A few weekends ago, we spent a Saturday rafting the Nantahala with my oldest. For the past few summers, Juj has been a raft guide, and we have been able to join her on the water. If you haven’t been white water rafting, it requires clear instructions, listening, and a coordinated effort to keep everyone in the boat when the water is rough.
Juj did an excellent job guiding us down the river. What follows is a description of our Saturday afternoon adventure and the lessons learned.
We arrived at the outpost in time to complete the required safety waivers. Multiple groups gather for a quick rafting safety lesson on handling your paddle, listening to your guide, and what to do if you fall out. Afterward, all groups board the retired school bus to begin the adventure. As we drive the curvy mountain roads to the launch point, Juj and other raft guides chat with participants telling them what to expect and reminding them of how to stay safe on the water. It is a great opportunity to get to know people and put them at ease.
Once at the launch site everyone gathers in their respective groups to await further instruction from their guide. Each group has to carry their raft to the water. After a few last-minute instructions then it’s time to step into the freezing cold water and board the raft. Juj told us where to sit, balancing the raft by weight, strength, and ability. As the guide, she say in the back and immediately began giving instructions to get going. Two good paddle strokes, and we were on our way. The water carries us forward while she steers the raft and yells for paddle strokes when needed.
Rather quickly, we approach our first rapid. Juj is steering the raft, calling for one good stroke and telling us to lock in, and we splash through. As we approach an unguided group trying to figure out as they go, Juj yells to them to stay to the right on the next section. We continue forward paddling when needed, following Juj’s instructions. The unguided raft goes left, loses a passenger, and gets stuck. We paddle to the side, and Juj checks to see if everyone is OK. They are stuck but good. She comes back and flags someone down from their raft rental company. We go on our way, following our instructions and having fun. Juj has a full paddle forward for a rock spin at one point when another unguided raft group decides it would be fun to paddle into us. We were put in a very unsafe scenario that required quick steering and paddling.
The rest of the trip went without incident. We paddled together to spin in circles through one section of the river and made the last rapid drop at the falls without going for an unintended swim. It was cold, wet, a lot of work, but loads of fun.
There are few life lessons one can take away from a river rafting journey.