If you've never tried white water rafting, you should. It's a great activity that the whole family can enjoy. It allows you to get outdoors on the water and escape the world for a few hours. No deadlines to worry about, no traffic jams, no office phones, no computers. Just you and some friends on a raft together .
The last weekend of June, we headed out to Asheville for our trip. An ideal time to go since the weather is warm and so is the water. Since we had rafted with USA Raft before and enjoyed the experience, we booked them again and wasn't dissapointed. This time we were taking the kids, ages 14 and 9, and they were really looking forward to it as well. We booked the day trip wth a stop for lunch. The total time time for us to complete the approximate nine mile trip would be about four hours. The trip would culminate with a ride through a class IV rapid called Frank Bell's. More on that later. They suggest you arrive at least 30 minutes prior to your scheduled departing time. This is so you can get fitted with a personal flotation device (PFD - they prefer this over the term "lifejacket), helmet and paddle. After you get your gear and the guides load up the rubber rafts, you depart on a bus for a short trip to the departation point. Ours was located in Barnard, North Carolina. On the bus ride there, the trip's lead guide, Wiik Ingle, went over several safety features as to what to do if you're thrown out of the boat, different commands in paddling and the proper way to handle and use your paddle. He also briefly explained what we would be in for. This was done especially for people who had never been rafting.
Once we got off the bus, we were assigned to ride Wiik's boat. Since Wiik was the lead guide with over 20 years of guiding rafts to his credit, our raft would be the lead boat and I was in the front of the boat. We shoved off from Barnard for a relaxing day on the French Broad River. A beautiful river where you can see all kinds of wildlife. You can see bald eagles, which we saw on a previous trip, herons, and if you're extremely lucky, a black bear.
About 15 minutes in, we encountered The Maze rapids where I went for an unexpected swim. No, I didn't fall out of the boat. I was thrown from the boat as we encountered a bump in the middle of the rapids. I went over backwards and hit my leg on a rock in shallow water. The things Wiik went over in the safety lecture, came back into play. Paddle toward the raft, and don't ever stand up in rushing water (don't want to get your foot caught in a rock or tree on the river bed). Since we were in shallow water, I found a large rock I couldn't swim over so I rolled over since I shouldn't have stood up in the water. Wiik motioned for me to head to a place in the river that would be easier for him to position the raft for me to reenter the raft. As he pulled me back into the raft, Beth, my wife said as I fell backwards, I tried to grab my 9 year old. I don't remember that. My 14 year old daughter had snicker on her face as she thought it was extremely funny that I fell out. As I told them, "I was thrown violently from the boat and swam through the rapids prior to getting back inthe boat." It's my story and I'm sticking to that version. Got a couple of cuts on my leg. I saw a bumper sticker recently that said, "Scars make for better stories than tatoos." Even though I didn't get a scar, the cuts would make for some good stories later.
Later in the trip, we made a short stop at Jump Rock. As it turned out this was a great place where people could get out of their rafts for a swim or they could jump off a rock about 15 to 20 feet off the river. People in the 60's and kids that were barely 10 made the jump. I went off and my daughter jumped twice.
We would continue to to Lunch Island between the Lower Stackhouse Rapids and the Windy Flatts. A deli type sandwich, chips, lemonade and some cookies were on the menu. After a couple of hours of paddling and swimming, we had worked up an appetite. After getting back in, we paddled through the Windy Flatts. It's named for the fact that it's a flat part of the river and if there's a wind, it will usually be a head wind. That means that you pretty much have to paddle through that part if the river is a little low and the flow is somewhat slow.
As you're paddling through the Windy Flats, you're getting closer to the Class IV rapid of Frank Bell's. It's named Frank Bell's because a guy named Frank Bell tried to go through there in a canoe once. He was thrown out of the canoe and, after swimming to a rock, waited about thirty minutes for the river to spit his canoe out so he could retrieve it. You can begin to hear the roar about three quarters of a mile away. As you get closer, you can hear it more then you see it. Actually you don't. The river just vanishes in front of you. That's because in about a 40 yard span, the river drops 20 feet in elevation. With Wiik's expert guidance, we manuvered the raft to attack the first part of the rapid. Left turn, right turn, hang on and ride it out. As we hit the bottom of the rapid, we spun backward into a rock. As we watched the other rafts negotiate the rapid, this was a common theme. Everyone made it through safetly and no one was thrown from their raft. A little further down the river, we made another swim stop by
We stopped near a railroad trestle and watched a Norfolk Souther pass on it's to Hot Springs and beyond. We got back into the raft and continued the short distance to our destination of Hot Springs. We passed the Hot Springs campground and saw several folks enjoying the river from their. Once at Hot Springs, we got back on the bus for the 15 minute ride back to the outpost. Once at the outpost, you can view pictures of you and others on the trip, which you can buy as a souvinier of your trip. They also have t-shirts and hats for sale as well.
Here's few tips in case you decide to go rafting. Take some sunscreen. I had some on small tube on a caribiner clip that I clipped to my PFD. Lather up before you get in the raft and after lunch as well. Even on a half day trip, you'll need to have that on to prevent a severe burn. Think about getting a water proof camera to take pictures along the trip. They come with a string and you can easily attach it to your PFD as well. If you forget to get on at your favorite discount store, the outpost does sell them as well. Make sure you take along a set of dry clothes you can change into after the trip. You'll leave them in the car and change in the locker room once you get back.
In closing, USA Raft offers a variety of trips for everyone of all ages. Whether you're rafting the Nolichucky, Watuga, or French Broad River, there's a trip for you. When we called them about our reservations and to have a few questions answered, the people we talked with were enthusiastic and pleasant and they are the same way at the outpost. The guides are very knowledgable about the river and go the extra mile to make sure you have an enjoyable time. Their website is www.usaraft.com or you can call them at 1-866-USA-RAFT.
Asheville is only about a three hour drive from midlands of South Carolina, and eight hours from Indiana. It's just a short drive from Atlanta up I-85 then to I-26. Asheville is a great place for outdoor enthusiasts as you can visit either the Smoky Mountain National Park, or several great state parks as well. In fact, on Sunday, we visitied Chimney Rock State Park. Clean park, beautiful scenery and more fun also.
So what are you waiting for. There's a raft with your name on it waiting for you at the outpost.