By Amber Marra
That special time of year is rolling around when Wet Planet switches gears and invites some amazing guests to discover the waterways of the Columbia River Gorge.
This will be the fifth year that Wet Planet has partnered with First Descents, a non-profit organization on a mission to exhilarate and embolden cancer fighters and survivors via the challenge of conquering the great outdoors.
For two weeks in mid-June and one week in early July, the Wet Planet base will host 15 First Descents campers between the ages of 18 to 39. All have different stories and all have overcome seemingly insurmountable odds.
Thanks to fundraising efforts, young adults involved with First Descents can attend camps like the one at Wet Planet free of charge.
That means from the time campers start learning the basics of wet exits and T rescues to the time they begin mastering skills on the water, like getting in and out of eddies, it’s all free to them. Steve White, a Wet Planet kayak instructor and guide, will be plunging into his fourth First Descents summer soon. There are few things better than getting out on the water for young adults who have already been through so much, he says.
“They have that fighting spirit that’s necessary to get through treatment, then they get out there and it gives them an interesting and fun outlet for that same spirit where they have to have a lot of strength and endurance, and in this case it’s applying to something that’s exciting with people who have been through the same thing they have,” White said.
Aside from hammering out the basics of kayaking on the Klickitat River and spending a day rafting down the White Salmon River, First Descents campers tend to form bonds and camaraderie they cannot find anywhere else besides a place where they are surrounded by peers who have either fought cancer or are currently fighting for their lives.
Jaco Klinkenberg, who owns Wet Planet, noted that the rafting and kayaking portion of First Descents gives campers the sense of doing something they might have at one point thought to be impossible, but now view as an attainable challenge, especially with friends by their side.
She also said that participating in the First Descents experience can be just as fulfilling for her guides and instructors as it is for the campers themselves.
“A lot of our instructors live life to the fullest; they live life day by day, so to have the opportunity to make what they do mean something and change someone’s life is extremely rewarding for them and for many it becomes the highlight of the season,” Klinkenberg said.
That’s one of many reasons why White continues to participate in the First Descents camps every summer. He added that even though the cut-off age is typically 39 for First Descents groups, there will be some 40-year-olds in the mix as the organization decided to begin expanding its programs last summer.
Aside from the technical benefits the campers and instructors receive; it’s also a really awesome time for everyone involved.
“One thing this does is when they’re in remission and done with treatment it gives them chance to get out and be with other people and feel normal again,” White said. “Being with other cancer survivors and fighters makes them realize they’re not in this alone, that there are other people out there who are going through this too.”
Amber Marra is a reservation specialist living the dream at Wet Planet.