Sunday, April 25, 2010

Go White Water Rafting in Canada's Rocky Mountains


Man vs. Nature.

I teach this concept to my students all the time - it is a timeless conflict in literature, and in real life. Will man overcome, or will nature take its course?

I decided to test this in the summer of 2009, and was lucky enough to test it twice in one week. My husband's family has rented a cabin in Radium, British Columbia for the last two summers; a new 'tradition' that we're trying to establish. It is a small town set in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, full of beautiful hiking trails, gorgeous views, and of course, the famous Radium Hot Springs. But we were to discover there was more adventure to be had in Radium than jumping into the ice pool at the Hot Springs...

The Rocky Mountain view from our launching post

Last summer, as Joey and I, along with his sister Nancy and his brother Chris were strolling through the streets of Radium, we encountered a white water rafting agency and ventured inside. The prices were reasonable, and they had beginner levels that we could attempt to master. We signed up right away. The next day, we were boarding a big, yellow cheese wagon - or school bus to those of you who have never had the pleasure of riding one to school in your youth - and were bumping along half-developed logging roads towards our drop-off point in the Kicking Horse river.

Ready to white water raft in the Kootenay River, British Columbia

Once down at the drop-off point, we geared up in hospital-scrub-green waterproof pants, which were slightly less than flattering, and bright orange life vests. We patiently and somewhat nervously listened to the safety speech all about falling off the boat and drowning or getting legs broken on hidden, underwater rocks, then loaded into the large, inflatable rubber boats. We four were in that perfect age range of being older than the small children on our boat (yes, that's how tame the river ride was to be - we were sitting with 9-year-olds) and being younger than the timorous parents who wanted to just sit in the back, near the guide. So Joey, Nancy, Chris, and I got front row seats on the boat - first to go down each trough, first to get a face full of icy water when hitting the crests of each rapid wave. After the first couple of slaps in the face with glacial water, my body got used to the temperature and I really began to look forward to the rapids.

Joey all decked out in his white water rafting gear

Our journey was customized for families with children and beginners, so for the most part, our ride consisted of floating peacefully along, gazing at the serene landscape of British Columbia forest. But every so often, our guide would lead us into the heart of some rapids, and rattle off succinct instructions on how to paddle, where to paddle, and when to quit paddling. It was exciting and quite safe. There was even a point where Joey and Chris were encouraged to leap out of the boat, go for a polar bear swim, and then get hauled in before we hit the next round of rapids. I hauled Chris in easily, but Nancy nearly allowed my husband to be bashed by rocks before she finally got him inside the boat! It was such an amazing time.

An in-action shot of the white water rafting trip!

The next day, my parents decided to come to Radium to spend some time with the in-laws. It was their anniversary, and so Joey and I came up with the brilliant idea of giving them a white water rafting package for their anniversary gift. Now, please realize that my parents are in their fifties, and my father can't even swim. Somehow, we still thought that this was a genius idea. They accepted, to my surprise, and so the next day I found myself back on the yellow school bus, bumping along the same beaten path to the river. We'd chosen the exact same route as the time before, knowing it was pretty tame for the most part.

My parents on their anniversary - pretty brave!

It was, once again, a great experience. Our guide this time was a lot more laid-back than the first one, and encouraged all rafts to engage in a giant water fight, bail-out buckets full of icy water included. Every person in the rafting group was soaked to the bone by the time we'd finished our river journey - but everyone excitedly chatted about the water fight on the drive back to the headquarters. My dad even said he'd enjoyed it, despite him not speaking a single word the whole rafting ride and his knuckles white from gripping his paddle so hard. He was a great sport! My parents are talking about coming out to Radium again this summer - perhaps we'll try the next level up? We'll have to see!

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