Time may be running out for adventurers who want to tackle Chile's Futaleufu River - a 100-mile cerulean stripe that roars out of the Andes across the top of Patagonia to the Pacific. The Caribbean blue water, lush old-growth forests, Andean glaciers, and a giant gray-green wave bears down on the boat.
The bow of our 18-foot canary yellow inflatable raft dips as the wave crashes over us, and I feel the icy water run down my arms and chest inside my waterproof jacket. (I forgot to close the neck again - damn!) The water roars like a thousand TVs with the cable out. I shiver and shake my head to clear my eyes. Next to me, Roger is doing the same. Behind me in the boat I can hear John shouting encouragement to the other five people in the boat, but another wave is staring down at us. The bow dips in its now familiar pattern, and I'm already ducking my head. For a second, I see only white froth before the boat explodes out over the wave, and then all I can see is sunlight.
"Come on, grab water," Eric yells from the rear of the boat. I'm jerked back to reality. No, this isn't the North Atlantic or some scene from The Perfect Storm. This is Chile's Futaleufu river, the world's premier white water, according to many. My four paddlemates and I are right in the middle of one of the wildest rapids we've faced, Casa de Piedra ("Stone House"). Eric Hertz, our river guide and president of Earth River Expeditions, is directing us around a rock the size of my garage. For some reason, at that moment I find myself taking perverse pleasure in the realization that I haven't checked my e-mail in six days. I can't even remember the last time I looked in a mirror. And I don't care. I lean out over the bow of our raft, laughing like some half-mad figurehead, and drive my paddle down into the silver froth. The current under the boat is pulling hard to the middle of the river, where a hole that could swallow a small car is waiting. "Back paddle!" Eric yells. And we do, like a well-oiled (but frantic) machine. Then we power ahead into a series of crashing waves. And then it's over - our last rapid.