Whitewater Rafting: Escaping Death on the Raging Rivers of Norway

whitewater rafting norway voss sunita bendale


Have I ever told you about the time I almost died in Norway? Legitimately, I almost died! I booked a whitewater rafting tour in Voss, Norway, and it was one of the activities I was most looking forward to. I had gone whitewater rafting before in Banff, Canada and absolutely loved it. I was excited.

Excuse Me, We Are Doing WHAT?!

We met up at the location and the guides were going over all the gear we would need and explaining the process. Yup, all familiar things. But then my heart stopped when the guide said, “and then we are going to do a swim test.”

…What?! Swim test?! Where? This was Norway and I imagine the water would be freezing cold. Was there a separate little (indoor) pool where we would be doing this swim test?

I can swim, but I will be the first to tell you that I am NOT a good swimmer. Not even a decent swimmer. And I certainly can’t tread water. I have absolutely no buoyancy – I sink like a rock. I can survive for a few minutes at best. So, naturally, when the guide announced the swim test, my anxiety started to build.

But we got dressed, gathered our gear, and headed straight for the rafts. Oh good, I thought, they were just kidding about the swim test!

whitewater rafting voss norway sunita bendale
Whitewater rafting in Voss, Norway


We hopped into our rafts and set out on the river. The first few were grade three rapids, and we had a blast navigating through the raging waters. Then, about ten minutes into our adventure, the guide directs us to paddle toward the side and pull our raft up on the embankment. Okay, this is weird, I wonder what’s going on. The next few words out of the guide’s mouth made my heart sink… again…

“This is where we will be doing our swim test.”


You have got to be kidding me! The moment those words left his lips, everything inside of me turned into sheer panic. We were in the middle of WHITEWATER (a slightly calmer section of it, but still)! Are they crazy?! I can barely swim in a swimming pool! (Side note: I guess I’m the crazy one for knowing the risk of flipping a raft, not being able to swim well, and still booking a whitewater rafting tour.) In retrospect, the test was a reasonable request, but definitely not one that I was prepared for!

And then the guide said, “this is what you guys will be doing – watch me.” I watched in terror as the guide floated on his back, feet first, and headed straight for a rough little section of whitewater. Once the whitewater engulfed him, he popped his head up and swam like hell perpendicular toward solid ground, and made his way up onto a rock. And then he says, “okay, line up!”

Line up?! Ummm. At this point I was 95% sure I was not going to be able to do this successfully. They had two rafts situated about 50 and 100 feet downstream, which made me feel better, because I knew if I wasn’t able to complete it, at least there were rescue rafts down the line.

Okay, I Guess I’m Doing This

Knowing I was nervous, one of the group members asked if I preferred to go before or after him. I said I would go first, and begged him to help me if he saw me struggling. It was a plan. So there I was, floating on my back down the river (at least we had life jackets!). As I drew closer to the whitewater, I became laser focused on completing the task. :: Deep breath :: Here we go. I was now submerged and the whitewater washed violently over me. Literally the second I popped my head up out of it, I focused all of my energy to “swim swim swim!!” I looked for the home base rock, but didn’t see it. So I looked downstream for the rescue rafts and I didn’t see them either.

Shit! Where am I?!

Well, This Is Less Than Ideal

I then turned my head to look upstream, only to discover that the current had shot me way past both of the rescue rafts. The strong current, combined with my slight frame and weak swimming abilities, propelled me incredibly downstream. I was struggling, trying desperately to make it to solid ground. Even better yet, I looked downstream again and was getting dangerously close to a second, more vigorous patch of whitewater. Immediately I thought “wow, I’m done. If I go down that second set of rapids, there is no way the rescue rafts are going to be able to catch up to me!” So there I was, literally swimming for my life…

“Like A Wet Little Puppy”

I channeled all of my energy into swimming perpendicular to the current. Simultaneously, I saw a rescue raft paddling towards me out of the corner of my eye. A sweet breeze of relief passed over me as I finally felt the current getting less intense near solid ground. Around the same time, the man that completed the swim test after me looked around and realized I was nowhere to be seen on the rocks. “Oh no,” he thought, as he frantically scanned the whitewater for signs of a struggle. He then looked downstream and, as he tells and pantomimes it, “I saw the guide grab Sunny by the collar and pull her into the raft like a wet little puppy!” ? (Sunny is my nickname.) To this day, I laugh every time I think of his hilarious account of the event!


