Tuesday, October 10, 2006
And one more thing...
Here's a post from Joe:
I thought they put me at the front of the raft because of my superior paddling skills. Turns out, it was that my 5'11'' frame was the best splash shield available.
It's amazing that a whitewater virgin can ride the same rapids that are used for Olympic competition. The Ocoee River, 2 to 3 hours north of Atlanta, was the site of the canoeing and kayaking events during the '96 Olympics.
This baby has class-5 rapids, one level short of a deadly rating. We hit a class-4 almost as soon as we launched.
"This one is called 'Grumpy' because if you fall out here, you're going to be grumpy the rest of the way," said our guide Nicki.
Nicki had this way of making grown men shake in their water booties. Her build was slight. Her voice as youthful as a student driver's.
But when she said "one forward" or "take a break," you listened. There was no question as to who was master and commander of our six-man galley.
The five mile course took about three hours to complete. We rumbled through rapids with such names as Double Suck, Diamond Splitter and Broken Nose but not all of the river was so life-threatening.
There were some lazy, drifting stretches where my father-in-law Brad and I abandoned ship.The water was chilly like the fall air. The trees on each bank dropped on us as we floated alongside the raft. It was one of those "forget your troubles" moments.
Eventually, the early stages of hypothermia convinced us to get back in the boat. MOre boulder collisions and 360 spins followed. There are few rushes as exhilirating as feeling out of control and knowing that a drop is coming up.
The trip was essentially over when we got our biggest scare of all. The boat pitched steeply on one side jarring most of us from our positions. At that disoriented moment, the raft pitched again, only in the opposite direction.
The see-saw action was enough to send Brad-Dad completely overboard. Another of crew members would have gone swimming to if not for her left foot wedged under one of the seats.
We quickly spotted Brad-Dad bobbing back to the surface about 10 feet behind us. He got sucked underwater once more by an undertow. But he remembered Nicki saying it was best to relax, curl up in a ball and let the rapids spit you out. He soon emerged again, a little startled but clear-headed enough to swim back to the boat.
Ironically, I was the only one who came away from the trip with a significant injury: a lacerated right hand.
It didn't happen while diving in to rescue a dad in distress. It also wasn't the result of paddle-to-paddle combat with a rival raft. No, I cut my hand when stepping out of the boat on the bank. No applause please.