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Last updated: Mon. Aug. 04, 2014 - 08:33 am EDT

Whitewater rafting trip a fun adventure

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So it turns out that for the price of a steak dinner, it is possible to cross “whitewater rafting” off one’s bucket list.

But who said anything about whitewater swimming?

As our tour guide explains how to use your feet to avoid crashing into rocks and what to do if you encounter a “drop” – also known as a small waterfall – I’m beginning to think this is an experience I could live without.

But we’ve already paid our $25 per person fee. And much as I hate the idea of flailing about sans raft in Tennessee’s Pigeon River, imagining my kids doing it without me is even worse.

We don helmets and life jackets, then board an old school bus filled with other rafters, all holding our paddles by the T-grip so we don’t inadvertently whack anybody in the face before we even get to the launch site.

We’ll be paddling through Class 3 and Class 4 rapids on this trip, with Class 1 described as “bath tub calm” and Class 6 as “Niagara Falls.”

My son and his cousins are assigned to the last raft in the flotilla; my crew includes an assortment of family members spanning seven decades and a weight range that probably pushes the limits on both ends.

Our guide, Ira, goes over the paddling commands, which are basically a direction followed by the desired number of strokes: “Forward 4,” for example, or ”Back 2.” When he wants only the right side of the crew to paddle, he’ll call out “Right 2!”

Then there’s “All forward!” (paddle like crazy until he tells us to stop) or “Brace yourselves!” (lean into the raft, hook your feet under the rubber seat dividers and hang on for dear life).

We don’t have long to wait for the first rapids.

“Don’t forget to hook your feet!” yells Ira.

Suddenly we’re spinning like a Tilt-a-Whirl ride, giggling like maniacs as water rushes into the raft. So far, so good.

We’re supposed to match strokes with the lead paddler, but ours -- my sister -- never seems to hear the commands in time. We’re perpetually out of sync, occasionally banging paddles, but Ira doesn’t yell at us. Presumably this is what he expects from first-timers.

My daughter Cassie is the first to wipe out. Luckily she falls into the raft instead the river. Later, the same thing happens to my sister-in-law, Dawn.

But we start to relax and go with the flow, counting on Ira to maneuver us around the scariest looking obstacles and warn us before things get too dicey.

Finally we come to a smooth stretch of river. The kids’ raft, which has snuck up on us from behind, starts a splashing war. Ira says we can hop in and go for a swim if we like.

My previous fears now seem unwarranted. Smooth water, hot sun -- what’s not to like? I don’t even notice that we’ve been drifting this whole time, how close the next round of rapids is getting, until after Ira yanks us back into the raft.

There’s a bit more excitement ahead, but no real danger. In 90 minutes on the river, nobody in our raft, or any of the dozen or so ahead of us, wound up in the water unless they wanted to be. There was no need to get into the “cannonball” tuck for a drop, no reason to employ the “whitewater swimmer’s position” -- floating on your back, feet pointed downstream to avoid getting caught in rocks below.

As we enter the canal behind the landing site, I ask Ira if he sees many snakes on this river.

“I’ve seen some,” he says, “but I don’t know much about them. I do know that one time they got into a raft, crawling up through the drainage holes.”

Yeesh. Would I have plunged into the water if I’d known that?

I’d like to think so. Sometimes you have to set your worries aside and live a little. This was one of those times.

News-Sentinel copy editor Tanya Isch Caylor blogs about postfat living at Contact her at This column is the personal view of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.

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