Tales of the Hikists: White-Water Rafting

white water rafting advice for beginners
Heading toward the rapids … let’s do this. All photos by Sun Country Tours unless otherwise noted.

My husband and I aren’t exactly the most outdoorsy couple, be it on land or on water. After declaring ourselves hikists at Crater Lake National Park, we decided to take the plunge (pun intended) and go white-water rafting in Bend, Ore.

Since the possibility of my tiny self bouncing out of the raft and into a maelstrom of water seemed very real, I did quite a bit of prep work beforehand – namely Googling and reading approximately 58 articles about white-water rafting and asking everyone I talked to if they thought I would fall out.

From this obsessive research I learned what to wear (quick-drying clothes, closed-toe water shoes and an oh-so-fashionable strap for my sunglasses) and – I thought – what to expect.

Unfortunately, the guides I was reading were geared toward serious, multi-day rafting trips. So the details on how to keep warm after hours on the water, the different methods of rescue and paddling techniques were not really necessary and only served to make me more nervous.

white water rafting advice for beginners
Look at that nervous faux-smile when the bus pulled up. Photo by James Riswick.

The white-water rafting trip we were going on, a combination rafting and beer tasting jaunt with Sun Country Tours, was clearly to be much easier than the ones I read about. For one, it was only about an hour and half long. There were also really only a couple “big” rapids (Class 3) and even those didn’t require coordinated paddling or any of the techniques I had previously read about. Great, but would I fall out?

Only one way to find out, I guess. Six of us hopped into each raft with a guide and started by floating down the placid Deschutes River, a quick 10-minute drive from Sun Country’s headquarters in Bend. We had plenty of time to chat, introduce ourselves and crack jokes about the rookies who were duped into sitting in the front, and therefore wettest, spots in the raft. We were said rookies.

white water rafting advice for beginners
This was one of the biggest rapids we rode.

As we got closer to the first rapids our guide Scott gave us a quick lesson on paddling. After a couple “baby” rapids we paddled to shore in order to scope out the next, larger set of rapids.

Scott assured us that this part – walking on a hiking trail to look at the rapids ahead – was the most dangerous portion of the trip. One guy did manage to trip on some tree roots, so I suppose that was pretty accurate. Also while we were on shore, Scott mentioned floating on our backs with our feet up in the very-unlikely instance we fell out. Mentally noted.

white water rafting advice for beginners
Where’d I go? Luckily not out of the raft.

You’ll be thrilled (I hope) to know that I did not fall out. Nor did anyone else in our little fleet of inflatable rafts. We just bounced around on the rapids and got splashed a ton (thank god it was hot out). For some of the smaller rapids they even let volunteers sit at the very front of the raft, known as bull riding.

Admittedly, I probably wasn’t the most helpful raft member since I stopped paddling during the bigger rapids and just held on to the safety rope for dear life, but as I didn’t fall out or smack anyone in the face with my paddle I still consider it a successful trip.

white water rafting advice for beginners
Nope, not even trying to paddle.

The whole experience was quite an adrenaline rush and felt like it was over so quickly (there are parallels to an amusement park ride). Initial nervousness gone, I would have happily rafted for another hour. However, there was beer waiting to be tasted and the next patch of rapids seemed quite a bit more challenging.

Would I do it again? Definitely, although I don’t think I want to try bigger rapids that do require greater skill and elicit genuine danger. The ones we were on were a good mix of thrilling and low risk, so I would do a longer trip of similar intensity for sure. I’d also recommend to anyone on the fence about rafting to give it a try. Go with a reputable company like we did and start with a shorter trip to get a feel for the experience. This is especially true on a honeymoon, since you may not want to devote a day or more to something you’re not 100-percent familiar or comfortable with.

Finally, if you’re still feeling nervous, just take a look at the age requirements for the trip you’re going on. For ours, the minimum age was six, which my husband consistently tried to remind me. But I’ll admit it: He was totally right and I shouldn’t have been so worried about an activity they allow first graders to participate in. Does that now make us raftists as well?

white water rafting advice for beginners
We survived!

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