Finally feeling comfortable, I sat unsuspecting in the center of the inflatable raft. As we squeezed up against yet another boulder, our raft folded into a ‘v’ and then immediately back to its normal flat self. Unaware of my vertical journey during the raft transformation, my new global coordinates became readily apparent as I found myself launched up into the air and straight into the chilly rapids.

It was exactly the type of thing I was trying to avoid. Sort of.

Unlikely Plans

You know that acquaintance that you perpetually have plans with? The co-worker who seems nice and that you keep meaning to grab coffee with? How about the friend of a friend who you talk to quarterly over e-mail but haven’t quite made the opportunity to solidify an actual meet up?

People in these situations orbit just outside friend circles but why don’t they generally make the last little jump?

The answer, I believe, is because of a lack of shared experiences. Friendship is built on many things but one of the most important ingredients is empathy. It is hard to connect with someone as a friend unless you are able to feel some of their feelings.

So how do you facilitate these shared experiences? Enter the Life List.

Adventure Coupons

When I was first starting the process of my Life List, one of the first things I did was tell my friends and co-workers about it. I was still new to the list lifestyle and wanted to get the perspective of others.

When I explained a Life List (a list of things to do or experience before a predefined deadline), most people were supportive and excited. From co-workers, in particular a friend named Adam, I got several dozen new items for my list.

Another co-worker took the contributions one step further. When I explained my idea to Scott, he was in the middle of his own life improvement project. Rather than merely suggest items for my list, he actually invited me to check one of my own list items off with him and his friends.

At that point, Scott and I were really just acquaintances. We got along fine at work but hadn’t spent any time together outside of work. Other than job related things what would we talk about?

Luckily, Scott’s invitation and my Life List forced my introverted self to explore doing things outside of my comfort zone. I had a Life List deadline and Scott had a Groupon voucher for white water river rafting. There was no alternative :-)

Go Time

A week later, I met Scott and his friends in a semi-remote town in Washington State. The whole crew went through some light rafting training, put on some ridiculous looking wetsuits and jumped in the inflatable river rafts.

Off we went.IMG_3991

At first the trip was relaxing. Washington is incredibly beautiful and everyone in the crew appreciated the unique vantage point of being in the middle of the slowly moving river.

I reached my hand into the water to gauge the temperature. This changed my focus for the rest of the trip. Like many rivers, this one was fed by a melting glacier. I am no thermostat but the water felt like it should still have been frozen to me! I double checked my wetsuit to make sure it had no chance of ditching me.

Right then came the moment we had all been anticipating. In the distance we heard the unmistakable sound of oncoming rapids. Looking up ahead we could see the white water that signaled a bumpy ride.

We all braced ourselves and prepared our paddles while awaiting instructions from our guide. Calling out the sides of the raft to hold and which to paddle, our instructor guided us through the first set of white water without an issue. The rocks had been small and the thrill really came from the unexpectedness of the bumps in the river rather than from the speed.

We were all warmed up and ready for more.

About a third of the way down the river we heard an elevated version of the familiar rapid warning sound. In front of us were several bus sized boulders and a vertical drop that was bigger than anything we had seen on the trip. For this one, we beached the raft and went on foot to scout the fall.

Even though the guides had run this route before, they knew from prior experience that they needed to double check it. Mother nature is a sneaky one and she loves throwing curve balls at those who get too confident. As the guides suspected, the main path was the same but the ending was slightly more difficult than usual. Our guide explained the path to us and we relaunched the raft.

IMG_3872As soon as we got within 20 feet of the big dip, two things happened.

First, we all got drenched. Waves toppled over the sides of the raft and water seemed to bounce out of nowhere directly into our faces.

Secondly, it got too loud to coherently follow the directions of our guide. We looked at him and did our best to follow his lead.

The feeling was magical. To our left was a massive whirl pool, to our right a six foot unstopping wave up against a condo sized rock. Everything was loud, wet and moving fast. I paddled with all of my strength and couldn’t get myself to stop smiling despite the amount of water it was letting into my face.

Then it came time for the drop. We saw it coming about three seconds before we hit it. It couldn’t have been more than five feet high but it felt like skydiving.

Weeee……… plop.

We bounced back after hitting the bottom and all gave a cheer.

IMG_3990Luckily, it wasn’t over yet.

We still had some medium sized rapids to navigate. Confident and excited we powered through them faster than before. As we came up against a now familiar ‘permanent wave’ that was up against a boulder, our raft folded like a ‘v’ due to the current behind us. Sitting in the middle, I experienced the full distance of vertical movement. Down into the ice water and up over the heads of my crew mates, I went airborne.

I am not proud of my initial reaction. First I laughed. Next I kinda just sat in the water completely confused.

I was out of distance of the raft but not in any immediate danger.

Then over the noise of the river, I heard the guide scream, “Swim idiot!”

He made a good point.

I made it back to the raft in record time.

The Important Part

This experience ended up being one of the most formative of all of my adventures. It was the first time I glimpsed the most important benefit of my Life List. While the river rafting itself was extremely fun, the really important benefit was a side effect of the event. This unlikely activity helped cement a friendship.

While the focus of my Life List is to complete very specific list items, the real benefit I get is the unplanned adventures that happen as a side effect of the planned events. Be it cementing a friendship with a co-worker or getting lost in a city that I otherwise would never even have heard of, the real pleasure of my list is experiencing the unknown.

It has taken me a long time to learn but now I finally understand that the best moments are not those that you can preplan on a list, instead they are the unplanned moments that interrupt the best laid plans. It seems to me that the best moments aren’t crafted with a pen, they are crafted with unexpected friendships.