fear, you are dismissed.

We just got back from a rainy and cool five days in Tennessee visiting our recently transplanted family for the 4th of July. We sat on the back deck looking out at the valley nestled below the Smoky Mountains and watched the rain while four generations played games ranging from Go Fish to 42 and chatted about anything and everything. The pyromaniacs of the family shot off fireworks and became real-life examples to the children of why fireworks are dangerous and often result in the singeing of fingers.

On Friday night, however, I squeezed my nieces and nephews a little tighter, because I was pretty sure the next day would be my last.

My husband and in-laws have gone whitewater rafting twice before, the most recent being a five-day rafting/camping trip in Montana. They loved it, reminisce about it years later, and wanted to share that experience with me and the other in-law children. So sweet. Except I wasn't really keen on the idea of flying down a raging river in a tiny boat in which I was responsible for keeping myself.

Things you should know about me:
1. I am afraid of fast-moving, shallow water.
2. I am afraid of deep water of any kind.
3. I am afraid of large rocks.
4. I am afraid of rocks I can't see.
5. I am afraid of bashing my face on said rocks and drowning in said waters.
But damn this Year of Why Not? business. It would not let me say no. Thus commenced two months of fretting about the drowning incident that would likely result in my untimely death. (I should note here that I didn't actually know anything about whitewater rafting when I made the assumption that it would result in my untimely death.)

Here's another thing you should know, though: I can't think of a time that I've tried something that scared me and regretted the experience.

So we climbed on a bus in the rain and drove into the mountains to our starting point on the Ocoee River. We met our Adventures Unlimited guide, Callie, who to my dismay, was an adorable, sweet girl not much bigger than me. And y'all, her knee was bleeding before we even got in the boat. if I'm being honest, I was looking for a burly dude with tattoos and huge biceps who could swoop me up and out of the water with one arm while still steering the boat to safety. I got a girl younger than me who bleeds easily. *deep breaths*

But why not get in the boat? Because I was terrified. Ugh. Not good enough. So we got in the boat.

[Another big note: Callie turned out to be fierce, and an AWESOME guide. Highly recommend requesting her if you're looking to put your life in the hands of someone at Adventures Unlimited. She's been rafting this river for five years and made sure we knew what to do and what to expect.]

Tennessee has seen endless rain in the last few weeks, so the river was up and the rapids were raging. Callie said we would be paddling through Class 4 rapids. I learned about the classification of rapids as quickly as possible, so as to know the level at which I should be terrified. They determine classes based on the consequences of falling out of the boat in the middle of them. Here's what my friend Wikipedia (which is about as helpful as my other friend, Web MD, when you have a tickle in your throat) had to say:

  • Class 1: Very small rough areas, requires no maneuvering. (Skill Level: None)
  • Class 2: Some rough water, maybe some rocks, small drops, might require maneuvering. (Skill Level: Basic Paddling Skill)
  • Class 3: Whitewater, medium waves, maybe a 3–5 ft drop, but not much considerable danger. May require significant maneuvering. (Skill Level: Experienced paddling skills)

Classes 1-3 are no big thing. You fall out, you flail and float through the rapids, and you get back in the boat embarrassed you were defeated by such a silly foe.

  • Class 4: Whitewater, large waves, long rapids, rocks, maybe a considerable drop, sharp maneuvers may be needed. (Skill Level: Advanced Whitewater Experience)

Um.... pardon me. I am not advanced in my whitewater experience. If you'll recall, my experience level is in the 'None' category. But yeah, let's totally attack the Class 4s. For sure I'll be fine.

Just because it's so crazytown, these are the remaining classifications. Yes, there are two more classes beyond what we would be taking on.

  • Class 5: Whitewater, large waves, continuous rapids, large rocks and hazards, maybe a large drop, precise maneuvering. Often characterized by "must make" moves, i.e. failure to execute a specific maneuver at a specific point may result in serious injury or death. Class 5 is sometimes expanded to Class 5+ that describes the most extreme, runnable rapids (Skill Level: Expert)
  • Class 6: While there is some debate over the term "Class 6", in practice it refers to rapids that are not passable and any attempt to do so would result in serious injury, near drowning or death (e.g. Murchison Falls). If a rapid is run that was once thought to be impassible, it is typically reclassified as Class 5.

