My mother spoils me. Not even kidding. If you recall, back in March for my birthday Tyler and I visited Asheville thanks to my mom. Well, as a second part of my birthday, my mom got Tyler and I a groupon to raft the Chattahoochee River in Columbus, GA with Whitewater Express!
Tyler and I left after an early lunch on Saturday to drive down to Columbus. We checked into the hotel and hung out for a bit avoiding the hot, hot sun outside. Around 3:30, we headed over to the outfitter’s location to sign waivers and gather up our gear. I must admit that the check-in process could be improved. It was very warm inside the outfitters with so many people milling around. Additionally, while there were several people manning the check-in counter, which also doubled as the register for purchasing merchandise, only one person at a time could actually perform transactions.
Although, Tyler and I arrived as suggested, 30 minute prior to the 4:00 departure, we were a little harried storing our things back in our car, dropping off our keys, and gathering our gear. It really wasn’t a big deal, but if you know me, you know that I hate feeling rushed. However, once we got our things together and boarded the bus, everything was peachy!
On the bus, a couple of the raft guides introduced themselves to the tour group. They were both outgoing and complete goofballs. When Tyler and I got off the bus, we were asked if there were any groups of two. Tyler and I raised our hands. We were picked to join a group of four, comprised of two other couples. Our guide, Brentley, was one of the guides that introduced himself on the bus. He was the most outgoing and high energy of them all! Tyler and I knew we were in for a good time.
On this particular trip, we went down the same stretch of the Chattahoochee River two times. The first time was with normal river flow. The second round was timed with the dam release, to make the rapids even bigger! On our first go, Tyler and I wound up in the back of the raft. Brentley went over the basic safety and paddling information. Then we were off!
As the lead raft, we were the first ones down the rapids, and also the first ones who got to play in the surf. After the first little drop, we paddled into the surf. Then Brentley told us to get down, where we hopped in the bottom of the raft and held out paddles vertically inbetween our legs. It was fun as the strength of the rushing water pushed us out of the surf.
One portion of the river splits around a little island. The far left side of the river is deemed the lazy river. There, the current is slower, and it is not quite as deep. We got to jump out of the raft and float for a little while. It was nice to cool off in the river. However, by the end of that section, I was ready to get back in the raft. I was cold.
Brentley was an awesome guide! On the quiet parts in between rapids, he’s ask us questions to get us talking. One of the questions I remember was, “Rf you could be any aquatic animal, which would you be and why?” Tyler answered first, saying he would be a catfish because he likes the dark and catfish like to live deep in the water where it’s dark. I’m pretty sure if he could, Tyler would make our bedroom a little dark cave and never come out. When it was my turn to answer, I happily said “a manatee!” One of the other girls on the raft looked at me strangely and said “a sea cow?” Yep, a sea cow. They are slow, gentle, but very curious animals, just like me.
Brentley also told us about Columbus as we passed by interesting sites. He told us about an old mill/industrial building that has been made into apartments, public housing right on the river that’s scheduled to be torn down, birds that made their homes in the eaves of the riverwalk footbridge, a giant piece of mangled metal that was deposited by a relatively recent flood. He even pointed out a portion of the river that the guides specifically avoid due to a rock formation that would trap and likely drown you if you were to run into it.
After our first trip down the river, we piled back on the bus to ride up to the put in again. This time, when Brentley asked if we wanted to mix up seating in the raft, Tyler and I jumped at the chance to be in front. I’ve been rafting a few other times on the Nantahala and the Ocoee, but I’ve never been allowed up front. I guess that position is usually reserved for strong paddlers, which I am not. But Brentley, didn’t care, so up front I went!
The river was different with with greater flow volume. So many rocks were underwater now and all of the rapids were larger. We went over the first rapid no problem. But then we decided to try to play in the surf like we did last time. Something went wrong. We started to tip. We tried to correct by scrabling to the high side, but to no avail. Up and over went the raft, and we plunked into the water. I popped up, and grabbed my paddle. I spotted Tyler not too far away, so I knew he was okay. Then I saw a paddle floated freely on its own. I grabbed that too, so we wouldn’t be down a paddle. I was pretty close to the other members of my group, but somehow I caught a different current and started off downstream, floating away, away, away from my raft family.
There wasn’t much I could do. It took them a while to get the raft back up and everyone aboard. I knew eventually they would catch up. But until then, I enjoyed a quiet float down the river. After a little bit, another raft came and picked me up. Then they stopped over to the side to wait for my group. Finally reunited, we could carry on our way!
The rest of the river was less eventful as far as flipping goes. We remained upright the whole time. But the rapids, oh my! They were such fun. Especially the biggest one at the end. Brentley has been guiding rafts for many years. He is great! Usually, he gives us paddling directions as we approach a rapid to set the raft up for the proper route. Then, while we are actually going through the rapid, we don’t paddle. He is able to make the adjustments needed. Not paddling through the rapids, and just going along for the ride, made it feel like were were on a very wet rollercoaster.
The last rapid was the best. While it was a lot of fun at the lower flow rate, with the dam release, it was crazy! Brentley had us paddle up to the rapid so he could line the raft up for the best path. Then, we just had to hold our paddles horizontally such that they would slice through the waves, and brace oursleves forward. Being in the front of the raft is such a different experience. I could see the rush and churning of the water. As we went down the first drop, I stared at the massive wave we were rapidly approaching. We slammed into the wave, rising high, before descending back down over the second drop. Right at the end, we bumped into a rock on the side, which threw me into Tyler and the bottom of the raft.
Oh, that description of the last rapid doesn’t do the experience justice. Just thinking about it makes my heart race. It was such an adrenaline rush, and so much fun, and oh man, this is why I love so many outdoor activities.
Part of rafting in a big group, is hanging out by the end of the rapids to be ready to help in case anyone flips or is bounced out. While we waited for the next raft, we watched a couple fishermen positioned right at the end of the rapid. One guy got a bite, as he was reeling it in, the second guy got a bite too. One after the other, they pulled up biiiiiiig catfish. They were both about as long as my arm! They weren’t the only ones successfully fishing. On the other side of the rapid was a man fishing with a net. It was pretty neat to watch him cast the net with the ends flailed out. Then he would pull the net up and dump a bunch of wiggling fish into a bucket.
After a few more rafts came through, they took our spot waiting to help anyone should they fall out. We got to pull our raft onto some rocks and watch the other groups go through the rapid. None of the rafts flipped, but there were a few people who fell out. The funniest to watch was when one of the guides got popped out the back when the raft went over the giant wave. She got to fly a little bit.
Once the last raft went through the big rapid, we paddled over to the take out. As I was walking out of the water, Brentley said that I got to see a bit more of the river than most people and asked if I had a good time. I think he wanted to make sure I still had fun even though I went on a little excursion on my own after we flipped. I enthusiastically responded “Yes!”