Running a rapid is like dancing with a psychotic partner; all proceeds smoothly until you step out of line, and then you are slapped, throttled, and otherwise rudely mistreated. In the case of Lava Falls, the partner is trebly psychotic, the drubbing proportionately severe. Rafts flip. They wrap around rocks. And you go for a memorable swim.

Lava arrived on the second to last day of our trip. A half-mile away, the river was nearly still, as if holding its breath. Then we heard the sound, like the thunder of horses. From the bow of Okie's boat, I peered ahead. Over the passing days I had noticed how, from upstream, the bigger rapids looked like the splashing of children at play. These children were also blowing mist.

We pulled ashore just upstream to scout Lava, hiking up a short trail. Sweat was funneling into bodily crannies I didn't know existed. I noticed with detached interest that I still had my life preserver on.

We crowded together at the edge of the small overlook and looked down.

Viewed from above, Lava looks like one of those whitewater boils that precede the surfacing of some monstrous sea creature. There were badly placed rocks, too, and enormous waves that rose and crashed, followed immediately by more enormous waves that did the same; a train wreck that never ended. The guides studied the rapid and spoke quietly to each other.

Okie turned on his heels.

"My boat, we're going."

Lava Falls is a short rapid. I have little recollection of the run. Okie followed a slick tongue of water that moved dreamily toward the ledge. The oar locks creaked as he applied pressure, then the boat lurched and bounded and everything disappeared. Water enveloped us; not cold, not violent, only heavy and pressing away the world.

And then it was gone and we were through, and Okie had yanked us into a small notch of eddy against the shore; everyone was talking at once.