Saving the Drifters with River Drifters: A Whitewater River Rafting Experience on the White Salmon River in Washington

credit: Dreamtime

I recently met a couple on the White Salmon River in Washington. When I asked them what brought them there to the whitewater rafting experience that day, they told a tale about when they simply said they said to themselves “when was the last time you did something for the first time?” I guess that’s what I love about travel, in part. It is often the people we meet that provide us with food for thought or give us pause with something inspiring. Another rafter in our group was an English orthopedic surgeon who always had wanted to live in America for a while, so he sought out and found a fellowship in Oregon for pediatric hand surgery.

My friend and I went to the White Snake River for a half day whitewater rafting experience with River Drifters, because we were in the area, and I had never gone white water rafting before but had always wanted to do so. When my daughter asks me what time it is, my standard reply is often “it is NOW; the time is NOW,” as I am often conscious of how quickly time passes and of the need to do what we want sooner than later while we still have the moment do do with along with the opportunity.

My friend and I chose the White Salmon River because it is one of the more challenging rivers in the area with the class IV and V rapids and a 10-14 foot waterfall, depending on the time of year.

We started out at the White Salmon outpost where our river guide, Jeremy, provided an explanation of what we would do that day and gave us the gear we needed. Mid-October is usually the end of the rafting season in Washington due to the weather, as the water temperature is about 45 degrees Fahrenheit and feels colder with the colder weather. We were instructed to wear our bathing suits, and they provided us with a wet suit, a rain coat, a helmet, neoprene booties, and a fleece pullover, and we were instructed not to wear any cotton as it feels too cold against the skin when it gets wet.

“There is no rushing a river. When you go there, you go at the pace of the water and that pace ties you into a flow that is older than life on this planet. Acceptance of that pace, even for a day, changes us, reminds us of other rhythms beyond the sound of our own heartbeats.”

Jeff Rennicke, “River Days: Travels on Western Rivers”

We took a shuttle to where the rafts were set up and were given a safety briefing, which included what to do if we fell out of the boat. The river was beautiful and was very scenic with the volcanic rocks along the banks. Because the river flows from the slopes of Mount Adams, the water is clear, colorful, and fresh as it contains melted glacial waters from the mountain. We saw hawks and other birds along the way.

After riding along the river for some period of time near the beginning of the trip, we were speechless when we saw some rafters from the second raft on our trip drift down the river without a boat. Evidently their boat turned over on one of the rapids, and we were instructed to stick our oars out for them to grab on so we could pull them into our boat. One of the younger children aboard the raft grabbed onto my oar, and I felt humbled and grateful to be able to help these rafters. I could only imagine what the mother aboard the trip felt while we took a head count. There were supposed to be SIX rafters, and for a brief moment I saw only FIVE. Evidently the sixth rafter was on the other side of the raft out of my sight for a brief and scary instant. Once we all took a breath after the “rescue”, their boat was flipped back upright, they got into their boat, and the trip went forward.

“The first river you paddle runs through the rest of your life. It bubbles up in pools and eddies to remind you who you are.”

Lynn Noel, “Voyages: Canada’s Heritage Rivers”

When we came to the final waterfall, Jeremy beached our raft on the shore and asked us to get out of the raft to observe the waterfall before we decided whether or not we wanted to do it. He said it would be okay if all refused, all agreed, or some refused. He would make provisions to accommodate all choices respectfully. He told us those with back or neck problems, knee issues, or other medical conditions might wish to opt out, as the boat often tumbles or gets completely submerged.

My friend and I, along with all others aboard our raft, opted to go down the waterfall. The journey down lasted only about a minute, and at one point our entire raft was fully submerged under the water. One of the rafters almost fell out, and I sustained an injury where his helmet hit my head when we landed. I ended up with a black eye in the aftermath but nothing else. Everyone else in the boat was fine, and it was an experience of a life time. Surely something that changed me in some way profoundly, and it is an experience I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

"In the middle of the night
I go walking in my sleep
Through the desert of truth
To the river so deep
We all end in the ocean
We all start in the streams
We're all carried along
By the river of dreams"

-from the River of Dreams by Billy Joel

When IS the last time you did something for the first time? Life is good; Carpe Diem, friends…

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