The water violently smacked into the boat, lifting it, cradling the raft for a few seconds in the crisp mountain air.

Then Boom!

Back into the ferocious rushing water, the rubber raft pirouetting and bouncing between two menacing boulders.

Every roller coaster plunge created an explosive spray of water—and my breathing sigh of relief. I was  alive, braving the capricious Cetina River rapids in southern Croatia, and still feverishly rowing, hoping to avoid colliding with those massive rocks.

“3, 2, 1…Row, keep rowing…Bombaa,” yelled the raft’s skipper Josip Matijevic, the experienced, seemingly unflappable white water guide.

His forceful commands emphasized one ominous, but still exhilarating fact—me and my rafting partners in this small boat were facing lightning fast waters along with merciless, submerged rocks, and every move with our oars  had to be remarkably precise.   Or else!

So I banished those thoughts from my mind, focusing on the challenges that lie ahead, forgetting the fears I had obsessed about the night before this adventure.

“Row…row…faster…faster, get to the left, the left…3, 2, 1..Bombaa,” the tanned, very confident-sounding Matijević demanded each time we approached a dip in the rapids. Then there would be a predictable “Boom” once we descended a wall of waves and foam, and each time my heart sped up. But always calm, Mateijevic never flinched.

I always did.

My life seemingly resting in his hands and keen “river sense,” I tried to completely  forget my nervousness, about this adventure. To trust his instructions. That was difficult.         While he had diligently prepared us for the demanding 10 kilometer river passages—one of the most challenging in Croatia—I was still intimidated by the Cetina’s roar. I had heard it numerous times walking alongside it, but actually “riding” these waves, feeling its’ force, the churning power that generated loud “Craaaacks” was a whole different, exacting experience.

And also a supremely exciting one.

As Matijević barked, “Go left…go right…watch out, here comes another falls,” invariably another avalanche of chilling spray crashed over me. Always passing only a few feet from giant rocks, I sensed how fickle the Cetina was—calm one moment, a time to appreciate all the natural beauty, then moments later recognizing there was imminent peril. That if we merely brushed into a boulder it would mean tumbling over and over into the water.

I still managed to calm my fears, to enjoy the unique thrill of confronting the rolling waves. It gave me a sense of power, a feeling of being very alive. I was no longer stressed by the everyday world. I was free.

Interrupting my brief moment of thinking about myself, and how I was meeting the Cetina’s constant challenges, Matijevic yelled, “We are going to the cave,  there is very freshwater, only 7 degrees, don’t go there if your body is not ready for temperature shock.”

Successes, not insecurities, now further emboldening me, I jumped into the water, allowing the icy whirlpools to excite every pore of my body. Hardly feeling the cold, the sensation of being totally chilled, I spun around and around, playing like a child. It was total bliss!

We finally had to leave this grotto, and while feeling energized, my “survival” was still in doubt. Could I summon enough nerve to climb to the top of a 10 m high cliff, and then jump into the water? After taking so many lashes from the waves, and quelling all my previous worries, did I have enough adrenaline—and self-confidence—to take one last plunge?

One of my rafting companions hurried up the cliff, and without a moment’s hesitation, she jumped. So I quickly followed. Once airborne, time stood still for a few glorious seconds, and when I surfaced, I thankfully realized my body was still intact.

Content, I frolicked in the water, and heard the woman pleading, “Can we please do this again, please, just one more jump before we finish? Just one more  jump.”

I could only smile. I knew she had overcome her own self-doubts, and was now feeling jubilant exactly like me. That we had both turned our initial anxieties into a sort of  freedom-loving awakening. We mastered the Cetina, and were more than ready to return here. We were now looking forward to taking other risks—life’s “leaps of faith.