I'm not the kind of guy who does any crazy thing just to say, I've done it; but I'm not the timid sort either. If presented with the opportunity to do something out of the ordinary, or beyond the boundaries of what I might consider my comfort zone, I'll weigh the potential fun against the risk. Historically, more often than not, I've landed on the fun side of the debate. It hasn't killed me yet.
|Just heading into the more serious rapids.|
I have been white-water rafting twice in my life. The first time was in Alaska in 1996 during the press launch of the original Ford Expedition. Even though Ford hosted much better media events 20 years ago than it does today – don't even get me started – the rafting wasn't part of the official program. A couple of us found a rafting company close to the hotel where Ford put us up and we flew in a day early, paid with our own money and rafted.
The second time was somewhere in the state of Washington. I've been to so many car events there, I can't remember the year or even the car involved, but white-water rafting was offered as one of several activities we could participate in as a part of the event. I can safely say, though, that it was at least 10 to 12 years ago.
|Just paddle, damn it!|
I'm putting my previous rafting experiences into some sort of time frame because I was significantly younger for them. I didn't insert age into my recent decision-making process. From my perspective – unless I'm looking in a mirror or at photos – I'm still vital. Maybe I should have been looking in the mirror when I was contemplating this decision.
I arrived in Bend, Oregon on Monday afternoon, drove the Outback on Tuesday and went rafting on Wednesday.
The outfitter was Bend's Sun Country Tours. A driver loaded us into a van at Brasada Ranch, where we were staying and hauled us the 20 or so miles into town. There, at the main office, we signed away our lives and were issued splash pants and tops. Our driver then drove us from town to the boat launch on the Deschutes River another 20 miles away.
There our instructor/guide/babysitter Ross fitted us with life jackets and provided a brief safety talk. With that, we climbed aboard the raft, settled in and shoved off. While regaling us with the history of the river and its lore, Ross managed to work in some instruction on paddling, staying in the boat and how to try to traverse the rapids if tossed out of the boat. I would have preferred a Power Point presentation of the the last two topics, but had to settle for Ross acting out the role of a castaway while sitting on the side of the boat.
|Ross on the left attempting to put our minds at ease as we scouted the more difficult rapids.|
These rafts, incidentally, cost about 7 grand each.
Only two of us participated in the rafting, which was fine with me. Who the hell wants to be in a rubber boat crashing through lava-rock-filled rapids listening to a gaggle of auto journalists screaming like a bunch of prepubescent girls at a Justin Bieber concert? Anyone, anyone? Certainly not me.
With the two of us and Ross, we had about one and a half people who knew what they were doing. We basically let the current carry us along as Ross made little course corrections for the first half hour or so.
We eventually arrived at a small collection of rapids, requiring us novices to finally leap into action. We basically paddled when Ross yelled, “Paddle!” and stopped when he yelled, “Stop!”
We made it successfully out the other side. So far so good. My buddy Al and I congratulated one another on our superior raftsmanship. We're not afraid of no stinking rapids!
Before rounding the next bend, Ross eased us over to the shore where we dismounted our boat. We then walked along the river for about 20 yards before getting close enough to the next rapids to actually see them.
“Whadya think?” Ross ask us.
I immediately launched into my Jackie Gleason impression, “Hum-in-ah, hum-in-ah, hum-in-ah...” I sputtered. Speechless, Al looked as though he had just learned he had been drafted.
|I don't think you are supposed to see daylight under the boat.|
Ross went on to explain what we should expect and that the rolling, boiling white water we could see was only the first in a series of five sections of rapids.
“Dead men walking” was all I could think as we shuffled back to the boat.
Ross maneuvered the boat toward the center of the river before we added any significant forward motion. About 20 feet from the first hint of white, Ross yelled, “Paddle hard; paddle hard!” And we were off to the races.
The next thing I knew, I was flat on my back on the bottom of the boat two sections back. Paddle still firmly in hand, I struggled to get back to my position as Al continued to paddle as though his life depended on it, and Ross coaxed me back into position.
I regained my front-of-the-boat position just in time for the next section of rapids. This time the front end of the boat came crashing down nearly tossing over the front of it. I was trying to remember what Ross said early in the “what to do if tossed from the boat” part of the briefing, but my attention was drawn to my life flashing before my eyes.
I suspect traveling through all the sections of rapids took no more than two or three minutes, but it felt like an hour. My mental TV screen showed a calendar with pages flying off next to a window out of which I could see the seasons changing.
|Should have worn my cup....|
Exiting the rapids, we returned to drifting. Al and I probably looked as though we had just walked away from the Hindenburg explosion as we contemplated the brevity of life.
Ross filled my and Al's silence with his thoughts. “You know,” he began, “I don't usually like to take one of these boats out with less than four people. They are just too light and you really get tossed around.”
WTF? This might have been good information to have, oh, say, before we left.
It was a blast, and I'd probably do it again if given the chance. But maybe it's more adventure than I really need.