I just want to know who the yahoos are who are willing to be the guinea pig for testing out whether Class 6 rapids should be downgraded to Class 5, which, by the way, still could result in serious injury or death. Who are these people?!

So we would be taking on multiple sections of Class 4 whitewater rapids. Skill level: Advanced.


Y'all, I'm not sure I've ever clenched every muscle in my body at once for such a continuous period of time - half from being petrified, and half from trying not to fly out of the boat on rapids like the ones we encountered on the 1996 Olympic course section of the river. Yes, that's right. We rafted over an Olympic rafting course designed for people who raft for a living. One of the rapids was named Godzilla. Why? Because it defeated the entire Japanese rafting team. (That was funny. The rapids were not.)

The video below will give you an idea of the terror and havoc Godzilla can wreak. There is much weeping and gnashing of boats. Enjoy!

But guess what? We made it through Godzilla. I'm still having some mild severe flashbacks, but we paddled like Hades, and were catapulted in and over and out of the waves in one piece and all inside the boat. It was the best feeling. And I'm pretty sure that means we could win the Olympics.

There were several instances on the river after which I was simply shocked that we had made it through. It didn't help that the rapids had awesome names like 'Slice-n-Dice' and 'Double Suck' and 'Humongous.' I was riding that very thin line between THIS-IS-THE-COOLEST-THING-EVER!!!, and OH-SWEET-JESUS-PLEASE-DON'T-LET-ME-DIE!!!! And who doesn't love that?!


All in all, it was an absolute blast. I've only recently regained the ability to walk normally, but I can now say that I've done it and survived and didn't let even a huge amount of fear and a mild case of hypothermia hold me back from trying. That's a feeling even better than defeating Godzilla.

Cheers to another adventure! Check out the photos below.

Ready to go!!
And.... pose.
I was really glad to have this guy in my boat. Look at that face.

Meet my fearless 50-something mother-in-law. She makes me look like a giant pansy.
Get it, Gwen!
Umm... the boat?
Just like Splash Mountain...
...but with giant rocks.

And.... pose.
Seriously love adventures with this guy!
My fearless sister-in-law "riding the bull" on the front of the boat. Cray.
My trusty red shoes on another adventure!
Making bad decisions and getting just a little bit of hypothermia.

I know it looks like it was all fun and games, but if I'm being honest about my photo selection, I'd say the smiling ones were fewer and further between than the ones in which my face looks like this:

Notice the boat is more under the water than it is on top of it. I call this look: Check please!
Can't figure out why the rest of those fools are grinning ear to ear while we're drowning...
We survived!!!
Look for us in Rio at the 2016 Olympics!!


  1. THIS...is awesome. I really loved the picture where you were the only one who looked concerned. Loved it!

    I guess those guys who ride the class "6" rapids just have a different concept of "why not" than the rest of us. I think it might be some sort of a genetic mutation, shared with base jumpers and pretty much ANY X-games contestant.

    Keep on keeping on kid. Miss you.

    1. Miss you too, G! I didn't get the "fearless" gene that the women in Rob's family obviously have, but I did get the "stubborn" gene, and sometimes that's just as good!!

  2. My 12 year old daughter just looked at the video and said, "Can we do that one?" Fear in her doesn't need to be dismissed. She simply has none. thanks for the awesome blog! Our tip of the hat to Trey and Diana!

    1. I envy your daughter her courage!!

  3. M, either I'm in a giggly mood or this was just hilarious. I really enjoyed your writing and could imagine myself alongside you, clenching every muscle known to man. Thanks for sharing!!

  4. Check please! LOL You simply kill me with your humor, Chel! :D

    1. Better than being killed by Godzilla!! ;) Thanks for giving me the stubborn gene, mom. It allows me to do things that NOT having the fearless gene tells me to avoid. How boring...

  5. Oh my goodness. First of all, that is so brave. I can completely feel the "this is exhilarating and stupidly dangerous" emotion with you. Way to be so brave! Second, the "pose" picture had me laughing out loud before I read the caption, and then the photo of what your face probably looked like throughout the trip made me laugh even harder. Hilarious. Looks like it was a blast! :)

    1. It was, KT! I'm really glad I did it. Being brave is not my normal, but it's almost always worth it!


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