The fifth day of vacation/family reunion started fairly early (for me). Uncle Duane had mentioned going white water rafting and zip lining on Thursday, and to do so, we would need to get started early. I was a little hesitant because this would be taking place at the same time as the train ride through the mountains, for which I had reserved a ticket. Not wanting the money to go to waste, I wasn't sure I wanted to go at first. Aunt Debbie stepped in and said she would take my ticket, so that solved that problem. But that wasn't the only problem that I encountered that morning.
On top of the fact that I was pretty uncomfortable with my sunburn, I woke up feeling nauseous. It had nothing to do with nerves or anxiety about what we were about to do, because I know what nerves and anxiety feel like (having met those feelings the day before with my PCAT). This was a completely different feeling that had something to do with my stomach being unsettled. But I went along and hoped that it would clear up in time to enjoy myself. Our first stop would be breakfast at Waffle King, which is similar to Waffle House except they served Belgian style waffles. I had thought that getting some food on my stomach might help my gastrointestinal distress, but alas, I barely ate anything and didn't feel much better.
We got on the road to find an outfitter for the rafting and zip lining. Uncle Duane had looked one up on-line and programmed the address into his GPS, but somehow the GPS got it wrong and was sending us in the wrong direction! After figuring out which was the "right" way to go, we found several outfitters in the same general area. We had passed the one we were looking for and stopped at a different one, whose name escapes me. It was extremely busy and crowded, but we approached the counter to see what we had to do to sign up. They were so busy, in fact, that the first opening they had for rafting wasn't until about 2:00 that afternoon. We declined and decided to find the place we had set out for originally to see if they had a better offer, since they were just across the street about half a mile away.
We drove up to the place and noticed right away that it was much less crowded. RaftOne is the name of the outfitter, and it was evident that they were a bit less traveled than the one we had previously visited. The difference between this one and the other, though, was that RaftOne also had zip lines on the premises. Uncle Duane went inside to find out what they had to offer, and came back ten minutes later with consent forms and a 1:00 appointment. With it being still fairly early, we would have some time to kill before we actually got to do anything. Since I was still feeling pretty lousy, that would mean some extra time to get well before embarking on any wild adventures!
We decided to drive around town and walk around a bit before our rafting time, and one of our first stops was to a pharmacy to get something for my troubled stomach. We also drove to the Ocoee River Visitor Center, which is next to the spot where several Olympic events were held during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. There was a gift shop, an information desk that outlined the local attractions, and even a recording that played some of the Olympic events from 1996. That particular area is drained to a minimum during the week, so it is possible to cross the river over the rocks, which we decided to do. We also found out that in addition to the many natural rocks in the river, some were flown in and placed especially for the Olympic games. This is evident during the weekends when that point in the river is full, and you can see all the rapids that were created for events like kayaking. The little river walk on top of the medicine I took really helped calm my stomach down, and was a great way to spend the morning.
Once it got closer to time to our rafting trip, we headed back to RaftOne and waited for a while. They had several cornhole games outside on the deck, so in the meantime we played a few games using a friendly wager. We decided that whoever lost between the three of us would buy the others ice cream, which was available at the office of the outfitter. Guess who lost? If you guessed me, you would be right! I decided it would be a good idea to do the ice cream after all the events, so we'll get back to that later.
Our appointment time finally came around, and we were prepped for all that we needed to know while on the river. Specifically, we learned how to react if and when we fell out, which was to face down river with head and feet above water. The three of us would be on one raft, and a family of four would be heading out with us on another raft. We were introduced to our guide, Tyler, and our first impression was that he was way too young to be a river guide! But he seemed knowledgeable and confident, and was very energetic to make sure we had a great time. We picked up all our gear, which consisted of a helmet, a life jacket, and a paddle, and boarded a bus that would take us to a drop-off spot up the river.
After going over a few procedures and learning the different paddle strokes we would need to employ, we set off on the river. Ryan and I sat towards the front, Uncle Duane was further in the back, and Tyler was in the rear. He would act as a sort of rudder and steer us in the right direction, whereas we only paddled forward or backward according to his instructions. We stuck close to the other group as well, and went down the river mostly together. The first hundred yards or so had a few minor rapids that splashed us with a little water, which felt very refreshing! But after that point, it kicked into high gear and we went over some pretty rough rapids.
