As a child I loved to read adventure stories. Climbing Everest, exploring remote jungles, and searching for the North Pole sounded very exciting. But as I grew up, reality intruded. I was on the clumsy side, and I really shouldn't be staking my life on upper body strength. I'm miserable in humidity, and jungles are very humid. And those arctic explorers... couldn't bathe very often. Fortunately, I discovered a form of thrilling adventure that is just right for me. It's whitewater rafting.
Match my skills
If you can sit down and follow instructions, don't mind getting wet and having a good arm workout, you are ready for rafting. That's one of the great things about rafting. It's about your team, in the raft. I'm not making any decisions about the right thing to do. Which is, itself, the right thing to do. That's what the raft guide is for. The guide knows what to do. They tell us. And we look at each other and grin, and we do it. That sense of us working together to control the raft is a great feeling. Maybe not as much as finding the North Pole, but then again, I did have a nice shower recently. I've gone with relatives, friends, co-workers, and total strangers. What is fascinating and adventurous is how all these disparate people can get into a big raft; and now we are a team.
On my first trip, we all gathered at a cute little diner for a big Adirondack breakfast before setting out. Other times, we got on a bus to travel down to the launch point. No matter how we gather, there's time to get acquainted and share stories. Because when the Big Sort comes... we might be sharing a raft, too.
Orientation is when we learn how to handle our paddle, what to look out for, and practice our moves as instructed. While these big rafts are very stable and the process is designed for amateurs, we still need to work together for best results.
The season we are setting out is going to guide our outfitting choices. My first time, I went in spring, when the river is at its rowdiest. Very exciting, and very wet. We were issued wetsuits so we could stay warmer and more comfortable. I had invested in a silk base layer to wear under it, and it was a perfect combination for such a trip. In summer, we can wear quick-drying shorts and shirts, bathing suits and lighter footwear. As with many Adirondack activities, you will be warned not to wear "death cloth." This simply means: don't wear cotton. It will get wet and then keeps sucking heat out of our bodies. Staying soggy all day is not a good choice for comfort. This is how hypothermia happens; people wear cotton, it gets cold and wet, and doesn't dry out. It makes sense. We know how long it takes jeans to dry out in a tumble dryer.
I love water travel above all other forms of wilderness experience, because it is so easy. In a river, we don't even have to paddle much. The current will take us.
These rivers have carried people through the Adirondack forest for thousands of years. (And none of them wore cotton, either.) From the earliest birchbark canoes to our inflatable rubber and plastic rafts, this is still the finest way to experience all that nature has to offer. We launch from a quiet spot so everyone can get their bearings, try out some paddling commands, and soak up the incredible tranquility. We quickly travel very far from traffic noises, manmade objects, and other signs of civilization. The Adirondacks are lightly populated, but the sections used for rafting runs through some of the most untouched areas in it. While we are going to be viewing some awesome scenery, taking pictures of it can be challenging. We need to protect our camera from water, and fasten it to something solid. This isn't like canoeing, where we can stop the boat and be careful. We won't have the same maneuverability, either. In a canoe I can seal a cheap camera in a baggie with lots of air in it, and have a good chance of getting it back if it should go overboard. That doesn't happen when we are in the rapids. Nothing stops.
Here we go
I still get goosebumps thinking of the first time I heard, and then saw, my first rapids. These stretches of wild water offers two contradictory things. There are obvious quiet areas and some very not-quiet areas, and how to get from one of those places to another is not obvious at all. But that's the beauty of having an Adirondack Guide. While in my normal life I am a very independent person, when it comes to adventure, I am happy to listen to someone else. This is where our guide starts yelling instructions, and we all concentrate on following them.
This is not as simple as it seemed, when we were standing on the shore, practicing paddling the air in response to our guide's commands. There's a lot of distractions now, from roaring foamy water all around us, and people shouting encouragement - and oh my gosh we are actually doing it! We are in the middle of it now! Screaming? Heck yeah. Everyone else is doing it. There isn't time to think about anything else but how our raft is dodging around in response to our paddling, and at the end of this splashy roller coaster ride we skate into a quieter area, and we all laugh. We can't help it. It is just so exciting that we all did this.
And we get to do it again and again.
There are breaks built into the journey, especially since this day started so early. Depending on the season, there are places for picture taking, swimming, and exploring. At the end of my first trip, there was a gourmet picnic and songs on guitar. It was one incredible day. I enjoyed it so much I expanded into the slower pace of summer, where the spring melts have all gone with the spring melts go, and the trees are in full leaf. This might be a great way for the unsure to try a raft trip that is more scenic than thrilling. This is my cunning way of softening up the reluctant for the more exciting, though shorter, treks in the spring. Most scenic of all are the ones in the autumn, where there are miles of flaming leaves and rocky shoreline to appreciate.
It's easy to see why paddling the Adirondacks is something I urge everyone to consider. Want to taste a bit of the experience before jumping in? My coworkers made this cool video on their recent trip!
This week in ADK news: