From whitewater rafting to rock climbing, Maine's northern outdoors has it all, and one company makes the fun easy to share with active kids and teens. From whitewater rafting to rock climbing, Maine's northern outdoors has it all, and one company makes the fun easy to share with active kids and teens.
My addiction is to things that move – rowboats to the Concorde and everything in between. Since his toddlerhood, my 15-year-old son, Jesse, and I have shared many journeys together on "trains, planes and automobiles."
One August, as he became my active teen and I grew into his spectator-like father, we decided to share a unique mode of transit, the whitewater raft, and some other father-son adventures at Northern Outdoors (800/765-7238) of The Forks, Maine 04985.
Unlike the bus that I ride almost everyday, this transit system was, well, participatory. For starters, there was a 90-minute orientation followed by being fitted in unique garb to insure that you stayed dry (kind of, anyway), followed by a half-hour school bus ride to the launching point, the Harris Station hydroelectric dam, whose releases supply rafters with some of the largest waves in the northeast.
Riding High on Maine’s Whitewater
At that point, Ken, our most able guide and group leader, assembled his eight semi-able bodied men, women and teenagers for what became a most satisfying and exciting means of movement. Jesse's anxiety almost got the better of him before departure.
"At first I thought it would be cool and fun," he recalled, "but as they started the safety demonstration I became more and more scared, then terrified."
But great sport that he was, he helped us push off as Ken blew his whistle, and we started traveling down the gorgeous gorge of the Kennebec River.
The plan: raft half way, have lunch, raft again, meet the bus about two miles away from camp. The recipe: mix in 12 rapids of Class III and IV standard, eight foot-waves, and nine people who changed from complete strangers to a well-orchestrated team in one session. Multiply by five boats, stir, and shake until done.
Rapid Rafting along The Forks
The Titanic was on everyone's mind along with worries about what is euphemistically called "dumptrucking" as the raft proceeds at an 87-degree angle and occupants exit the rear rather ungracefully. Ken allayed those fears almost immediately, stating that flipping over rarely happens because teamwork prevents it.
Jesse enjoyed the first rapid, a Class III aptly named "Taster," explaining, "It was so cool that I relaxed and stopped freaking out." Even I felt more confident that I would survive, after all.
We progressed through a few others, leading to the largest drop on the river at "Magic Falls," rated as Class IV or V (there seems to be even more controversy about Rapids Classification than about airline delays.) After we went through, paddling harder than we ever had in our lives, Jesse broke into the broadest grin which didn't fade until we got back on the bus.
What started out as white-knuckled terror became a sort of plastic aqua ride with real rocks and strong currents. The exhilaration upon approaching each rapid, the furious paddling through, and then the calm after the storm, spoke of a rhythm not unlike the clickity-clack of steel wheels on rails.
Keeping our Lunch Down While Afloat on the Kennebec
After a hot cooked meal at the rest stop halfway down, we conquered the lower Kennebec with fewer and more forgiving rapids. At one point, inflatable kayaks were introduced and Jesse and I found ourselves out there solo for about 20 minutes!
Protected by wet suits, Jesse and several others dove into the river and enjoyed water fights across the rafts.
Wow! This New Jersey Turnpike of a river had become a pleasant two-lane country road.
All good rides have to come to an end. About five hours after we left camp, my son and I ambled off the bus, exhilarated and dreaming about the weekend's next rapid transit ride.
This video is a good example of what you’ll find there.
Climbing Rocks at The Forks, One Foot at a Time
Rapid it wasn't. Our next day of father-son bonding was consumed by an even more primitive mode of transport- foot. Actually, Jesse's feet and hands, not mine, as I leaned back against a tree and watched him rock climb.
Guided most ably by Stephanie, who assessed his skills, Jesse honed some of what he had learned earlier at camp and moved on to new challenges. After warming up on an indoor climbing wall, we traveled by van and canoe to a small island with a 70-foot cliff faced with several natural climbing routes. With words of encouragement from his coach and parents, Jesse was able to complete most of the routes and it was fascinating to watch him plan his steps, try them out, revise his route and climb as high as he could! I can only imagine the incredible views from up there and his feelings: "Hey, down there – I made it!"
Trip Planning Details for The Forks Adventures
Since introducing rafting to the Kennebec River Valley, The Northern Outdoors resort complex in the spectacular Appalachian Mountains has been hosting active families for almost 30 years. After spending a few days with them, we understand why they have been around for so long.
Accommodations range from rustic camping (never again!) to stylish condominiums (next time) and lakeside cabins. With innovative guided programs for active adults, family vacation packages, and less strenuous activities like kayaking, sportyaking and tennis, plus a pool, hot tub and a very good on-site restaurant, these folks offer just what families want from a getaway in the Maine woods.
What's their most impressive asset? I'd say the experience and friendliness of the extremely professional staff and their emphasis on safety (as well as great fun, of course) for everyone.
On the way home, barely a quarter of a mile from the parking lot, we encountered a moose who seemed to be saying goodbye to us as he crossed the road. Seeing this imposing creature is something none of us will soon forget, but what I will cherish are memories of sharing one more 'journey' with my soon-to-be-on-his-own teen.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.