Thursday, September 10, 2009

Rafting the Deerfield

Last month a small group of us went out to western MA and took a rafting trip down the Deerfield River. Class 4 water most of the way.

I had always wanted to go river rafting; tubing the Gunpowder River in Baltimore County was fun but kind of tame, by comparison. I wasn't sure about taking on the Colorado River, what with the logistics of the journey an' all, so the prospect of going local on a somewhat comparable river was exciting.

Rafting on the Deerfield, according to our guide, was every bit as like rafting the Colorado in terms of the difficulty, the runs just weren't as long. I thought of it like the way skiing on the east coast is compared to skiing in Colorado: the pitch was about the same, but out west the run is just about ten times longer.

Our day started by arriving at the check-in, getting complimentary coffee and settling down to listen to the guides tell us the do's & don'ts, the way flight attendants tell flyers what to do in case of an emergency. If you fall out of the raft, we were told, assuming you had your life jacket on securely, first try to work your way back to the raft; if not, float on your back, keep your feet up and, as you go down river work your way over to the side.

If, however, they said, you are close enough to be grabbed by a person in the raft then that person should grasp you by the jackets' lapels and pull you on board, right on top of them. Which is what happened on our raft.

The person sitting in the front right position got bounced out of the raft. She hit the water, had a look of momentary fear and panic, and then in the next second was being hauled up and over the gunnel, safe and sound.

We were in the first of 7 rafts that day. Our guide was responsible for all seven rafts and so we went first and then watched as the others caught up with us. He took some time to jell us into a well-coordinated crew (and also to test our moxie); as a result, as we waited for the others to run the rapids we'd spend time in the hydraulics letting the raft fill & drain and having us spin around in circles.

I enjoyed spending time in the hydraulics. We were in a wave/trough that was about 4 feet deep. If you weren't careful it could get very nasty very quickly but the seven of us in our raft, six plus the guide, worked well together and so it was fun.

At one point in one of the hydraulics I thought back to the beginning of the day, when we were getting ready to take the bus to the put-in point on the river. I thought I'd make one last stop at the bathroom before getting on the bus. I had put my ring of keys on my little finger, since I didn't have any pockets in my bathing suit, in preparation to putting them in the box of keys along with everyone else's at the bus. As I reached and flushed the toilet, my keys slid off my finger and right down the hydraulic created by the action of the flush.

The run down the river was a good time for all of us. In addition to spending time in the hydraulics, our guide had us turn around in circles, make our way across the river to the more interesting parts of the rapids, and generally spice up the trip, since he had pegged us all as competent thrill-seekers.

At the end of the trip we were all able to float down river about a hundred yards, to get the feel of what it would be like to do so, and then catch the extended line to get over to the side. I guess while we had fun floating, the guides had a chance to practice their rescue skills. It was a win-win for everyone.

Tired, wet and satisfied, we all took the bus back to the building in which the day started and had a big lunch. I'm not sure how good the food was but I was so hungry that I ate my fill and then some.

Triple A was very prompt, opening my car door so I could get the extra key I always keep in my wallet, which in this case was in the car.

And, it was for sure I slept well that night.

Rafting down the Deerfield. Okay. Now I'm ready for the Colorado River. Then again, maybe not.


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