Tag Archives: white water rafting

Just add water

After we picked up my sister and her girls and successfully motored back to Wallyworld, running on plenty of gasoline, we settled in for a few days’ respite before heading out again to the western part of Washington State. Our plan was to go white water rafting on the Wenatchee River in Leavenworth. Newly familiar with white water rafting since we’d done it exactly one time previously, Susanne and I were confident. My nieces had never done this before, but my sister Kathy is a pro, having rafted in West Virginia many, many times.

All we needed to do was make a 3-hour car trip to the rafting site. We’d meet up with the guides at 1 in the afternoon.

We pulled in to Leavenworth a bit early and instead of hanging out for an hour at the rafting departure site (read, bunch of old school buses by the side of Hwy. 2), we ventured into the town proper. And then we were amazed at what we saw.

It was Bavaria. Better, it was Pretend Bavaria. Everything in the town was Germanic—from the chatel-inspired McDonald’s to the lettering on the gas price signage at the Texaco. They didn’t miss a single building. This was not some half-ass attempt at reinventing the Alps the way they’ve never existed, no sir. This was a complete overhaul of what had been, 40 years ago, a desolate mining town a bit too far from Seattle to be interesting. Well, now it’s interesting, if not extremely strange in its—dare I say fascist—adherence to the Bavarian aesthetic. It was so comprehensive we had trouble finding things we wanted to find, like the pharmacy. Or the Mexican restaurant we were told to try for dinner. Just take a minute to wrap your mind around a Germanic Mexican restaurant. Yeah. Now you know what Vicodin is like.

Squandering our time on a putt-putt golf course, it was even more surreal to see the miniature version of Fake Germany. And here the height of the nieces came into wonderful relief.

Emily and Jamie are giants

Emily and Jamie are giants

Other than the really cute buildings, I am sad to say that this mini golf course is not really worth the cost of admission. But hey, we had time on our hands.

Then it was off to the river, where we put on our lifejackets (always stinky, but they’re kind of a part of the gestalt of it all) and got a quick course in river safety. We’d been informed of safety considerations the last time we’d been rafting, too, but this time, well, there wasn’t much of a need. In August, on the Wenatchee, after a summer of heat and blue skies, we were lucky the water was up to our knees. This was not so much white water rafting as lazy river floating. I’ve seen higher waves getting into my tub. We got stuck a lot, mostly under my fat ass, as it happened. It was a pretty course, though, and stands to be a lot more active if one travels there in say, late spring.

Our guides informed us that in two days they were expecting 75 Microsoft developers, which they would spread out over 15 rafts or so. I could only imagine. Talk about a team-building exercise. They could lose half their staff on some of those thick rocks. It’s one thing to get stuck at a management retreat trying to figure out how to survive on the surface of the moon with 18 inches of twine, 27 bottle caps, and two pounds of Limburger cheese, but it’s another to actually need to paddle together. I kind of wanted to tag along to see how it would go.

But we had other adventures to conquer—taking the ferry to Victoria, the wonderful and colorful Butchart Gardens, and the idiosyncratic fish-throwing mongers of the Seattle market. Low-water rafting was just our gateway vacation event.

Newbies on the Kootenay

Having been a fan, in my youth, of many a water flume ride, I often wondered if white water rafting was merely a few degrees higher on the dial of the same animal, or an entirely different adventure, not the least because it was off a metal track and in the open outdoors.

I now have my answer.

We dragged ourselves groggily to the meeting location, most of us wearing layers like we’d been instructed. The Kootenay river runs very near the much larger, longer, Columbia, but the Kootenay is home to more sacred Native lands and is said to be the source for some ancient medicines. One by one we lumbered in, and I watched the cousins, some of whom Susanne hadn’t seen since the wedding, greet each other and start to wake up. We read over the liability releases, made sure we had everyone we were waiting for, and piled into the yellow school bus for our 1/2 day trip to the river.

“Cousins on the river,” they shouted like a pre-game warmup cheer, and we rumbled to the rafting site.

We listened to the guides give us our safety instructions, but we were ready on our own accord, coming armed with 5 epi pens in case an evil peanut or honey bee should come at us in one of the rapids. I chatted up the guide at the back of the raft, our conversation repeatedly redirected so that we could “paddle forward,” “left back, right front,” and so on. The Kootenay has dug through a lot of earth over the millennia, and we found our selves in some deep river canyons, limestone cliffs on our right, deep dark soil thick with evergreens off the port. The cousins at the front of the boat were soaked head to toe. Wet cousins do indeeed look like drowned rats.

We hurtled over class 3 rapids like young bucking bronco riders. Twisting alongside the Canadian rockies, we declared the experience thrilling and vowed to take on a more challenging river next summer. Hooray for the river!

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