Earlier this week while munching on the MOST delicious, extra crispy hot wings I’ve ever put in my mouth at YKnots and hanging out with Ray and Cherish an overnighter trip to Topton, NC to raft the Nantahala Rapids started to take shape.
By Friday afternoon it was a full blown plan and we were packing up the car for a fun, wet weekend trip.
After a quick 4 hour road trip, we arrived at the campsite. After putting up the tent and unloading the cars, we built the fire, roasted the hot dogs and marshmallows (not together).
Upon crawling into our sleeping bags for the evening, I glanced up to see the top of the tent was mesh and I could see the stars and the tree tops. It was really beautiful. The babbling brook and the croaking bullfrogs lulled me quickly to sleep despite the root I was laying on.
In the morning, it took seven of the eight of us to get the fire started but we finally did. And then we attempted to make pancakes…
Upon arrival at the raft rental place, we decided to make a quick purchase of rubber tubes to put on our glasses so they didn’t get lost and then we were outfitted with life jackets and paddles.
There there was a short safety lesson in which the guide went over where to sit in the boat, how to paddle, what to do if you fall out of the boat (don’t panic, don’t try to swim, don’t ever ever stand up — instead, try to stay calm, assume the butt down, feet and head up, feet facing ahead of you swimmer’s position and then your raft-mates can try to get you back in the raft, or you should try to get to the side of the river to get out.) He talked about how to catch and hold the rope that the guides are trained to throw to pull people out. One of the most important things to remember, according to our guide, was that this company’s take out point was the last one on the river and if you miss it, you’ll be headed for a set of rapids that are very treacherous to navigate and would most likely end up with the helicopters being called in to rescue you. So if you don’t get your raft into the take out point, do whatever it takes (as quickly as possible) to get your raft to the side of the river and get out.
**The take out point is where the staff from the rental company waits for you and pulls you out of the river** Something I learned after our trip down the river was over.
The guide went over the map of the rapids and showed the best way to approach each one and a bit of what to expect as we went down the river since we were going on our own with no guide. Just the four adults and the four kids.
Finally we were loaded onto a retired school bus (I remember the seats being much larger in those things) and dropped off with our raft at the launch point and we were off.
The scenery was amazingly beautiful. The water was so cold but after sitting in the sun, on the raft, it was very refreshing when it did splash up onto us. The eight mile ride was filled with exciting moments of navigating the fast current rapids mixed with drifting, floating, peaceful moments where the river was calm.
We successfully navigated through all the rapids, without anyone falling out and only getting truly stuck on one rock. We handled the Bump beautifully, we screamed joyfully through the Falls at the end and we were floating towards our take out point through some very light bubbly mini rapids when the day took an interesting turn.
We were headed straight for a rather large rock between us and the take out point, and despite our best efforts to avoid colliding with it, we did. The point of collision was the spot just under my rear end and the next thing I know, I am neck deep in 45 degree water. I came up laughing, couldn’t believe I fell out. I grabbed Cherish’s hand, and then got a hold of the boat expecting a quick recovery and return to the raft, but then things started to get scary and quickly escalated to quite terrifying.
The raft turned and everything but my head was underneath it. This is not a good situation at all. Everyone got the boat turned around and off of me and Ray and Cherish saw an opportunity for me to possibly get to the first take out area and told me to let go of the boat and try to get there. I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about but I knew holding onto the raft could get very very dangerous. So I let go. And that is when I really started to get scared.
I tried to do all the things the guide had told us to do and let me tell you, THAT is easier said than done! But, I tried anyway, and I didn’t try to swim and I didn’t try to stand. But try my best, I was just tossed around over the rocks and through the water. I could feel the rocks on the river bed bumping every part of my body and at one point, I hit a very shallow area and with my bottom down, I kept hitting the rocks hard… so I was putting my hands down to try and lift myself up enough to get the water under me and get me off the rocks. It wasn’t working and the back of my thighs, my bottom and my hands ended up scratched and bruised. I was very relieved to finally bounce off that run of rocks.
While I was tumbling around, what I couldn’t see going on in our raft was that they had gotten well ahead of me and were headed to our take out location when they bumped another rock and Don fell out as well. Now we were both in the water. They got Don back in the raft and managed to get into the take out. They jumped out of the boat and ran to the edge to try and grab me as I came down.
Don managed to get a grip on my foot but he was fighting a 66K horsepower current in a spot where the rapid was boiling over. His footing slipped, his grip loosened and I saw him tumble into the water and be carried away. Instant terror (like nothing I have experienced since Colton fell into the pool when he was a baby) overcame me watching him wash away. Remember… the guide told us that this was the last safe place before a that very serious rapid / waterfall. We didn’t know how far down it was, how much time we had and what kind of water was between us and that fall. All I could see in my mind was him washing over those falls… they might as well have been Niagra Falls in that moment in time.
As I was screaming his name, absolutely failing now at the don’t panic thing, I was washed down the two very fast rapids (that you can see in the pictures above of our take out point), water washing up over me and over my head. One second I was seeing blue skies, the bridge, the clouds and the next I had water in my nose, down my throat and I could see nothing but whitewater. Before I could recover and catch my breath from the first one, I hit the second one. My glasses were washed over my head and now I couldn’t see. I was beyond terrified.
As I began to be able to breathe again, I felt myself bumbled along the rocks, trying hard to maintain the swimmers position and I just cried out, “God! Please get me and Don out of this water” and I just started praying, thanking God for his watchful eye, thanking him that even though I couldn’t see it, a rescue was coming. That we would be safe and with the kids again.
As I finished up that prayer, I was carried into calmer waters, I found myself able to see around me, I found some control over my body, and I saw people on the bank telling me to swim towards the shore. I started trying to swim and I saw a guy with the rope, I tried to tell him I couldn’t see, but he threw the rope right to me, landed it right in my hands and I held on for dear life.
He pulled me to the shore and through my crying and shaking I asked him frantically… my husband, my husband… he was in front of me, did you see him? where is he? Then I saw Don walking down the shore towards me. I can’t even express in words the relief I felt in that moment. I had lost my paddle, I had lost one of my shoes, I had been tumbled every which way over the river rocks and through the churning ice cold waters for close to a quarter of a mile, but I was out. My husband was out. Our kids and our friends were safe.
As terrifying as it was, it was an adventure and thank goodness our angels can swim faster than that river’s current. Turns out there were some blessings in the end of our adventure. Our kids and our friends made it safe to the take out point. The employee of our rental company recognized the urgency of the situation, ran to the bus, grabbed the emergency rope, back over the bridge and made it to the shore just in time to grab me. It was his first throw to a real person in danger and he executed it perfectly. Don was able to find footing and guide himself to the shore while I was being pulled out. It was us and not one of our kids that experienced the scarier part of our adventure. We came out with a few bumps, bruises and scratches but nothing major. And, that compulsive $2.99 purchase of a rubber tube to put on my glasses, kept them on my head when they were washed off my face and they were still there when I was brought ashore.
We were pretty shook up, but a warm fire, a cold beer and some time sitting in the sun at the campsite went a long way to calming us all down. We had originally planned to run the rapids twice, but decided against the second run on this trip. Instead, we decided to go down to the end of the run and watch the boats, to see from the perspective of above the water instead of below it where our little adventure went awry. I’m really glad we did. It was quite overwhelming to see the water rushing and to know that we had been in that water, but it was also a tremendous help to know that it was not as life threatening as it felt while we were in the water. And it allowed me to get the pictures to tell the story lol
I know that we’ll do it again, but I just couldn’t do it that day.
ALL THE PHOTOS: