I got to experience the natural beauty of West Virginia from a new vantage point during our previous visit to the wild and wonderful state: I got to see it from the very river that poised the landscape for the fundamentals of life in the area.
The New River is rumored to be the second oldest river in the world and the oldest in North America. In truth, geologists and scientists debate the validity of this claim, but the fact remains that the river is really dang old. And that makes it a really cool place to visit and try white water rafting.
When it comes to white water rafting, I learned quickly that it’s best to learn the easy way. Doing it “the easy way” will give you a fun challenge, while the hard way just leads to danger, fear, and frustration for everyone. On my first whitewater rafting trip on Adventures on the Gorge, I paddled, I laughed, I got surprised, and I even went swimming.
I gathered quickly that Adventures on the Gorge is a well-oiled machine when it comes to making its guests’ trips “worth it.” On the day we went, the New River had eight-and-a-half feet of water, and 600 people were scheduled to make the journey alongside, in front of, and behind us.
If you’re going to have a successful first whitewater rafting trip, the most important thing you can do is listen. As soon as our group met to start the day, the guides started doling out instructions. In our case, those instructions came from a guide with fourteen years of experience, but he still managed to convince us that he meant every word (even though he’d probably said the same thing hundreds of times).
First, we grabbed our oars, life jackets, and helmets. (Bonus: some helmets have GoPro attachments!) We listened to how to fit ourselves into our life jackets and then filed onto the bus. After a bumpy trek up the mountainside in a rickety bus built for tough terrain, we saw our big ol’ military-grade rafts, some with twenty years under their belts.
Then, as a team, we hoisted our vessel in the air and carried it toward the flowing water. We all got in and began our journey on the New, paddles (not oars) in hand.
The first part of the journey is a calm and gentle float down the river, where you get a chance to get used to the feel of the raft and the group you’re with. We were with a family from Texas and a couple from West Palm Beach, and they were both staying at the nearby Greenbrier for separate work events.
Just as I was getting used to being on a lazy float trip, our guide announced it was time to pick up our paddles and pull! Our first group-paddle was a little spastic, but mostly we were synchronized. But, it only took us one try to get it right, because the second time, we rowed as if we’d been practicing for years. (Ok, maybe a slight exaggeration, but it was definitely good.)
After we went down the river for about a mile, we finally began to see a few white caps, and we hit our first rapids.
When you’re white water rafting with a guide, you really don’t have to do much thinking. In fact, you may be better off if you don’t do much thinking and instead do a lot of paying attention. Pay attention to the way the paddle hits the water, the way your raft-mates paddle, and the way your guide calls out the appropriate commands. If you do that instead of trying to figure it all out for yourself, you’re more likely to learn, and definitely more likely to stay safe.
I thoroughly enjoyed rafting on the New, as we got to see some beautiful sights and learned a lot about the history of the area. When you’re going down the river, you get plenty of breaks from paddling and opportunities to check out what’s around you. We chatted with our great group and learned about the history of the area that had been born on the river.
But then! The rapids began. Our guide told us to pick up our paddles and pay attention, mapping out the treacherous terrain that would soon be right in front of us. We’d hit a whirlpool and a drop (I’m sure I am technically wayyy off describing them that way), with names right out of the movies.
We made it through those rapids alive and excited, but definitely not dry. Our group had a good laugh together about the surprises each wave held for us and we high-fives our paddles to celebrate our hard work.
Mid-day, we stopped to have lunch. It was then that I realized the sheer amount of people on the rapids with us. Along the side of the river, there are several beaches, and every single one had people on it. The lead guide picked out a beach and they set up lunch on a felled tree, and we all had time to sit and eat. And eat we did, because our next destination was the Keeneys, a well-known section of rapids that doesn’t go lightly on wayward travelers.
We re-adjusted our positions in the boat for the second half of the trip, a choice made by the guide to try to even out the paddling efforts. Then, we hit the kind of rapids that you hear about in stories, rapids that sent one guy in another boat flying. Luckily, he grabbed onto a rock and the volunteer guards in the water pulled him out.
After that, we took our instructions from our guide even more seriously and hit rapids named Hook 99 and the accurately ominous “Surprise.” Some of the rapids were like a whirlpool, some were like a mini-waterfall, and all of them were fun. All-in-all, my first white water rafting trip was great fun and I learned a little about West Virginia, the sport of rafting, and about teamwork.