With grandparents along, a Canadian whitewater rafting trip becomes an unforgettable multi-generational adventure.
As they sipped a caffe lattÃ© in the Nouveau Monde office off Mont Tremblant’s main square, Doris and Bill Bozman were remarkably calm. They were touring QuÃ©bec to celebrate a 55th wedding anniversary and had joined me, their son, and my family for a day of river rafting with the “kids.” Although the journey appeared a bit more adventurous than predicted in the outfitter’s brochure, they were, as usual, game for any outing.
Mom was slightly unnerved by the lengthy release form which waived the rafting company’s responsibility in medical emergencies, cases of death or dismemberment, and other potential perils of adventure sports. My dad didn’t love boarding a rickety yellow school bus for the 45-minute ride to a put-in spot on the banks of the RiviÃ¨re Rouge. (It must have reminded him of endless childhood school commutes in rural Texas.)
However, neither minded when the handsome young expedition leader suggested they swap golf shirts for a wetsuit jacket, and Topsiders for Aquasocks. The requisite helmet and mildew-stained life jackets raised eyebrows. “Are you nervous?” I asked, eager for some good whitewater. “No! No!” they assured the group which now included several families, as well as another older couple who’d fled an organized bus tour of QuÃ©bec for a day of adventure.
With little ado, the French-Canadian rafting guide Erica shoved an inflated eight-passenger boat into the shallows. I watched my father hold Mom’s elbow as they slid down the muddy banks and climbed onto the second bench seat, as Erica had assigned. Hoping for an able-bodied crew on this ‘family float trip,’ she had put my wife and me in the front, my son in the bow, and the other seniors in the last row. With enough manpower to propel the raft, she could use her four years’ guide experience to steer it through the shallow, active rapids.
“The hole we call The Canyon will be coming up first,” Erica began, “and because we’ve had so little rain it may be rough. If I call out ‘Row’,”she instructed, “you row, if I call ‘Break’ you stop, and if I call ‘Down’ everyone leans in and grabs the strap running across the seat. Okay, ready?” she roared over the foamy white ripples.
“Row!” she commanded, and off we flew, cresting a small wave and plunging deep into a sharp drop which caused the raft walls to buckle inward and sideways. Erica may have shouted ‘Down’ but with paddles flying, helmets knocking into each other, and our littlest passenger screaming with glee it was impossible to hear. Once the raft righted itself, Mom pulled herself out of Dad’s lap and everyone tried to regain a seat.
“That was fun!” my dad laughed, tugging at his bulky life jacket and straightening the helmet and glasses that had collided with mine.
As it turned out, traversing the Canyon rapids was more nerve-jangling than crossing the many others encountered in four hours of paddling. After one long peaceful interlude, Mom leaned over and confided happily, “I do like the calm parts, so I can rest my arms a spell.” To add some excitement for the extreme adventurers in our flotilla, the guide showed us several spots to squirm overboard for a dip in the chilly 76F [degree] river.
When the welcome sun rose above the towering pines shading the river banks, Erica moored the raft so we could ‘cannonball’ off a large, slippery boulder into a deep and rock-free rapid, to race down a bit, then swim back upstream in the calmer side waters. By lunch, we were all ready to relax on the warm banks of a sandbar dubbed Miami Beach.
As the weary Bozman clan lounged against a driftwood stump enjoying peanut butter sandwiches, Erica approached. “Are you having fun today?” she asked shyly. Mom and Dad both nodded enthusiastically. “I’m so pleased when I see older people try this. I am very honored to have you, at your age, in my raft.” My parents beamed proudly.
“Well, we’re actually not that old,” Dad replied, “but I am looking forward to a little nap.”
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