for now there is plenty of cold, fresh water in the rivers, enough for the irrigation of crops and the enjoyment of ECO Club!  As they boarded their raft, students Mohammad Alsabhan and Abdulrahman Alsaigh seemed nervous.  This was, after all, their first time riding a rollercoaster of rapids!  Despite beginning the day as rafting rookies, they soon embraced the churning water and mastered synchronized paddle strokes.  Above the waters, wildlife abounded around us as Mud Swallows flitted in search of food and Ospreys prowled overhead.  Both Mohammad and Abdulrahman also enjoyed an opportunity to swim in the river during a calm section—the water temperature was very low, confirmed by their high-pitched exclamations of happy but cold excitement.  As they approached the final sections of rapids, Mohammad and Abdulrahman sat at the front of the boat, leading the rhythm of our paddles and cheering as our raft dipped and dived through the foaming whitewater.

Thumbs up from the newly expert paddlers.

Newly expert paddlers, thumbs up.

Later that day, back on dry ground, the group reflected on the day’s experiences.  From the western barbeque Mohammad and Abdulrahman ate for lunch to views of the mountains surrounding the valley, both agreed that they had never experienced anything like this adventure and hoped to return to this river again.  Mohammad also remarked on the difference between the freshwater he swam in during the rafting trip as compared to the abundant saltwater surrounding his homeland of Saudi Arabia.  The students’ perspective of America had even grown, explaining that the scenery of central Washington looked like the America they had imagined prior to arriving in Seattle.   At one point earlier that day, Mohammad had exclaimed, “Now I feel like I’m in America!”  Altogether the day perfectly embodied the mission of ECO Club: engaging students and the outdoors—the crystallization of education, fun, and community through the sharing of culture.

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