Monday, October 8, 2007

Rafting the Devil's Soda: She don't come in Diet

Went whitewater rafting with Tom and Dave (and two of Tom's friends) this weekend. I had heard about the trip a few months ago, but Eric was psyched about it much more than myself and there were limited openings so I wasn't going to go. Then (long after I had forgotten about the whole thing) last thursday Dave asked if I wanted to go because Eric and John Sawyko had bailed at the last minute. I am a true merchant, I haggled Dave down to $100 from like $150.

I had never really thought about rafting before. Apparently there are different levels of whitewater rafting, and some of it can be dangerous. Dave gave me no warning (he forwarded me an email from Tom about the trip, but had "accidentally" removed all the html tags), so I showed up thinking it was going to be whitewater rafting like the rafting rides they have at amusement parks (which were fun because I don't like heights but I don't mind getting thrown around or getting wet). Instead, we went down one of the top 10 most violent commercially rafted rapids in the world (number 7 to be precise).

Tom and Cameron showed up and joked all night about how this river is going to chew you up and spit you out. They spent all night doing impressions of the old shark hunter guy from Jaws, where he's lecturing the cops on how dangerous sharks are. Except they were talking about how dangerous this river is. "You ain't getting nothing out of the Gauley! At the end of the day it's just a matter of how much she takes from ya!" "This white water is the Devil's soda! (then after the guide sees the girl in our group) What are you here for, girly? The Devil's Soda don't come in diet!" I guess drinking diet soda is feminine. Also, our guide was going to take one look at us and say "You boys on the upper Gauley? Is this a joke? 'Cause I ain't laughing!" That'd be right before one of us would try to introduce ourselves to the guide and he'd interrupt with "I don't want to know no names!" As he had lost so many foolish amateurs already and didn't want to get attached. The guys had watched youtube videos of this river (and people crashing badly) and had psyched themselves up to the point where Cameron had nightmares the night that night about the river. I wasn't scared by it, just a little concerned. The only comment our guide actually made was "Oh this is your first time? And you decided to start with the Upper Gauley..." Our dead-weight (see below) was also all first-time rafters, so I didn't think he was talking to me specifically and I didn't respond.

The morning of rafting we got up at 5:30. We were planning on renting wetsuits but we didn't make it to the meeting in time for that. I went out on the river with a t-shirt and shorts, and froze pretty much the whole day. Had I not worn the shirt I probably would only have been cold half that time because the weather was pretty warm out once the sun was up. There were 5 of us, and because it's an 8 person raft we picked up 3 more people. I was hoping for hot chicks, Tom was hoping for experienced rafters, and I think Cameron was hoping it'd just be the five of us. Well we ended up getting 3 older guys added to our raft, all of whom were useless and one of whom was fairly over-weight. Basically we picked up about 650 pounds of dead-weight. Our guide was pretty talented though, and seemed to anticipate that whenever he yelled "forward!" the left side would go forward a little faster than the right.

We only had one disasterous wreck. On the rapid called "Pillow rock" or something like that, we were going down full-tilt and hit a rock (actually i think it might have been the pillow rock). We hit it sideways after spinning. It was my side that hit, so one second we're flying down the rapids and the next second I'm tipping over backwards out of the raft and I looked up and the raft was almost vertical in the air above me and still rising and people are scrambling to hold on. Tom and I fell out first (tom was sitting behind me in the raft). I was sure the raft was going to flip (after seeing the otherside practically over my head) so I wanted to get out of the way before people started falling on top of me. But it turns out that the raft didn't flip. The tour guide (who had managed to duck flat very shortly before the rock hit) and dave (who we all thought was just very lucky but it turns out he might have been desperately clutching to the chicken rope when the raft went vertical, something you're not supposed to do because you might flip the boat) managed to stay in the raft. Everyone else got dumped.

I hit my foot on a rock, got dunked a bunch of times and resurfaced to find myself about 5 feet from Tom, both of us right behind a rock that had water flowing over the top. Not a good place to be because there were rafts behind ours coming down the rapids. We see the almost-empty raft downstream (where dave and the guide were standing up yelling but I wasn't sure what was being said) and start swimming towards it. After a good 30 seconds of very hard swimming we had somehow made no progress. Absolutely none and I was dead tired. I remember thinking "It's a good thing i've got this life jacket on!" as I dropped my exhausted arms and promptly sank in the water. I was surprised and kicked to the surface, immediately sank again, and then resurfaced again and had time to look around to see the boat about 15 feet away. I also spotted Tom way off to the side clinging to a rock while people were telling him to swim toward a nearby boat. I swam to our boat, and managed to grab Dave's hand just before the current could drag me past (aparently a bunch of people were narrowly missed by Dave because the current was pulling them by too quickly). I got my arms pulled into the boat and grabbed on but was too tired to make any progress on my own, and then Dave and another guy pulled me the rest of the way in.

There are some pretty exciting photos of the whole boat going up in the air and me and Tom in the act of falling backwards. I'll post them when I get them. Nobody was seriously injured. It's a good thing we fell at that spot also, because there were other rapids where if you fall you're supposed to swim away from a particular side because the water runs under a lot of the rocks and if you get swept down with the water you'll drown. And after falling in the river I had no idea what the guide had said about where to swim, had any rocks been nearby I probably would have instincually swam toward them.

This isn't our raft, but we did go down that same rapid.

Today my arms are a little sore, one of my legs is super sore, and my butt is really, really sore. I have a little trouble sitting even now (36 hours after the rafting). It's worse than after your first day snowboarding.

We stopped by and saw the New River Gorge Bridge. It's pretty awesome, it's the highest bridge in the nation. But I think I was the only person who thought it was very cool. Now I'm back in dc, and have to work 12 hour days this week. I wasn't planning on it, but now I have less time to make up for last week's slacking. The surprise rafting trip was 3 days I was planning on working and a my sister's almost-surprise weekend trip to NYC is one more (she's presenting a documentary she made).

Kate: I hope the rafting trip was fun, I bet you're closer to being a real woman now.

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