The outfitter was Ace Whitewater. The trip was on a 13 mile stretch of the New River in West Virginia, described as being the second oldest river in the world.
Knowing that we would be on the river all day, we slathered ourselves with sun tan lotion. Then we donned the life jackets that we were issued and thought that we were ready to go. I did have a bit of trouble adjusting my life jacket. One of the staff came along and assisted, pulling a couple of the straps until they were extremely tight. I protested a bit, saying that it was so tight that I could hardly breath. His response: “that’s okay–if you can’t breathe you can’t drown!” Did I need to hear that?
We headed for the river where we met the rest of the rafters and the guides. Here we were taught that if we fell out of the raft (which was likely to happen) we were to “assume the position” to “survive” the rest of the trip through the rapids. That meant getting into a fetal position and letting your feet and knees lead the way.
Our guide, Tug, herded us into our twelve-foot self-bailing raft and we headed out on to the river. We soon understood that the self-bailing feature was extremely important, in that as we traversed each rapid we were totally inundated with waves overflowing onto us and into the raft. (Self-bailing simply meant that there were holes near the bottom of the raft walls. Of course, that meant that water could get into the raft but, more importantly, it could get out. We certainly would have never managed if we had to bail water all day long.)
Ace starts their trip further up the river than many of the other outfitters. The water is flat, with only very small rapids. The water was quite warm and Tug encouraged us to hop out for a swim if we were so inclined. I decided “why not,” so jumped overboard. Soon I discovered the negative aspect of having been slathered with sun tan lotion. We were to latch on to straps that crossed the raft and pull ourselves in. My “greasy” hands just slid, refusing to grasp the strap. So, rather embarrassingly, Tug had to pull me back into the raft. From that point on I was determined that I’d do whatever it was going to take to avoid “leaving the raft!”
Rapids are rated by degree of difficulty correlating to the thrill of the ride through them. Ratings are from class one through class five. Commercial outfitters are not permitted to traverse rapids rated at five. Our trip included mostly threes, with several fours. In retrospect, I’d be hard to tell which were threes and which were fours.
As we approached each of the rapids, Tug would give us detailed instructions so we could get the best possible ride through it. His experience gained through having guided rafting trips many times before taught him well. His instructions included when we were to point ourselves heading into the rapids and when each of us was to paddle, whether forward, backward or not at all. The result in each case was the maximum thrill that each rapid had to offer. There were two or three times when I knew that I was about to “leave the ship” (we were each just sitting freely on the edge of the raft). Each time I abandoned my paddle and grabbed the raft’s strap. Each time too, then, I heard Tug shouting from the back of the raft, “I said paddle, dammit, paddle!” (I also remember three of the rapids where the rear of the raft was pitched up so much that Tug was tossed several feet into the air and out into the “drink!” He was much better at getting back into the raft than was I!)
Colleen kayaked down the river ahead of us, photographing as we traversed each of the rapids. At a couple of them we could “surf.” When the raft was appropriately placed, the hydraulic force of the water would just hold it there until we pushed away. Very interesting. Each surfing spot was just below a small water fall, perhaps two feet tall. The water would beat down on the up-river side of the raft, go under the raft, then tend to push up on the down-river side. This required that most of the weight in the raft be in the down-river side. We failed this “test” once and tipped over (thus I failed in my determination to stay in the raft.) The raft tipped completely over. The down-river side wound up being the up-river side and came down on top of my head. Knowing that I wanted to see during this trip, I had purchased a “keeper” with which I was to secure my glasses. In this whole process the “keeper” failed too and to this day the bottom of the New River possesses a pair of my glasses. (Fortunately foresight caused me to take a spare pair. They were quite old, thus less than very adequate, but did get me back home.)
I’ve not since made the opportunity to go rafting again. But each time that I view the video I’m sorely tempted to make that phone call to reserve another trip!
By Bob Pearce
Mishawaka Primrose Resident
Welcome, gentle reader. You have just finished reading the 48th installment in a series of blogs written by actual Primrose residents. Please return often to read more! — Ed