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How to be a River Rat

by Debra Bokur

Sep 16, 2019

Pafnuti | Dreamstime.com

Travel Tips

One of the most thrilling and satisfying ways to experience the power and beauty of a river is while racing along with its current. Early fall is the perfect time to try whitewater rafting for beginners and families, with cooler weather, trees beginning to change color, and water that’s flowing at a less heart-pounding rate than it does following snowmelt in the spring.

 

The best experiences begin with choosing a company that has a proven track record of safety, skill and river knowledge, along with a staff that’s intimate with the nuances of a particular river. Conditions on even the most congenial river can change rapidly, and you want to be sure your guide possesses the necessary expertise to navigate any scenario that may arise.

 

The variety of full, half-day and multiday adventures available with Colorado-based Echo Canyon River Expeditions includes low-key family floats that can accommodate kids as young as 4 years old, and routes with mild whitewater or exhilarating rapids. You’ll work up an appetite, but that’s okay: Riverside steak lunches are part of the fun.

 

“If your idea of a world-class rafting experience is watching riverside wildlife with your young child or grandchild while gently floating the river, then that’s what we’ll provide,” says owner Andy Neinas. “And if your idea of adventure includes sharing the experience of paddling Class II [through class] V rapids with your intrepid teen, then we have that, too.”

 

In West Virginia, Adventures on the Gorge provides top tier river access and adventure on the New River Gorge near Fayetteville on both the New and Gauley Rivers.

 

On the other side of the country (and also further afield in the kingdom of Bhutan), the Northwest Rafting Company (NWRC) offers a huge selection of expeditions appropriate to all skill levels along the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho, and on Oregon’s Rogue, Illinois, Chetco and Owyhee rivers. Themed trips include yoga and rafting retreats with live bluegrass music, while all trips help participants gain an increased appreciation of the natural world.

 

“Rafting brings us closer to nature and reminds us to constantly seek out ways to minimize our impact on Earth, and maximize sustainability to ensure that future generations can also enjoy these kinds of life-enhancing adventures in the wilderness,” says NWRC owner Zachary Collier. “After a trip on the river, you should walk away with a greater appreciation for our public lands [and] rivers.”

 

The Middle Fork of the Salmon River is also territory covered by Far and Away Adventures during the company’s Luxury Whitewater Rafting Safaris. Trips offered by this luxury outfitter include safari-styled camps set among pines on river beaches, and yoga journeys led by guides who are also accredited yoga teachers. Day activities that supplement the river trip include inflatable kayaks, wooden fishing boats, hiking, fly-fishing and massages. “The flowing energy of the river can be a spiritual setting,” says company owner Steve Lentz. “Unplugged from distractions, [guests of] Far and Away Adventures can enjoy daily morning salutations with the background symphony of water and nature.”

 

Whatever floats your boat, remember this: safety first. Bob Hamel, executive director, Arkansas River Outfitters Association, offers these tips:

 

Choose a reputable and established outfitter that follows a strict code of ethics and adheres to and often exceeds licensing requirements.

 

Be honest with yourself and your outfitter about your physical abilities and limitations.

 

Suit up: Wear proper clothing for maximum comfort. These outfitters offer or rent wet suits and splash jackets. Guests may also want to bring rafting shoes or booties and rafting gloves. Sunscreen and water are also recommended.

 

Complete waivers honestly and completely, and bring medication if needed. Rafters are required to sign waivers and divulge medical conditions. Bring medications like epi-pens and asthma inhalers if needed, and ask your guide to keep it in the dry bag.

 

Pay attention to guides’ pre-river safety talk, which will include instructions about what you should do if you find yourself in the river.

 

Always wear the helmet and personal floatation device provided by your outfitter.

 

Listen closely and follow guides’ instructions quickly and seriously, particularly when rafting through rapids or if you or another paddler falls out of the raft.

 

If you find yourself in the river, stay calm and don’t panic. Look to the guide for instruction and remember the self-rescue options guides provided.

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