I have spent a lot of time doing things many people often wouldn’t bother with doing, long distance bicycling, volleyball, white water rafting and kayaking, hiking and winter camping among them. These are a part of my past that bring me my fondest memories. The reason for this is partly from my personal experience and mostly from the people that were there creating the experience.
White Water Rafting
One day while eating lunch, I was approached by John H. and asked if I was interested in going white water rafting next weekend on the Lehigh River in the Poconos of Pennsylvania. Having never done that, I was intrigued. I told him I’d let him know the next day, as I wanted to talk to my wife
When I asked my wife, she said both of us should go. So the next day I let John know that we would be joining him. It was then that I got a little bit of sense and asked about what I was getting myself and my wife in to.
It was made to sound as if it would be a leisurely float trip down a river through a high walled canyon. The reality was a bit different, but the information I was given was enough to convince my wife that we’d be having a lot of fun this trip.
We left with John early in the morning. The drive was pleasant and the spring scenery made us feel happy and a bit excited. We arrived at the White Water Challengers headquarters in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania and started to prepare for the journey down the river. Wet suits were the first sign that the experience would not necessarily match up with the brochure’s images (taken during the late summer). The second sign of potential trouble was when John gave us some plastic bread bags and suggested we put them over our socks and use rubber bands to secure them tightly against the wet suit legs. upon doing this, we were herded to a bus for the trip up stream to the put in for our rafting adventure.
On the bus ride, we were briefed on river safety, and what specific we would need to know for maneuvering the raft. The exact same set of rules was again given to us when we assembled at the put in. Thus we knew what the basics of getting our rafts from point a to point b, and soon we would find out how well we had learned those rules.
We lifted the raft and carried it down the river bank and stepped into the water. HOLY SHIT THIS WATER IS FREEZING! My feet ached from the cold, but only until they felt numb. my wife gave me a look that would kill most living things as she entered the water. I was pretty sure I would be sleeping on the couch or would somehow end up on the bedroom floor that evening.
As the Lehigh during the March runoff is at best a class III river, the rapids were not to numerous nor something to be too afraid of, but at the same time, with the water temperature at a balmy 34 degrees Fahrenheit, they are quite dangerous to be in. That is one of the main reasons that doing exactly what the rules stated becomes extremely important.
When a low side is called for, the people on the tube closest to the obstacle are to lean on the tube so as to enable the raft to gently bounce off the rock and thus keep the raft moving nicely downstream with all the occupants safe. If the raft were to ride up onto the rock, the current rushing around the rock will fling the rear of the raft out from under those in the rear. John and I were in the rear of the raft with me sitting on the port (left) side. My wife was in front of me in the middle of our raft and there were 3 brothers from New York City taking up the remaining positions in the 6 person raft. The guides were in kayaks and with an experienced rafter in the back of each raft (John was ours) we were reasonably safe.
The first 2 rapids were class II riffles and we threaded our way through them with ease. The third rapid was a class III with a sharp bend where the river wound around a rock outcrop. We were approaching it from the wrong bank, so John called for the front to do a Low side on the bow. The New York brothers in the front of our raft saw the rock and recoiled from it, the exact opposite of what was needed. Our raft rode up on the rock and the current whipped the raft around the rock throwing John and I into the rapid at the top end. The guides in the kayaks wasted no time in rescuing John and I and getting us back to our raft and we then had to pry our raft off the rock and run the rest of that rapid backwards. The cold water was not pleasant and the only way to get the water inside our wet suits and our bodies warmed up was through the use of our muscles. John and I powered the raft through the next half mile to the 4th rapid.
As this rapid consisted of 4 separate turns, once again a low side was needed. Once again, the New Yorkers shirked their responsibility and this time we had John, the New Yorker on the starboard side and I ended up in the water. I managed to swim my way to another raft, but the guide in the kayak wouldn’t let them take me out of the water and had me hang on as he brought me back to my original raft. I was shivering very badly by then and had to get pulled into the raft. John said a few curses in Hungarian (as he didn’t think they would understand them and needed to vent a bit) and then explained to the people in the front that their antics could end up killing someone. The guides also told them the same thing!
We safely navigated the next 3 rapids, a class II follwed by a class III and another class II. I think it was because John was able to read the river better as the water level here was higher as another stream was adding volume to the Lehigh. The next rapid was another story. It was a long class III with several turns and 2 possible safe paths. I half joked with John that maybe we should run this one backward, but the guide next to us advised against that as it was much more difficult for the back end to get sufficient weight to bounce off the rocks. We made the first turn without incident but then we needed to bounce off a rock in order to get angled correctly for the next turn. True to form, the asshats in the bow shied away from their duty and when the aft of the raft whipped around, I was tossed a third time into the freezing water. I swam through the rest of the rapids getting as far away from the raft as I could before I got too tired to swim any more. I got pulled into a raft that had been well ahead of mine and felt a sense of relief.
My relief was short lived, as that raft pulled into the lunch stop less than a quarter mile from where I got in it. As my breathing was labored and my lips were a dark shade of blue, the guides built a fire and had me get as close to it as I could to get warmed up. About 10 minutes later my raft pulled in and my wife was brought over to me. We ate lunch and my wife then asked the guides if there was a way to get out of the area other than heading downstream. His answer didn’t please her at all (only if you can paddle the raft fast enough to go upstream). I thought for a moment my life was about to pass before my eyes by the glaring look she gave me.
With lunch finished, we headed back to our rafts. This time, John and the guides had a different seating arrangement. The gentlemen from New York were to have the seats in the rear of the raft. John made it clear to them that their behavior was not cool, and nearly ended up with me getting a trip via helicopter out of the canyon. John said we would show them the proper way to raft. As the next 5 rapids were all multiple turn class III, they were quite nervous. They knew everyone sitting in the rear had a good chance of being a swimmer in freezing cold water!
For the remaining 8 miles of white water, John and I did all that was necessary to safely navigate the river. We bounced off of rocks multiple time with no one getting tossed from the raft. We even helped rescue some swimmers from other rafts. By the time we reached the take out, although tired with frozen feet, I knew I wanted to go again!