The first major rapid came early in the trip, and we were offered the chance to "ride the bull," which meant hanging onto the front of the raft and being the first to hit all the big waves. Yeah, I wasn't doing that. Ryan decided he would since I guess he enjoys having water splashed at high velocities in his face and hanging on dangerously to a thin rope on a fast moving raft. Hitting those big waves was a real thrill, and it not only was exciting, but the cool water felt great. We followed our directions to the letter, which guaranteed we had the most fun possible, since Tyler was personally going to make sure that happened. Unfortunately one of us fell off the raft during that first major rapid. Any guesses who? You might guess Ryan because of the reasons I mentioned above, but you would be wrong. Yep, I fell out! But I kept in mind the lessons we learned at first, and Uncle Duane came to my rescue to pull me back into the raft. I thought about this later, and didn't even realize how I could have hit some rocks or something as we went through rapids. Luckily the water was deep enough and there weren't enough rocks in that particular area to worry about, plus we were effectively out of the rapid areas. Whew!
After that point, I made it my job to stay in the raft! Keeping in mind that there is really nothing holding you in except gravity, that wasn't an easy feat, but I was able to stay in the rest of the trip! We hit several other rapids in which Ryan "rode the bull" again two other times, and these areas were even more intense than the first time. We got drenched in both cases, but it was a truly exhilarating experience!
We also had the opportunity to take a break from rowing and have some fun outside of the raft. One of the perks of being in a small group was that we could get everyone to stop for a few minutes. The larger rafting companies had to keep an eye out for all the group members and had a fairly strict schedule. Since there were only two rafts with RaftOne, we were able to dictate our own schedule and explore some other activities. One of those occurred when we stopped at some large rocks, turned one of the rafts over, and used it as a slide into the river! The water was extremely deep in that area, and the way it ran would take us down a ways until we swam over to some calmer waters that led back to the rocks. I wasn't fond of getting dunked under water in the process (I've had tubes in my ears and my ears and water don't mix well) but it was great fun! The other companies were watching us as they rowed by, and you could tell they were really jealous! I doubt seriously that they got to stop and have the kind of fun activities we did.
We stopped again later on to dock at some rocks at a particular point in the river. The rapids formed a bit of a V-shape that sort of sucks you under and out like a tube, and spits you out about 100 feet in calmer water. The guide of the other raft showed us how it was done, and almost everyone tried it out as well (I didn't, per the ear/water thing). One other thing we got to do at a calmer point in the river was actually get out of the raft and float along for a few minutes. It was a sort of lazy river ride like we saw on the Toccoa River when we went tubing a few days prior, except this time the only thing holding us up was a life jacket. It was a pretty cool little ride!
I had mentioned earlier that our first impression of our guide, Tyler, was that he looked pretty young to be an experienced river guide. I changed my opinion after our experience, however. It was amazing to me how much he knew about the river, the mountains, the dams that we passed, and the area in general. The most impressive part was how he was able to navigate us to just the right points in the river. He knew how to maneuver the raft to hit spots that spun us in a circle, which was crazy! Plus after we had been paddling pretty hard, he knew exactly where there were some quiet, still areas where we could rest. And when the river was at a low spot where several other companies were getting stuck, he effectively steered us around to the faster areas, and with some hard work, we got through without any problems! I was pretty impressed with him, and after all we went through, I appreciated the fact that Tyler was our guide for the trip.
The last portion of the rafting adventure went over what they called "salt shaker" rapids, meaning that it was almost entirely fast-moving water for several hundred yards. We had a great deal of paddling to get to this spot, but after we hit it, we barely had to paddle at all, and just let the wild river take us down. That was the most fun part of the rapids, and tossed us around a great deal. I had been worried that all the bobbing and splashing were going to make me sick, but surprisingly I had no problems whatsoever. It was as if all the fun I was having actually made me feel better! Don't you love when that happens?
After that point, the trip was over and we arrived at the pick-up point. We were thoroughly soaked but pumped up and energized from all that we had accomplished. We had to carry the raft to the bus, and it was much harder after having done so much paddling over the last hour or two! We rode back to RaftOne and recounted our trip with everyone else as we did so. We arrived back to the outpost and some flat screen TVs inside showed pictures at various points on the river, which we would have the opportunity to purchase later. Best of all, they got several pictures in a row as I fell out of the raft, so that I could remember in great detail that shining moment in my life over and over again! We were going to meet up with Tyler again before we showered off and got ready for our zip-lining experience, but he ended up going on a last-minute trip with another group. He had the other guide (whose name escapes me) find us and wish us well, as well as convey how much fun he had, and to make sure we had a good time. Of course, our answer was a resounding yes! And to anyone thinking of doing a white water rafting experience on the Ocoee, I would most highly recommend RaftOne for that trip.
Next, stay tuned for Part 2, where I will recount our experience zip-lining with RaftOne later that day.