“You were made for The River . . .”
Gabriel Clarke is mysteriously drawn to The River, a ribbon of frothy white water carving its way through steep canyons high in the Colorado Rockies. The rushing waters beckon him to experience freedom and adventure.
But something holds him back—the memory of the terrible event he witnessed on The River when he was just five years old—something no child should ever see.
Chains of fear and resentment imprison Gabriel, keeping him from discovering the treasures of The River. He remains trapped, afraid to take hold of the life awaiting him.
When he returns to The River after years away, his heart knows he is finally home. His destiny is within reach. Claiming that destiny will be the hardest—and bravest—thing he has ever done.
About the Author
Michael Neale is a best-selling author and Dove Award-winning songwriter. His songs have been recorded by artists such as Michael W. Smith, Natalie Grant, Rebecca St. James, and Todd Agnew. Michael leads worship and teaches at conferences nationwide. In between travels, he serves as a worship leader at Christ Fellowship Church in Palm Beach Gardens, FL, where he lives with his wife, Leah, and their children, Micah, Maisie, and Wyatt.
Read an Excerpt
By Michael Neale
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2012 Michael Neale
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Big Hike
On a cool September Sunday, John Clarke woke up at daybreak wanting to get out of the house and enjoy the outdoors. Being a single father, and not having arranged care for his son, Gabriel, that day, he'd decided to take the little guy on a hike into the Firewater gorge at The River.
"Dad! Slow down!" shouted the five-year-old boy in a husky yet high-pitched voice.
"Not too much farther, buddy, and then we'll take a break," replied his father. "You're gonna love the view when we get there! Papaw took me here when I was your age, and I never forgot it."
Running out of breath in this flatter section of the trail, but still determined, John kept moving. Their final destination was a rarely visited scenic overlook of Splash Canyon from high above Whitefire River. His backpack—filled with trail mix, homemade beef jerky, water, first-aid gear, and raincoats—must have weighed twenty pounds.
"Dad! Put me up high!" John stopped to wait for Gabriel to catch up, and then with one strong motion he hoisted the boy onto his shoulders for the rest of the hike. They continued on to the top, father and son united in their love for the raw outdoors.
That's where he felt at home. John knew his way around nature better than he knew his own house. "If I could, I'd live outdoors constantly," he'd tell friends from time to time. At five feet, eleven inches and 189 pounds, John was a rugged thirty-two-year-old, built solid and muscular. He was strong as an ox from his years of rock climbing and running The River. Crow's-feet were starting to appear outside his blue-gray eyes. With sandy blond hair in a shag cut and a swagger to boot, he was a man of few words with wisdom beyond his years.
The Clarke family was a cornerstone of Corley Falls, Colorado. John's grandfather and father had all but built the entire town on the back of their inn and whitewater adventure camp. John, carrying on the tradition, had assumed the day-to-day operations, which included training the whitewater guides. For nearly thirty-six springs and summers, Big Water Adventure Camp had given rafters and expeditionists an experience they would never forget on the Whitefire River. John Clarke repeated his father's words often: "We Clarkes, we were made for The River."
The summer rafting season was over. Only a few seasoned kayakers would run The River during this time, so John had a few days off between guided hiking tours and teaching at the Whitewater Guide School his father had started. They'd had an unusual amount of rain that week, so The River was running particularly high.
The canyon and surrounding forest were breathtaking, especially in the early morning hours. The misty fog lifted slowly, leading to a sensation like they were walking in the clouds. Birds chirped in a polyrhythmic symphony, and one could smell the spruce, fir, and pine trees with arresting potency. Chipmunks scampered about as if playing hide-and-seek while making their final sweep of the forest floor for nuts before winter. All manner of wildlife could make an appearance at any given time, including bears, wolves, and deer, creating a truly wild and magical place.
"How far are we going, Dad?"
"About a couple more football fields," his father replied. John tried to talk about distances in terms his son could picture.
