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Tuesday, 01 November 2011

A Senior's First White Water Rafting

By Jackie Harrison

"If you are a senior and a poor swimmer, you have no business considering white water rafting,” I told myself as I drove past the sign that said, "White Water Rafting.” Yet, I was fascinated.

I walked up to the office door and was greeted by a friendly, enthusiastic woman about 30 years old. I meekly said, "I saw your sign and thought I would ask about white water rafting since I have never done it."

She replied, "You will love it," and then insisted upon showing me a film.

I was enjoying the film until I saw a deer caught in the turbulent river rapids struggling to free itself. She must have sensed my anxiety because she immediately told me a 60-year-old man and some 9- to 10-year-olds had already signed up for the trip.

I signed up.

This was Tuesday and the trip was scheduled for Thursday. All day Tuesday, excitement ran through me. Starting about noon on Wednesday, however, all I could see was that deer struggling in the rapids. By nightfall, I was a wreck. I took my cure-all, Tylenol, to go to sleep.

Thursday morning was cold, foggy and dreary with soft rain steadily falling. The weather report said 40 percent rain and a drop in temperature to 40 degrees by evening. I thought, "That clinches it. They will cancel the trip."

I called and asked, "Is the trip for 1PM canceled?"

The male voice replied, "No ma'am. Would you like to rent a wet suit? We are running a special today."

My heart skipped a beat but I calmly said, "Will you reserve one for me?"

He answered, "Don't need to do that, ma'am. Just come early and you can pick one up."

When I arrived at the office, I was handed a paper to sign. It was something about liability but I couldn't read it without my glasses. Then the man asked, "What size wet suit?"

I said, "I don't know."

Without hesitating, he demanded, "Pull up your jacket and let me see." After full scrutiny, he said, "A medium is what you need." Then he wanted to know if I had on a bathing suit under my clothes. When I said no, he asked in a loud voice in front of everyone, "Do you have on any underwear?"

Before long, two girls who looked to be about a size 6, stripped down to their bathing suits and struggled for about 15 minutes to get into their wet suits. I asked what size wet suit they got and they said a medium.

I marched up to the desk and told the man that I needed to exchange my suit for a large. He responded in his usual voice, "You don't need a large. We are not running a beauty contest."

I said to myself, "I am too old for this."

As we neared our destination, the driver began giving instructions. He said, "Listen up. If you fall off the raft, you must lie on your back, not try to swim or get out of the rapids, but wait to have a rope thrown to you. Look your guide straight in the eye or he will not throw a rope to you. Hold onto your paddle. That might be your only chance to be rescued. Also look out for rattlesnakes on the rocks."

That was about it for me! I never thought of rattlesnakes.

The bus stopped at our destination. We were told to put on our wet suits. I asked where. The driver said, "Okay, everyone off so she can put on her wet suit." (I was the only one not wearing a bathing suit.)

The trip had taken two-and-a-half hours. All the men went to urinate in the bushes. When I finally got on my wet suit I told myself that I would not take it off even if I had a ruptured bladder.

When we got to the river, my heart began palpitating. We were engulfed in fog. In the darkness, the roar of the dam seemed deafening.

My guide placed me, of all people, in the front of the raft. He said he was a retired dentist who "got tired of looking into people's mouths and listening to their moans and groans."

Unable to see through the fog, I heard our guide yell, "White water!" Suddenly we were in a Class III rapid.

I paddled like mad! The raft rose and headed downward and a large wave of water struck me in the face showering the entire raft with water. When we hit still water and started to bail out the water inside the raft, a petrified girl in front of us in a funyak asked to board our raft.

Feeling brave after mastering Class III rapids, I thought, "I could have handled four- and five-class rapids."

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


This sounded like a lot of fun,Jackie, until you mentioned the rattlesnakes.

That sort of put a "damper" on the trip for me.

Great story.


What a gutsy adventure by a fearless senior determined to conquer those rapids, the rattlesnakes, and the real danger of falling off and being carried away without being rescued.

Bravo to Jackie! Could she tell us how old she was when she took on this adventure? I just turned 65, am a superb swimmer, and though not endowed with Jackie's apparent beauty-queen figure, I'm determined to show my hubby I'm still capable of excelling beyond those feats I perform routinely in those ubiquitous dance floors, bowling alleys, and golf courses.

Life, after all, should not end with getting that Medicare card. Jackie's dauntless spirit impels me more than ever to replicate her joy of thrills, fun, and adventure.

Great storytelling!! I'm glad I tried rafting in my youth. It is one thing I don't need to tackle at age 75.
Thanks for sharing your adventure.
Michigan Grandma

Jackie - Terrific story!

I'm in my mid-70's and I can't swim (although I have sailed all my life.) My parents white water rafted down the Colorado in their 70's. Maybe I should give this some thought! - Sandy

You are way braver than I. Never in my wildest dreams would I board a white river raft. I am not very adventurous and the very thought of doing so petrifies me.

My first whitewater raft trip was in Maine with my then 16-y.o.-son. He was hooked and went on to become a white water raft guide. Since then I've
white water rafted in Arizona and Alaska. Very much enjoyed it though still had that fluttering in my stomach when faced with the next rapid. My spouse being thrown out added to the thrill. Our guide, Mad Dog, hoisted him out of the water as if he were a sack of potatoes! At that time I was 66.

Great story! In summer 2012 two other teacher-friends and I (retired and 66) will spend 4 days on the Colorado! I will let you know how it goes. Right now I am losing weight so I can get back into the raft if I fall out! Otherwise they might have to just tie me on with a rope in back!

What a wonderful piece..loved it..you are a brave heart for sure...for whatever reasons, they rarely lose any brave souls who venture out there..I tried it on Delaware Water Gap think I was 38 or so..didn't get turned over or tossed out, but swore living thru it without crying cured me of doing stuff that I really, really didn't want to...Reading about did raise my pulse and I loved every second of your ride..esp. having to worry about peeing..I guess my priorities in life still stand..what's next, bronco busting? Hooray for you...

Kathleen, please do let me know how your trip goes. Hopefully, you won't fall out of the raft or encounter any rattlesnakes on the rocks. I wish I could have taken the Colorado river trip. I know you and your friends will have fun. Jackie


Kathleen, please do let me know how your trip goes. Hopefully, you won't fall out of the raft or encounter any rattlesnakes on the rocks. I wish I could have taken the Colorado river trip. I know you and your friends will have fun. Jackie


Perfect THRILL, and in your telling, Jackie.
Kathleen, enjoy the Colorado. Sisters threw me overboard.
A Perfect THRILL--UNTIL my life jacket clung to the side of the boat like Velcro.
Two men and a boy to the rescue.

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