It was an excited crowd of high school and college age students that climbed off the buses at the white water rafting location in Tennessee. We divided into groups of five and donned life vests and helmets. Jeremy, our group’s guide, instructed us how to hold our paddles properly and how to wedge our feet into the rim around the bottom of the raft. He explained that the key to not falling out was keeping your legs tight and your feet secured in the raft. We climbed into the raft and paddled around in the water, practicing our forward and backward strokes as Jeremy called, “One forward!” or “Two backwards!” When he called “Hit the deck!” we were instructed to lift our paddles up vertically and to sit down on the floor of the raft. Jeremy seemed pleased with our efforts, and we soon paddled back to shore and climbed out. After a few minutes, we carried our raft down the cement launching pad, placed it on the water, and climbed in. Jeremy took his station in the back, joined by the smallest member of our group, Lindsey. Alex and Samantha sat in the middle, and Tyler and I sat in the front.
We paddled along the river for a little while before encountering our first rapids. The first few waves that crashed over us were powerful and chilling to the bone. Since Tyler and I were situated at the front, we faced the brunt of the waves. One plummeting wave caused us to smash into each other, which was both humorous and painful at the same time.
As we paddled to the following rapids, we had to pay close attention to Jeremy’s stroke calls. I was frustrated when I occasionally bumped paddles with Samantha behind me. I guess I dreamed of us having uniform strides like oarsmen on row boats, but alas, we were hardly seasoned paddlers.
The subsequent rapids were varying in degrees of intensity. We were thrashed around quite a bit, but none of us fell out of the raft. One of my favorite experiences on the river was making doughnuts in the rapids. At Jeremy’s command, one side of the raft paddled backward, and the other side paddled forward, twirling us in circles.
Once, when the river was calm, Jeremy allowed us to climb out of the raft and swim for a bit in the chilly water. I floated on my back, my life vest buoying to the surface and my neck craning to stay above the water. I naturally floated away from the raft and had to struggle to get back to it after a few minutes. Next came the task of climbing back into the raft. I held onto the raft as Alex grabbed my life vest and tugged to little avail. He tugged again, and I slid up the edge a little more. Now half of my body was out of the water and draped over the raft. With some effort from me and another yank from Alex, I finally tumbled into the raft.
Near the end, Jeremy warned us that we were going to “hit the deck” soon. I was nervous, but also a bit invigorated at the thought. We were swirling in the rapids and bounding up and down on the waves when Jeremy yelled, “Hit the deck!” Instantly, we lifted our paddles to the sky and slid onto the floor of the raft to ride out the remainder of the rapids.
Eventually, we reached the end of our trip. After paddling toward the shore, we stepped into the shallow water, and pulled the raft on land. Unbuckling our helmets and life vests, we joined the other rafters basking in the sun and shared our experiences before boarding the buses.