Like a miniature version of his father, Gabriel was a stocky kid with a round face. His straight blond hair swung back and forth when he walked, but he usually ran everywhere he went. He had eyelashes for days, and his sky-blue eyes arrested the ladies wherever his father took him. Of course, his dad liked that.
Gabriel was smart, full of questions, and not averse to mischief. His questions would come out of nowhere and often send his father to the floor laughing or make him scratch his head in wonder.
On this morning hike, however, Gabriel's questions were more poignant.
"When am I gonna see Mommy again? Sammy overton said maybe she's mad.
"Jackson Wilbur said mommies are important because you need to have a mommy to be borned. Can we go see Mommy today?"
John was taken aback by the randomness of the questions, which broke his heart. He knew it would be at least Thanksgiving before Gabriel got to see his mother.
Without slowing down, John continued up the rugged path. "Well, buddy, you're gonna get to see your momma real soon. She's not mad at you, Gabe. Don't ever think that. She just lives quite a ways away, so it's hard for her to get here. Hey, look at those chipmunks!"
John knew he was trying to change the subject, and his heart was heavy. The sadness would come over him in waves sometimes. How he wished they were still together! The feelings of despondency would get overwhelming. Usually he'd just distract himself with more work.
John unloaded Gabriel from his shoulders carefully. "Shhhh. Don't scare 'em off." Before John could get the backpack off, the boy was ransacking it for some peanuts. He took a few out of a bag and made his way slowly toward the pair of chipmunks. Without fear, Gabriel held out his hand with a few shelled peanuts resting on his fingertips. The chipmunks cautiously approached with quick twitches, looking from side to side. They seemed to be trying to get away with something.
"Hold your hand steady," John counseled.
Taking their time, the two chipmunks each grabbed a couple of peanuts and scampered back to the tree.
"Did you see that, Dad?"
"Sure did. You made some new friends. You should name 'em." John zipped up his backpack and loaded it back onto his shoulders. "You ready to go to the top?"
Picking up a stick almost too heavy to hold, Gabriel lifted it like a sword and with the fiercest war cry he could muster, called out, "Let's go!"
John loaded him back onto his shoulders, and they resumed their trek to the overlook. For about fifty yards all they could hear was the sound of John's boots colliding with the trail. The fog was beginning to lift a bit. Gabriel leaned down over his father's face and said, "Nuts and Pea."
"What?" John held a bewildered grin on his face.
"That's their names. Nuts and Pea. 'Cause they like peanuts. Get it? Pea ... nuts ... Nuts and Pea!"
John had a good laugh. "That one is going in the book," he said, referring to the journal where he kept a record of milestones, quotes, and stories from his journeys with Gabriel. With the boy's hands resting on his father's head in complete contentment, they moved on.
By now they could hear the roar of The River. The water rushing over the riverbed sounded like a relentless windstorm—exhilarating, frightening, and calming all at the same time. John turned on a rough path that wound away from The River and toward densely treed forest.
"The River is that way, Dad." Gabriel was pointing to his left and behind him. "Why are we going away from The River?"
"Don't lean backward. You're making it harder than it is." The father paused. "Just wait, buddy. A couple more minutes and you'll see."
The River made a hard right turn, and around the corner cliffs jutted out, creating the region's most spectacular waterfall in Firewater Canyon. They could almost feel The River moving the ground. The air was misty with the spray.
They came through the final patch of trees, and as the path curled to their left, it was as if a curtain lifted, showing the stage for the first time.
"Wow! Awesome! Look at that, Dad!"
"I know. Isn't that amazing, bud?" He took Gabriel off his shoulders and then walked over to a tree about ten feet from a jagged slope that overlooked the edge of The River. "You see this tree, buddy?" John placed his hand on the bark. "You don't go past this tree. It's very dangerous, and Daddy doesn't want you to fall into The River. Got that?"
Distracted and looking down the canyon, Gabriel nodded.
With his hand on top of Gabriel's head, John turned him like a puppet so he had to look him in the eye.
Directly across the gorge, the canyon walls rose sharply. They were covered with picturesque reddish rock and hundreds of spruce, fir, and pine trees pointing straight to the sky like giant pencils. Rocks had fallen off the sides of the canyon over thousands of years to create mini-mountains in The River's flow.
Thousands of gallons of water pounded the gorge every minute, falling three stories before hitting the first level of rock pile. The water continued cascading three more levels, each about ten feet in height. At the bottom of the falls, the water splashed back up in a massive circular motion due to a large hole in the riverbed. The effect was like a giant washing machine—a suckhole is what the guides at Big Water Adventure Camp called it.
John took off his backpack and grabbed a couple of water bottles. "Here, buddy. Drink some water to stay hydrated. It's pretty dry at these altitudes, and your body needs lots of fluids."
They both sat down on a log, where John unpacked some homemade jerky.
Gabriel was gnawing on a piece when he suddenly announced that he wanted to go into the water.
John chuckled. "You'd freeze, bud! That water is ice cold."
"But it looks fun!"
"It's fun, all right, but not when it's this cold and not in falls that big. Maybe downstream, where it's calm, I'll let you put your feet in. Maybe I'll teach you how to skip rocks."
John took out a worn leather pouch full of vintage Bennington marbles and held them up. In the background, the roar of The River was relentless.
"Ready to play?"
"Yeah!" Gabriel shouted.
John's large collection of vintage marbles had been passed down from his grandfather. He cleared a place in the dirt and drew up a playing circle.
"I'm gonna beat you this time, Dad!"
"Ha! We'll see, little man!"
It was a few minutes before nine a.m., and the sun was burning through the cloud cover. As John crouched down, he heard voices off in the distance.
"Who in the world is out there?" John glanced over his shoulder at The River. "Stay here," he directed.
John quickly walked to the edge of the cliff, where he could see more of The River upstream. The voices shouting back and forth were sporadic. He couldn't make out what they were saying, so he climbed down the slope to a plateau that jutted out over The River. Looking upstream, he spotted a young guy sitting in a kayak that had stalled in a small eddy next to the riverbank. He was shouting something upstream.
John's heart sank because he knew what was happening. He shouted to get the young man's attention.
"Do not ride! Huge falls! Do not ride! Huge falls!"
The kayaker couldn't hear him.
"What are you doing, Dad?" Gabriel stood at the top of the slope.
"Just stay there! I've got to go a little lower and tell them." Looking back at Gabriel, he emphatically said, "You stay there!"
Another kayaker came into view, but he was at least two hundred yards away from John. These guys obviously did not know the terrain. The rapids were Class VI. This water was not navigable, even by the most experienced kayakers.
John knew it would mean serious injury or death for these unprepared adventurers. He was hoping they would have the sense to stop and scout the terrain.
Edging closer to The River, John's heart raced from the dangers these two young men were facing. John slid down on the pebbled slope, bracing himself with his left arm and coming to a stop on a ledge about twenty feet from the water. He took off his outer hiking vest, and like a flagman at the finish line of an auto race, he began waving it and shouting frantically, "Danger! Danger! Danger!"
He saw the first kayaker coming down The River. Hoping to get his attention, he kept waving and shouting. Finally, just before the point of no return, the kayaker looked up and saw John. He immediately changed direction and steered himself out of the main flow of water into an eddy on the other side of The River.
John shouted, "Are there more of you coming?"
The kayaker cupped his ear and called back, "What? Say again!"
About that time, another kayaker came around the bend in The River. The first kayaker tried to get his attention as John kept waving frantically. The second guy sported a wide grin on his face and was hooting and hollering. He stayed in the center of the moving waters as the rapids picked up and The River's gradient began to drop. He passed his friend and entered the whitewater flow. There was nowhere else to pull out.
He was going over the falls.
The first drop was more than three stories high with jagged rocks on either side. The water then poured over and around a giant boulder in the middle of The River, only to fall an additional ten or fifteen feet. At the bottom of the second falls was a massive crevice in the riverbed, where the churning water created a huge suckhole.
