Last weekend I went whitewater rafting. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but since I didn’t take any pictures, I guess I’ll have to write a thousand words (which may be difficult because at the moment there’s a wedding afterparty being held at the Lord Jeff Inn right outside my dorm-room window with what sounds like several hundred people screaming to the lyrics of Stayin’ Alive).
First, a little context: summer at Amherst isn’t quite as exciting as the school year at Amherst. Beautiful weather and no classes are nice, but I spend most of my time working in a lab. Moreover, most of my friends aren’t on campus and are instead doing crazy stuff like bungee jumping off bridges in New Zealand as part of their “study” abroad (that’s pointed at you, Lucas). Fortunately, all of us here at Amherst – researchers, farmers, interns, volunteers, squatters – still find ways to have fun. Hence whitewater rafting, which I first heard about through my friend Nate, who heard about it through his physics professor, who happens to be an avid whitewater kayaker. Nate put me in touch with a guy named Al, who runs rafting trips through the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC). Al’s a cool guy. The man’s enthusiasm is infectious, even over the phone when I first called him. In person he’s even more exuberant, jumping up and down and waving his arms whenever the subject of rafting comes up.
Five other Amherst students signed up, too, none of whom I knew particularly well before the trip. I’ve been going on trips with our school’s Outing Club since my first month at Amherst and have led a few myself, and the great thing about all of them is that a new group of faces seems to show up each time. They’re one of my main ways of meeting new people here at Amherst and connecting with them on a level I normally wouldn’t back on campus.
To get to the rafting site – a section of the Deerfield River called the Dryway, about 20 miles north of Amherst – we rented one of the vans owned by our student government group, the Association of Amherst Students or AAS. AAS vans are clubs’ primary means of transportation and are also available to students without cars who want to do things on their own volition like drive to the grocery store or the airport.
The rapids along the Deerfield River aren’t your typical rapids. The river is too low in the summer for them to form naturally, but a nearby hydroelectric facility holds back enough water in a reservoir to turn the rapids “on” once it’s released through a dam. That gave us a narrow window of time – 10 am to 2 pm – to get out on the river. If we were out too long, we’d be stuck out on a dry creek bed, forced to drag the raft all the way back to the spot where we put in. Certain sections of the rapids are Class IV, which, according to Wikipedia, are “intense, powerful but predictable rapids requiring precise boat handling in turbulent water… [and] may feature large, unavoidable waves and holes or constricted passages demanding fast maneuvers under pressure.” And that’s pretty much how the day went.
Al had three rafts, one he captained himself and two he delegated to other AMC guides. The Amherst crew piled into a raft helmed by a guy who was the exact opposite of Al – calm, serious, and quiet. The first rule of rafting: do as he says. If he says paddle forward, we paddle forward. If he says paddle backward, we paddle backward. If he says stop, we stop.
Our first rapids come up. They’re only Class III. Tim and I do everything correctly because we’re near the back of the raft, right in front of the guide. Poor Felix and Joon are in the front row and can’t hear the guide’s voice over the roar of the river. As if straight out of a Michael Bay film, Joon stops paddling and yells, “Brace yourselves!” before he and only he gets hit by the spray and flies backward onto the laps of Iris and Vickie behind him. Tim and I see it all from the back. The six of us burst into laughter while our guide yells at us to keep paddling forward. “Did I say stop?” he asks. Oops.
I managed to stay relatively dry, but not for long; we ended up spinning 180 degrees through the second set of rapids, which positioned my body right in the trough of an upcoming wave. Sploosh!
The final rapids, Class IV this time, are called the Dragon’s Tooth. The trick with the Dragon’s Tooth is to avoid the Dragon’s Tooth, a boulder jutting out of the foam (Dragon’s Saliva?) at the base of the rapids. Felix paddles like a madman. Joon braces correctly this time. We all survive, drag our raft back to the cars, take a selfie with our guide, say goodbye to Al, and head back home in the AAS van.
Addendum: Turns out this post was under 1,000 words, so here’s a picture that's worth the extra 150: