Of trips and water

7,032.2 miles in all.

Yesterday we returned home from our family’s twenty-one day road trip covering about a quarter of the United States. I have countless memories to savor.

And a box of mail to tackle.

And calls to make for appointments, and emails to return for work.

And a garden as demanding as a cranky one-year old who needs lunch and a nap pronto.

While I toss in my third load of dirty laundry—yikes! The swimsuits in that plastic bag are still damp from the hotel’s pool two nights ago—enjoy this story of a vacation we took in 2015.


My scrolling finger halted at her post.

The woman’s message of water rang out above the rest on the internet, because beauty is louder. I drank in the picture: a waterfall in North Minneapolis. Residents commented on the post; some had never before heard the news of the phenomenon in our neighborhood. And I had forgotten all about it.

I clipped a leash on our dog Lala, and she and I broke away from life to refresh my memory of the crashing water—too alive to only be locked up in a photo circulating Facebook—and strolled to Webber Park on a sixty-degree day in February.

At Shingle Creek Falls, water exploded in freedom over the rocky edge, and its mists passed the handrails, speckling my arms with droplets. A question—more fitting for an elementary school kid than a woman my age—formed in my mind: If I had to, could I navigate this waterfall in an inner tube or raft and live to tell the story?

The question washed me back into my wetsuit and helmet, back to our family rafting trip in Québec in 2015. We had chosen the stimulating Class 4-5 rapids excursion at the Expedition Nouvelle Vague. Even so, our guide, a college-age California surfer type with a French accent, pulled us over to the riverbank at different points on our watery adventure to offer exciting swimming opportunities.

“And why would we want to do that?” I whispered to Husband.

He shrugged. “For fun?”

“When I say ‘go’, dive in and swim upstream toward that rock,” said the guide, pointing to a stone column in the distance. “Then, when I blow the whistle, flip onto your back and put your feet up like this.” He dropped to the ground and put himself into La-Z-Boy recliner position. “And ride the rapids down to that quiet part. Okay?” He jumped back onto his feet. “Who’s first?”

One of my eyes twitched as I watched my three ducklings—wide-eyed and silent—line up on a broad, flat rock on the river’s edge. My stomach did a flip. If I lacked confidence, would I survive the stunt? The guide wouldn’t let me drown, would he? And if my children witnessed my death today, would they ever swim or travel again?

One by one, my ducklings jumped off the rock, swam upstream until the guide blasted his whistle, then obediently pivoted and rode the rapids down into the still patch of river—exactly as instructed. They swam to the side and hopped out of the water.

“Wanna go next?” Husband said to me.

“Not really.” My heart thrashed like the waters around me.

Husband dove in, not swimming as far upstream as the girls had, swiveled at the whistle, and the rapids carried him beyond the girls’ stopping point. If he drifted much farther, would he hit the portion of the river called The Meat Grinder? The guide paddled to him in a kayak and towed Husband back to shore.

The guide sauntered over to me. “Ready?” 

“I don’t think so.” The hammer in my chest nearly pounded a hole through my ribcage.

“C’mon,” he said, all surfer charm. “You’ll love it.”

Did I want to be the adventurous mom, game to try anything with the family? If so, it was now or never. Now or never! I jumped.

The girls had made resurfacing look so easy. I swam hard, fighting for the rock, but it was much farther upstream than I had hoped. FWEET! Was that the whistle already? I rolled onto my back, popped my feet up as instructed, sucked some water, and choked through the churning rapids. Panic clawed its way up my throat. The lashing waves finally spewed me out into the calm, but I flapped around like a baby in a kiddie pool anyway, gasping for air.

“Here,” said the guide, his expression as serene as the water around us. How had he rowed over to me so fast? “Grab on.”

I flopped an arm over the end of his kayak and gagged all the way to the riverbank. Husband and the ducklings shot me pity looks as I dragged myself back onto dry land.

The next out-of-raft diversion was a twenty-foot cliff jump into the Jacques-Cartier River.

“Are you ready?” The guide smiled at me.

“No,” I said, still shaking from the swim.

Husband and the girls scaled the rocky climb, pointed for the top of the cliff.

“Aw, c’mon. Chance in a lifetime,” said the guide.

“This is a hard pass this time,” I said, my open palm patting the air. “A definite ‘no’.”

I had survived my adventurous mom duties minus any spinal cord injuries—or even scrapes. I reclined on a rock and basked in the sun as everyone else plunged into the river.


Lala tugged me back to the secret waterfall of North Minneapolis. Like the river in Québec, this water was a far cry from the staid stream coming daily from my kitchen faucet. This water was an awe-inspiring thing, and I could appreciate its savage beauty from a distance.

No wetsuit required.


*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.