At this point, all John and the other kayaker could do was watch. The pale yellow kayak launched off the first massive fall and quickly disappeared under the mist and thunder of water. John's heart was in his throat. A few seconds passed, and suddenly, the kayaker popped out—but upside down—like a fishing bobber.
John sprang into action. He scrambled down the slope to intercept the kayak before the next set of falls and rapids. He reached the riverbank as the kayak floated past him—still upside down—with a man trapped underwater, probably knocked unconscious from the first fall.
John glanced back up the hillside and saw Gabriel holding on to a tree, watching the scene unfold. John motioned to him. "Get back, Gabe! Get back!"
Gabriel froze, hugging the tree, not letting his father out of sight.
"Just hang on, buddy. I'll be up in a minute to get you! Stay right there!" John turned back around to see the kayak take a glancing blow from a boulder in The River and plunge over the next fall. Long seconds passed before there was any sign of him. His friend was stuck on the other side of the stream, unable to help.
John made his way swiftly to the bottom of the falls, in time to see the kayak emerge from the foaming water. The kayak had been pinned under the falls, kept down by the relentless water, but now the upside-down kayak floated to a rock on the side nearest to John.
The water, still deep and moving swiftly, pressed the kayak against the rock with tremendous force. John shot a glance back up the hill to check on Gabriel while he tried to figure out what he could do. The kayaker might have a shot at survival if he could pull him out in the next few seconds.
Holding on to a tree with his right hand and reaching with his left foot, he almost touched the tip of the kayak. His plan was to dislodge the kayak from the rock and pull it out in calmer water. He leaned out, but the kayak was too far. John grabbed a dead branch and struck the kayak, but the force of the water was too strong to dislodge it. Without a life vest, he had to be supremely cautious.
"D-a-d-d-y! D-a-d-d-y!" John faintly heard Gabriel's call, but he was concentrating on the kayak. He couldn't bear to watch a man die right in front of him. Torn between staying on the shore versus risking his life for the rescue, with precious seconds ticking by and one last glance up to Gabriel, John jumped out onto the kayak, bear-hugged it, and struggled to hold on. He tried to kick his foot up on the rock to push the kayak back enough to move it around the rock.
Gabriel's shout turned to a scream. "D-a-d-d-y! C-om-e b-a-c-k!"
After a few moments of struggle, John couldn't hold on anymore. He took one huge breath and sank under the greenish-blue water. In just a few seconds, he pushed off another rock on the river bottom, and the kayak was freed. The craft righted itself and careened downstream. Then John's world went black.
* * *
Seconds ticked by, turning into minutes. Gabriel didn't know how much time had passed, but his dad did not surface.
Gabriel screamed louder for his father. "The boat is free! There it goes! Daddy! There it goes!"
The first kayaker got out of his boat and scrambled down the riverbank to the bottom of the falls. He reached his buddy, who appeared blue and lifeless.
He quickly pulled him out and laid him on a rock and started mouth-to-mouth, breathing to revive him.
Gabriel watched it all unfold. His five-year-old mind couldn't comprehend how long a man could survive underwater. He continued to clutch the tree, calling out to his father.
"Daddy! They made it out! You can come back now!"
He shifted his focus downstream, where the man was caring for the kayaker. Maybe his father was swimming and would show up down there.
But he never did.
His dad never came back.
His father was gone. His hero just disappeared.
No more games of marbles. No good-byes. No hugs. Just gone.
