As I have said from the beginning, this list was created by someone else. Therefore, there are items on the 101 list that I have no interest in ever doing. I don’t want to get arrested nor do I want to live out of a van. On the other hand, there are many things I would like to do that aren’t on the list. One was to Go White Water Rafting.
I tend to be impatient and have little time to take the requisite baby steps up to the big leagues. So when my very good friends Steve and Lydia asked if Alex and I would like to join them on their annual white water rafting trip to West Virginia, I didn’t hesitate. It didn’t matter that we were rafting the Upper Gauley River, a river that strongly suggests prior experience, and it didn’t matter that I have a small fear of water (once I conquer it, that will be #87!) and can’t swim. It didn’t matter that people DIE on this river every year and that we were doing the “High Adventure” rafting experience, which was a smaller boat that meant we could get into more exciting spots on the river (and flip more easily). I was going White Water Rafting!
The Gauley River is 26 miles long, has 668 feet of vertical drop, and more than 100 rapids. Defined by big, steep and technical rapids the Gauley River is enveloped by rugged mountain scenery and divided into two equally impressive sections, the Upper and Lower Gauley. The famous Fall Gauley dam releases begin the first weekend after Labor Day and continues for 7 thrilling weekends.
The four of us made it up to West Virginia the first weekend of October and got up early Saturday morning to begin our adventure with Songer Whitewater. I put on an overused wetsuit over my bathing suit and with only that, a splash jacket, and a life jacket, prepared to make my way down an icy cold river. Trying to remain calm, as we took our raft to the edge of the river, I felt it important the moment before we put in (in the middle of a Class III rapid!) to turn to the guide and let him know I couldn’t swim.
We began our journey, managing rapids (about 6 were Class V) and enjoying the scenery. As the day continued, it proved to be spectacular weather with perfectly clear skies and a sun that warmed us in between the cold soakings of the rapids. It took me a couple of rapids to calm down and enjoy myself, although I had my foot crammed into the foot hold at all times, determined not to fall out.
All four of us had had a successful trip, no one had fallen out and we had accomplished all of the little challenges (like landing on Pillow Rock in the photo above), due to a phenomenal guide and all of our hard work and diligence.
I had watched Steve and Lydia’s video from last year’s trip and knew that one of the last rapids, a Class III called “Fuzzy Box of Kittens,” was where many guides would try to flip the boat. It is a significant hole but has no rocks, so therefore is “safe” to dump rafters. Knowing this, I wedged my foot in even further. Just as I had anticipated, our guide flipped our raft, at which time I realized I had not considered one point: if the boat is upside down, it does me little good to have my foot still in the raft. This was the thought that flew through my mind while trying to shake my foot free as the boat came down over my head.
The guide was so successful in flipping us that even he fell out, so he had one last chance on the last rapid. I again had my foot wedged in tight but as we tipped severely to the right, I continued to slide, grasping at anything and everything I could to stay in. At the last moment, I could not stop and went face first into the water, the last of our four to go in. On this try, the guide was successful in dumping his rafters while staying in.
So I survived, although anyone who listens and acts carefully can easily enjoy themselves without getting hurt while rafting. Apparently, most injuries occur from being hit with paddles!
Has anyone else rafted the Gauley or even the Snake or Colorado Rivers? How about the Zambezi, which is supposed to be the most difficult in the world (not only are there rapids that are measured up to Class 10, but also the crocs and hippos prove to make the river even more dangerous).