What a relief it was to be pulled to safety! In those few seconds, I literally knew I was going to die if I went down that second set of whitewater rapids. Thankfully I was able to dodge that bullet. I definitely thought I wouldn’t be able to continue on with the activity, since I clearly failed the swim test. To my surprise, the guide gave me the green light to continue on because I stayed calm and focused on making it to safety. Normally a raft holds six people and a guide in the back. Our raft held six people, and the guide had me sit all the way in the back with him as a seventh rider; he kept me in his “office” so he could keep an eye on me! ?

whitewater rafting voss norway sunita bendale
Entering whitewater
whitewater rafting voss norway sunita bendale

Splish Splash, I Was Takin’ A Bath

We had a blast over the next half hour over a ton of grade four rapids. Thankfully the rest of the tour went on without a hitch — at least for us! One of the rafts on the other hand… not so lucky! They capsized and flipped while steering through one of the biggest rapids. Thankfully everyone in that raft was a strong swimmer, and it ended up being more of a laughing matter than a serious one. Despite almost dying on that river, it was a fun adventure and I ended up having a wonderful time!

whitewater rafting voss norway sunita bendale flipped raft
Uh oh! Capsized raft
whitewater rafting flipped raft voss norway sunita bendale
Swimming in the rapids . Flipped raft
whitewater rafting voss norway sunita bendale
Laughing at the flipped raft once we realized they were all okay ?

Happy Travels!!

If you enjoyed reading this blog, you might also enjoy reading about the time I Hiked the Inca Trail To Machu Picchu With a Torn Hamstring!

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Hello! My name is Sunita Bendale and I have been an avid solo traveler for the past twelve years. I grew up with the values of a traditional Indian family, and lived a very sheltered life. After becoming a registered nurse, I made the very difficult decision to challenge my cultural and familial norms, and moved clear across the country to sunny California.

Best . Decision . Of . My . Life!

I didn't know anyone within a several thousand mile radius; my friends and family were back home in New Jersey, but I was not going to let that minor inconvenience deter me. My adventure had just begun, was absolutely thrilling, and I welcomed the challenge to create a new life for myself.

With an innate passion for dance, I quickly found myself immersed in the Los Angeles Argentine Tango dance scene. I was a young woman with big dreams and stars in my eyes. One day, on a whim, I decided that I wanted to see the world and dance in Paris. It was a spontaneous last-minute trip, booked only for four days, but I was determined to see and experience as much as I could. I spent those days running up the steps of the Eiffel Tower, taking in the views during the day and night, wandering through the Louvre, staring straight into the eyes of the Mona Lisa, stuffing my face with the most exquisite macarons and every delicious pastry you could imagine, making friends with the taxi cab driver that drove me all over the city, catching the 1am last sparkle of the Eiffel Tower, and dancing the nights away. I didn't sleep. I wanted to soak it all in. The experience was immensely liberating, and jump-started my obsession with travel.

Since that glorious trip, I have made it my life's goal to dance all over the world. It is wildly invigorating walking onto a dance floor in a foreign place, not knowing a single soul or speaking the language, yet being able to dance flawlessly with any random person in the room. To be able to detect the slightest, most subtle shift in weight and move perfectly in unison without so much as breathing a single word - it's enthralling.

Every successive trip since then has fueled my addiction. For the past several years, I have been working as a Nurse Anesthetist, which has been fulfilling in so many different ways. Not only do I absolutely love my career, it also affords me the financial independence and flexibility in scheduling to pick up at a moment's notice and travel the world. 

Many people find the thought of traveling alone a daunting experience, especially as a solo female. However, I am here to share my experiences and safety tips, and assure you that it is not only possible, but can be very cathartic. My goal is to empower women (and all travelers) by providing them with tools and resources that will bolster the confidence to travel solo.
I'm just a girl dancing through life, and enjoying every step along the way.

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