Excerpted from THE RIVER by Michael Neale Copyright © 2012 by Michael Neale. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsA Note from the Author....................xi
From an Entry in a Journal....................xiii
1 The Big Hike....................9
2 Life in Kansas....................23
3 The Pond....................33
4 Corn Dogs and Marbles....................45
5 Mister Earl and the Pig Trip....................59
6 The New Teacher....................73
7 A Visitor Comes to the Farm....................85
8 A Birthday Gift....................97
9 The Phone Call....................109
10 The Trip to The River....................119
11 The Girl....................129
12 The River Speaks....................141
13 Samuel and Big Water Adventures....................153
14 Class V....................165
15 The Last Night....................175
16 Good-bye and The Journal....................185
17 No More Kansas....................199
18 Hanging out with Ezra....................211
19 An Unexpected Introduction....................221
20 A Dinner to Remember....................233
21 The Night Run....................245
22 The War Room....................255
23 A Trip Home....................269
Reading Group Guide....................289
About the Author....................303
"Beauty, sacrifice, forgiveness, redemption, a son's love for his father... the themes in this novel moved me to tears. 'The River' will inspire your soul!" - Rebecca St. James, Grammy Award-winning artist
"Michael Neale has successfully parlayed his ability to inspire from the performing platform to the written page." - John C. Maxwell, Founder of EQUIP, New York Times bestselling author
Nashville, TNWhen FL-based songwriter and worship leader Michael Neale sat down to begin drafting a story nearly eleven years ago, he had no idea where it would lead.
"I wasn't sure who the story was for, I just knew I had to write it," said Neale. "The River and its cast of characters were pressed so vividly and deeply into my heart, it just wouldn't let me go. It was as if the story had chosen me. I had to do the hard work. I had to let the story come to life."
What Neale ultimately produced is "The River," a powerfully universal story of loss and redemption. The book follows Gabriel Clarke, the son of a legendary whitewater guide, who is mysteriously drawn to The River, a ribbon of frothy white water carving its way through steep canyons high in the Colorado Rockies. The fast waters beckon him to experience freedom and adventureand leave his past behind. But something holds him back - the memory of a terrible event that happened on The River when he was just five years old. Gabriel must learn that letting go of the past means giving himself totally to The Riverheart, soul, and mind. Readers of this compelling story finish inspired to overcome fear and live a life of boldness and purpose.
When demand for limited self-published copies of "The River" quickly overwhelmed Neale and his team, the author approached Thomas Nelson, Inc. about publishing the novel through traditional channels and opening up other possibilities for partnership and distribution. "The River" novel will hit the market in September 2012 from Thomas Nelson Fiction.
"I've never experienced this kind of response to a story. Literally everyone who reads The River is transformed by it," said Daisy Blackwell Hutton, Vice President and Publisher, Fiction. "We've worked with Michael at lightning speed to prepare the book for a broader launch this fall, and we believe that readers will experience the same kind of revelation that we Thomas Nelson have as they have engage with Michael and his story."
Neale's creative passion for the project didn't end with the completion of a novel. As a Dove Award-winning musician and performer, he has always loved to tell stories in a live environment. Along with a team including award-winning composer Michael Whittaker, Neale produced an original score and recorded epic HD film footage that serves as the backdrop of the story. The end result is a powerful multi-media storytelling experience that literally immerses the audience in a live visual journey through the story of The River, guided by Neale.
The River Experience live event debuted at Christ Fellowship Church in Palm Beach Gardens, FL, in October 2011, where the author serves as an artist-in-residence. He received a standing ovation and sold through the 1200 copies of the novel that had been printed for the event and serve as a pass-along for those touched by the performance's message. With the encouragement of the church's teaching pastor, John C. Maxwell, Neale presented the live experience again before an audience of 100 corporate leaders near Atlanta, again to rave reviews.
Since internal conversations about the project began in April, a Thomas Nelson corporate reading initiative started to flourish, with employees reading and sharing how the story has affected them.
"I read it cover to cover and loved it," said Mark Schoenwald, President and CEO. "Adventure, romance, suspense, hope and triumph. People will see themselves and their own lives in this story."
"Riveting? Powerful? Captivating? Inspiring? Challenging? Words you're very familiar with when reading book endorsements. These are words you will hear from people who experience 'The River.' I am one of those people. 'The River' has stirred a longing deep in me for what I desperately want to believe about life, and sometimes do. Read it, and see if you don't pass it on," said Dean Arvidson, Key Accounts Manager.