Thursday, August 14, 2014

Rafting on the French Broad River in North Carolina

While in North Carolina recently, my partner in crime and I decided to hit up one of the local rivers for a last minute white water experience before taking the long drive back home. We made arrangements to head out to the Nantahala Outdoor Center for what we hoped to be an adrenaline filled thrill seeking experience on the French Broad River. Having never been white water rafting, I expected a fight to stay in my raft, attack huge rapids, and get bounced around like a ball in one of those air lottery machines. Bounce, bounce, zing, zang, BOOM! I was ready for it.

Upon arriving to the Center and signing our life away to the endless menagerie of safety regulations, medical releases, photo releases and God knows what else, we kicked back to wait for directions on when and where to board our bus. Once we had a minute to take in our surroundings, we noticed the various people who were going to be our playmates for the duration. There was a jovial collection of German students who would prove to be the most ardent of the group. Families with young children, young men and women who had never rafted previously, and one die-hard kayaker who proudly wore his personal and pristine gear for the trip.

I should have gotten a clue as to what was coming. A little, niggling clue that something wasn't going to go the way I had personally hoped. As we all listened to the crew chief guide us through safety points and how to hold our oars properly, the speech left me a little wet behind the ears. I've been preparing for this! I'm ready to go and understand how to avoid smacking someone in the face with the end of my oar, and I've got the strokes down to a T! After all, I've been paddle boarding and kayaking (more on this another time. Good Stuff, by Golly). I've been punching tennis balls like they were nasty little wasps attacking my racquet from all directions and with varying results. Physically, I am getting in the best shape of my life. Bring on the rapids already and let's get on with it!

We finally arrive at our destination, and while the guides unloaded rafts and oars from the bus we look around for our rafting partners. There were only two of us, so we were matched with a group of 4 with a tour guide named Lauren. After locating Lauren, our buddies joined us. A lovely family, including two young children, saddled into the back of the raft. Wait, what? Young children? Had we chosen to ride the baby rapids? Were we going to have a Junior Sized Experience instead of the thrill ride we had so hoped to get? I suddenly felt like we ordered a kid's meal instead of the Super Sized burger with a giant Coke and became slightly despondent. Grim yet stoked at the same time, we were still going to make this ride one to remember! Those little kids better hang on, because I *was* going to do what we set out to accomplish.

Lauren had us set off from the riverside and made sure we understood her directions. She's a pretty little thing with medium brown hair, bright brown eyes and a nose ring from which I couldn't tear my eyes. Calling out, "Two left, once! Four All! Stop!", she had us gliding through the river with the other rafts in a slow yet satisfying dance between rocks. Finally, we approached a rapid, and she yells to make our best faces! Their photographer was set up to take pictures, and we were expected to either A) act thrilled or B) be terrified. "Paddle Hard," she said. I took her at her word and paddled until my arm almost fell off while gauging my partner's strength as well. He's done this before in Class 5 rapids, so this should be a breeze. Huff, huff, push, push, push, PUSH. Was I trying to have a baby here?

We got thoroughly doused with water, so it was a good time. As we wound around the corner, we stopped at a serene and calm natural area where a rock formation climbed up the river walls to create the perfect diving spot. The water was deep, and we all jumped out of the boat to make the jump. Gingerly stepping across the stones in the river, I take some shots of the eager Germans wildly ricocheting off the ledge and into the murky water. My partner in crime quickly takes his turn, and then up I go for mine.

I look down into the water and think, "No, I am not doing this. I don't think so. No, you go ahead. You seem like you're wanting to do this more than me. I am going to bang my head on a rock and die. What will my friend tell my children? 'Kids, your mother ended her life today by diving headfirst into a rock.'" No, this just wasn't going to work. Finally, the German tribe's shrieks of joy finally prodded me into taking a chance, and down I went deep into the water. So deep, in fact, that I never thought I was going to rise back to the top! Fighting to protect my head from cracking against the rocks that lined the river, I forgot one of the most important things when diving. Shut. Your. Mouth. Eventually, I made my way back up to the top with water gushing out of my mouth. Eyes wide open and unable to speak, the friendly guide at the top says, "That wasn't so bad, was it?" I shake my head, No, not so bad. I can't breathe. I've got water gushing through my nose, mouth and eyeballs, but it's all good. I see my friend laughing his ass off at me and forgetting, thankfully, at that moment that he had the camera in his hand. It's all good if there's no proof, right? Right.

Ugh, flopping back into the raft in a seal-like fashion, I manage to get back into my spot to continue on down the river. Stopping here and there to take turns swimming through the rocks or simply floating with the currents, we enjoyed a blissful and peaceful afternoon on the French Broad River. While it wasn't exactly the adrenaline peaked adventure, minus the lung exploding dive from the edge, I can honestly say that it wasn't that bad. The guide was excellent, the river's solitude and quiet beauty provided a blissful exposure to white water rafting. Next time though, I want to hit up a higher class of rapids.

And, next time, I'm going to remember to Shut My Mouth when jumping off a cliff.

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