Monday, June 3, 2013

Rocket Propelled Surfing in the Potomac

Suddenly I was airborne, flying through the air as inexorably as if I had been launched from a rocket. Only a moment before I had been leaning forward, throwing all my strength into each pass of the paddle through the water as I sat perched on the front right corner of the raft. Now as I rapidly changed trajectory and plummeted down toward the water once again, my view of the sky was interrupted  by the visage of the man who had so recently been seated as my counterpart on the opposite side of the raft. Even as I hit the water I watched as he tumbled over me to land even further away from the raft, which I now saw was beginning to settle back to normal after being relieved of the weight that no longer rested on its prow.

As I struggled to turn myself to point my feet downstream to better defend myself against other potential hazards in the river I saw that my fellow frontman and I were not the only members of the boat to lose our place. Our guide too was in the water, having been thrown from his seat as the raft bucked in the swell. We later found out that, though he frequently guides trips on multiple rivers, this was the first time he had been knocked out of a boat in nearly two years.

We were quite the sight for the other boats, with all three guys in the water and only the two girls remaining in the newly restabilized raft!

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's go back to the beginning of the story...

Last year, for my 29th birthday, Alison gave me a voucher for the two of us to go white water rafting on the Potomac River. Until the moment that I opened that package I didn't even know you could go white water rafting on the Potomac River!

I was immediately skeptical about the quality of rafting experience that could be had on the Potomac, but it seemed like they wouldn't have much success as a company if there wasn't something of interest on the route, and it promised to be an interesting adventure.

The problem was that the Potomac only has conditions ideal for rafting for about six weeks in the spring and another month or so in the fall and at the end of May we were already at the tale end of the spring season. We were not able to take advantage of the opportunity in the fall, which meant that the vouchers remained on the shelf  until early April when we sat down to plan out our activities for the coming summer.

I also had a voucher for a whale watching trip in Cape May, NJ that Alison had given me for our anniversary in January and we determined that our only options to take advantage of these two vouchers was to sandwhich them between my two big Civil War Sesquicentennial commemorations at Chancellorsville, at the beginning of May, and Vicksburg, at the end.

We accordingly scheduled a trip to Cape May over Mother's Day weekend and a white water rafting trip on May 18.

Thus we arrived on the banks of the Potomac just south of Great Falls and soon found ourselves in a raft along with another couple we had just met and a guide who we quickly observed was the most rambunctious and unorthodox of the four possible options. He had me and the other guy position ourselves up front with our wives sitting behind us while he steered from the back. This arrangement allowed us to best take advantage of our power and versatility to maximize our ride through the rapids.

By white water rafting standards the six miles we traveled was pretty tame, with none of the rapids higher than a class three or lasting very long, but with Jesse at the helm we were consistently successful in cutting out of the rapids just before they ended and paddling back upriver in an eddy in order to travel down the same section of rapids again. In this way it seemed like there were a good deal more in the way of rapids than there really were.

We stopped for lunch and found that between the four rafts in our party the guides had stowed two small fold out tables, a table cloth, cutting boards, knives, lemonade, and a spread that included gigantic strawberries, melons, pineapple, hummus, chips & salsa, multiple varieties of cheese, and summer sausage. It was a veritable plethora of food that I would never have expected to encounter on a trip down the river!

The second half of the trip was marked by trying to find the most exciting routes through each of the rapids and attempts to "surf" some of the larger holes we came to. We had one especially successful run in which we "surfed" a hole for about four minutes before being pushed out.  It was in pursuit of a similar experience that we came to a particularly turbulent patch of water around a rock that Jesse had never gone over before. He asked us if we wanted to try and we soon charged forward at full speed.

It turned out that the rock and the drop off of it were both significantly larger than expected and the water exerted a domineering force upon the raft that resulted in the scene with which we began.

The remainder of the trip passed without further incident and the rocket propelled surfing quickly emerged as the highlight of the experience.

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