Tuesday, October 21, 2008

White Water Wackiness

Austin and Shanda McKeehan, the gracious hosts of our trip to NC, embarked on an adventure with us Saturday night: whitewater rafting! I've never done this and have long begged Dave to do it together, so it was the perfect date night for the four of us. Located on the banks of the Catawba River in Charlotte, N.C., the U.S. National Whitewater Center is the world's largest artificial whitewater river and an official U.S. Olympic Training Site. Shanda and I did our hair and put on makeup and hoped not to get too many splashes on us whilst stylishly gliding past the less-coiffed professionals.

Upon arrival, we were met with a safety instructor to help us learn about getting out there in the water. I happily sat down and crossed my hands and smiled my most winning good-little- student smile. He looked me in the eyes and told us the most important rule of the day:

"Never let go of your 'T' (the end of the paddle)." With that he suddenly smashed the 'T' into the wall as hard as he could, creating the loudest crack that side of the Mississippi may have ever heard, causing me to leap in fear and emit an involuntary grunt of shock, as he calmly told us that the 'T' is pretty hard and that wall could be someone's face if we weren't careful. "I've seen black eyes, broken noses, and whole mouths of teeth smashed out," he announced impressively as I tried to make eye contact with Dave to alert him that we should possibly run for our lives. "Moral of the story," he told us, "is NEVER let go of your 'T'."

Well I couldn't think much as I recovered from the startlingly loud noise and the images of broken faces the instructor conjured but I tried to pay attention as he told us what to do if we fell out of the raft.

"Do not stand up if you fall out," he commanded us. "If there is something on the ground that your foot gets caught on, the rush of the water from behind you will pin you flat to the ground and you will die." (Or something like that.) And then, "If you get trapped under the raft, you have to do what we call the spider crawl- keep going in one straight line even if you think you will never get there, otherwise you will go in circles under there until you die." (Or something like that.)

He handed us our release forms and cheerfully went on his way. I tried to hold the pen steady as I released the company from any suit charges should I lose my teeth or die. One of the workers helped us put on our helmets and life jackets, but referred to them as PFDs (personal flotation devices) instead of life jackets. Shanda asked why.

"Because they're not guaranteed to save your life," was the reply.

We approached the raft and our guide.

"So we just heard a lot of horror stories about all these losers that fall in," I joked to him. "But what would you say the chances of falling in really are?" I figured probably a single digit percentage.

"You have a 60% chance of staying in the raft," he told me. I began maniacally mentally practicing the spider crawl, all the while keeping an eye out for possible secret escape routes as alternative evening activities. But before I could find one I was ushered into the raft and was standing in water up past my sneakers and socks. Hmm. This was a little less dry than I had previously pictured.

As I maniacally reminded my boat-mates not to let go of their 'T's, I remembered the long ago days of my youth when any adventure was filled with thrill, excitement, and no trepidation. My newly apparent oldness became quite evident to me. If I'd had boots, I'd have been shaking in them. Instead I shook in my sloshing sneakers. Off we shoved. Two seconds into it we were enveloped by a giant rapid, the people in front of me were completely buried in a wall of water, and I flew through the air to the floor and became soaked to my neck. Hmm. This was a little less dry than I had previously pictured.

Perhaps even more terrified and now soaking wet, we were heading for our second rapid, and the guide in the back shouted constant instruction, finally telling us to paddle forward. Without further instruction we kept paddling and paddling and I thought it had been a pretty long time since we'd heard from him when Dave turned around and announced, "Our guide is gone!" He had fallen out. If even the professional could not stay in, this did not bode well for me. Heaven help him if he was currently spider-crawling.

Luckily he did not die and managed to rejoin our floundering raft, as I issued strict reminders on 'T'-safety. Then all of a sudden something horrible and hard punched me in my ribs. Dave had let go of his 'T'! And just like the instructor had warned, it had attacked me! "That could have been my teeth!" I yelled.

After the first run, when no one else fell out and I was fairly certain it was no longer going to be the last day of my life, I relaxed and had a blast, whooping and screaming and bellowing, "Oh nooooooooooooooooooooooooo..." as we headed into walls of water. We went through the two courses several times and it was awesome and exciting even as I imagined the raccoon-look I must be perfecting with my mascara.

They had photographers on hand to capture your memories in pixels and drain your bank accounts to procure. What the heck? I bought two!

I like the first pic because it looks like it is just the four of us and the guide in the boat. In actuality though, there was another couple in the front row, as evidenced by their tiny paddles sticking out of the water. I also like that Austin and Dave look so happy and serene just one row behind us, as Shanda and I busily wail for our lives.


Stephanie said...

How fun! I love white water rafting. It is very scary when you fall in but everything happens so fast you don't have time to think about it. I love that you did your hair and make-up:)

Staci said...

Great story. Way to keep the "thrill factor" in your life! I'm impressed.

Nicole said...

My favorite part of the story is the "pep talk" before you started. Love those scare tactics. Those pictures are fantastic... Dave always looks so pleasently calm, and I don't see any raccoon eyes. :)

By the way -- If you really want to sign your life away and hear some scare-you-to-death instructions, try bungee jumping!

Courtney said...

So, I am sitting here at work, literally crying in fits of laughter at your story. The surgeons are now staring at me, thinking I have gone crazy. Soooo much fun, Jess!! I am totally jealous!!

Anonymous said...

Another really great story to read! Love it! I bet you had so much fun! I don't know what I would do if I came into CW and you were missing all your teeth! LOL. :) Great pics!

Blythe said...

That first picture had me literally crying with laughter! The look on your face is priceless!

diana said...

I love those pictures!! I remember going white water rafting on in Oregon.I loved it, but I remember it being scarey too. I am glad you were able to go and then tell us the fun story!!!

Todd Hillyard said...

I so happy your teeth were spared. Friends are like teeth.....

Emily said...

Wow, those must have been some rougher rapids with just a 60% chance of staying in the raft? That's funny, you've never been rafting, plenty of places to go in Oregon, and you go in North Carolina. I've never been in Oregon, but apparently there's a lot of great places to go in Idaho. I went on the Boise river once when I was about 14, and I think it was a relatively calm part of the river, nobody fell out of the raft, but we did get pretty soaked. I was terrified, seeing as I'm a pretty small person, so easily bounced out of the raft, and then first and foremost, I can't swim!! So that's why I haven't gone back. Lots of fun, I just don't like the idea of drowning... still, I might do it again someday.

McKeehan's said...

A truly epic trip and one that could not have been told better than you just did. Sorry I stile your pictures and out them on our blog too. But clearly, the story is what draws people. You have so uch talent writing. Between you and Dave, you two should be writing books.

McKeehan's said...

A truly epic trip and one that could not have been told better than you just did. Sorry I stole your pictures and put them out on our blog too. But clearly, your story is what truly draws people as evidenced by your counter. You have so such talent writing. Between you and Dave, you two should be writing books.