Baby steps: Mom, me, and a splash of whitewater

April 26, 2016                 4m read time
Andrea Joseph

Andi's land-loving mom agrees to whitewater rafting... And so the mother-daughter adventure begins. 

Driving over bridges has always made my mom nervous. I’m not sure where her fear of water comes from, but she’s had it as long as I can remember. She’s never been a fan of the ocean, rivers, lakes—especially if the water is rough.

So when I conquered a class IV river rafting trip a few years ago and told my mom and sister how amazing it was, it didn’t surprise me when my police sergeant sister immediately wanted to go. However, I was shocked when Mom declared: “Sounds like fun!”

Mom and me Andi Joseph

Mom and me

Andi Joseph


Did I hear that correctly? This is the woman who has a white-knuckled death grip on the armrest if the road is wet or we’re driving through a puddle.

But yes, she’d said it—and she wanted to try it.

I tried to talk her into a class II or III adventure, but she didn’t think she could do it. The three of us settled on a river float day trip, which does have some class II rapids, but the guide will do all the work for participants who’d rather cling frantically to the sides of the raft.

A raft floating on a calm river Ken Lund

A raft floating on a calm river

Ken Lund


After I booked the trip online with All-Outdoors California Whitewater Rafting, a staffer reached out to make sure I’d booked the correct trip, since they had record of me from my previous experience. As I explained the situation to the woman who called to confirm the reservation, I could hear the “Ah, I get it” in her voice.

Having hit class IV rapids a few months prior, I honestly felt this trip would be a bore. I just kept reminding myself it wasn’t for my sister or me. This trip was for Mom, to get her out of her comfort zone and maybe—just maybe—build a little confidence.

On the road to Sacramento Lisa Ouellette

On the road to Sacramento

Lisa Ouellette


We headed to Sacramento the evening before, so that we’d wake refreshed and ready for the trip. There were some nerves on her part, but I just kept reassuring her it was going to be an awesome adventure.

The next morning, as Mom put on a baseball cap and pulled her long ponytail through the back, I asked if she was excited for the day ahead. She said yes, but she really wanted to get out there and just get that initial anxiousness out of the way.

Whitewater raft beside a river All-Outdoors California Whitewater Rafting

Whitewater raft beside a river

All-Outdoors California Whitewater Rafting


Driving along the Sacramento River en route to the meetup area, I noticed Mom from the corner of my eye as she shifted nervously in the passenger seat and began to bite her nails. She was clearly scared, but wasn’t turning back. She was facing her fear head on—and I was so proud of her.

We met our guide for the day: a young man I could tell was used to being out on the water and in the sunshine from his golden skin and relaxed tone. His mellow “California” vibe was exactly what I was hoping for. My mom is reserved and shy, and had our guide been like mine from the time before—loud and wild and gung-ho—I think Mom would have been even more uncomfortable.

Mom facing the rapids Andi Joseph

Mom facing the rapids

Andi Joseph


He walked us through guidelines, we signed paperwork and then selected life jackets. As the three of us climbed in the raft tied to the side of the slow-moving river, Mom was smiling on the outside—but I imagined her heart pounding inside.

The guide pushed us off and we were on our way.

Mom getting splashed Andi Joseph

Mom getting splashed

Andi Joseph


Initially, the smoothness of the river was calming, and the three of us sat admiring the views as the guide gently steered us downriver. We joked and snapped photos, but as the swiftness picked up slightly, my sister and I grabbed oars and assisted in maneuvering the raft around rocks.

We hit the midway point of the trip and steered to a small inlet to break for lunch. At this point, Mom’s confidence was building. As we climbed back into the raft, the guide let us know this final stretch was going to be a little rougher than the initial section.

Mom listened intently, then picked up an oar.

Mom paddling—and fighting her fears Andi Joseph

Mom paddling—and fighting her fears

Andi Joseph


We hit some rough patches—as rough as class II can be—and my mom attacked them with gusto. She was splashed repeatedly as we maneuvered around rocks, smiling and laughing the entire time. I was sure to keep my camera in hand to snap photos of this potentially once-in-a-lifetime occurrence: Not only was my mom whitewater rafting on the Sacramento River, she was embracing the thrill and even using an oar to help propel us through it.

The woman who has always told me that I can do anything—ANYTHING—was realizing that it applies to her, too.

Though we have not returned to the river since, watching my mom face the one fear that could bring her to tears, that could cripple her with anxiety—and to do it with excitement and laughter—really was a beautiful experience.

Andrea Joseph

Andrea "Andi" Joseph is an animal lover who is owned by both a dog and a cat. After almost two decades in journalism, she switched careers and now shares stories from her former newspaper life on her blog, Off The Record.

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