As I paused to take in the morning sun reflecting off the dark water and onto the rugged mountains, I nearly fell into the wobbly raft I would be spending the rest of the day in. Just as the freezing-cold October water was beginning to seep into my shoe, I heard a series of splashes and aggravated voices. Giggling to myself, I watched the rest of my church’s youth group struggle to successfully get into the raft. My church had sponsored this trip for a fairly large group of teens and chaperones to go white water rafting down the Lower Gauley River with Extreme Expeditions. The majority of us had never done this before, but we had optimistic attitudes and just enough sense of adventure.
Before we were even close to the rafts, we were each given a wet suit, a helmet, and an oar. Getting more anxious by the minute, it wasn’t until we were crammed onto our bus that I noticed my wetsuit was unique; it was bright red while everyone else’s was black. The instructor at the front of the bus was showing us how to use an oar, and as he was giving a final warning about the damage an oar can do, he smiled and revealed his missing two front teeth. Our group sure did listen closer after that. We had been split into two rafts because of our size, but before we knew it, everyone was in, settled, and ready for the adventure to begin.
At first, we awkwardly bumped each other’s paddles and could not get the raft to move. Our guide was patient and helpful, and soon we started moving forward and towards our true challenges: rapids. Rapids are fast moving, whirlpool-like places in a river and are classified by difficulty in numbers from one to five. We started our journey down the river and hit a few tricky rapids early, but with furious paddling and determination, made it through them. Just up ahead, there was clearly another rapid, and as we were bracing ourselves for the ride, our guide piped up, “Anyone feeling like a daredevil?” We all looked at each other in silence and wondered what he could possibly mean. Not wanting to miss an opportunity for fun, I quickly answered. I handed over my paddle, as directed, and clumsily made my way to the front of the raft. The guide then told me to sit on the front edge of the raft with my feet dangling over the water and to hold onto the canvas strap between my legs. I was essentially “riding the bull,” but over a rapid. As we headed down the “Stair steps” rapid, I was bouncing around everywhere, holding on for dear life, and laughing hysterically. Just as we were coming out of the rapid, our raft went over a particularly large drop – of four or five feet – and was thrown off balance. I fell backwards into a tiny section at the front, where my body got stuck. But my skinny, red-clad legs were sticking straight up into the air. This was of course when the photo of our raft was being taken by the company.
The rest of the day went by in a flash. We stopped for lunch part way through the day, enjoyed the strikingly beautiful foliage, and even went swimming in the river. After much confusion, I also discovered my wetsuit had been inside-out the whole day. My extraordinary day on the Gauley River was full of adventure, excitement, and memories I will keep for the rest of my life.
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