I couldn't believe my ears. I felt like shouting "Eureka." I had solved the riddle, figured out the puzzle. We were going.
But what was the riddle and where were we going? The riddle is one faced by families with teenagers: Where can we go on vacation that everyone will enjoy? And what will satisfy a teenager's craving for activity, but still be fun for parents? The answer: A whitewater rafting trip. This was the vacation of a lifetime for my family consisting of my husband Ted, and sons Matthew and Daniel, 19 and Tim, 17.
There is never a dull moment on a rafting trip and that appeals to teens. It also is a tremendously cooperative effort. The boys understood that on Class IV rapids, without cooperation, the raft may not make it through the churning whitewater on Maine's Penobscot River.
Taking On The "Exterminator"
Our two-day journey down the Penobscot began with the "Exterminator." After a period of instruction, we started into the Exterminator. First stop in the Exterminator is a "hole" that the raft falls into and then is immediately hit by a wall of water. Unfortunately for me, I was thrown from the raft and found myself in the Exterminator. But I remembered the safety rules and was quickly picked up. At that point, I grabbed my paddle and paddled furiously so we would make it through the next set of rapids
The boys found the ride through the rapids an enormous adrenaline charge -- I could tell by the grins on their faces and their eagerness to get to the next stretch of rough water. I also could tell, however, that Tim was a little shaken by my dunk in the river.
And the next thrill was not far away because Rippogenus Gorge was just ahead. It was a magnificent stretch of whitewater through towering rock walls. As Tim looked up, he said, "Look at the size of those cliffs -- there's no way you could land the raft anywhere." Thus, we all quickly realized that the only way out of the rapids was through them.
But soon, the adrenaline surge was over and we stopped at Salmon Point, a quiet spot on the Penobscot. The campsite was the antithesis of the river. The river was non-stop action while the beach was leisurely relaxation, where the raft, normally resembling a roller coaster, was beached on the shore. It became a "recliner" facing the water and golden sunset.
In the quiet of the campsite, I had the feeling we all needed to catch our breath. We had gone through some pretty rough whitewater. As the boys quietly went about their business, I sensed they were pleased with our accomplishment and felt a new sense of camaraderie. Matt's comment, "Gosh, I don't believe we actually did that," seemed to sum up our feelings.
I also sensed that my sons felt a new sense of respect for me after having survived the "Exterminator." I had remained calm in the water and followed the safety instructions. Tim, who admitted he was scared, said, "Mom, all my friends' mothers would have been screaming. I can't believe you kept going." I felt pretty good -- admiration is a tough thing to squeeze out of teenagers.
Into A 12-foot Waterfall
The next morning, after a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs and blueberry pancakes, we were off. The raft morphed back into an adventure vehicle, definitely losing its recliner quality. With Dan and Matt still in the bow, we headed toward the 12-foot Nesowadnehunk Falls.
A 12-foot waterfall sounds terrifying, but this stretch of water drops gradually, not all at once. However, the rapids are intense and we were all drenched. Then, at 6-foot Abol Falls, where all six feet are taken at once, we were all screaming and paddling furiously. The shouts and screams coming from all five of us were just like the ones from a roller coaster.
One of the exciting parts of Abol Falls is the opportunity to "surf" the falls. After getting through the falls, we turned around and headed straight back into them. The idea is to see how long you can either move forward or remain stationary until the falls push you back. Of course, the falls always win, but we did "ride" them for a short while.
After we had "surfed" the falls, Matt turned around and said, "Mom, Dad, look." I looked back and was stunned to be greeted by Mt. Katahdin. We were truly rafting in the shadow of this great mountain.
As with so many trips, this one was soon over. But I cherish the memories of our family, surging forward together, and relaxing after our labors. When we got home, each boy said a simple, "Thanks." That was plenty for me.
Making The Trip
All the whitewater rafting outfitters in Maine have joined to form Raft Maine. Raft Maine can put you in touch with any of the outfitters in Maine. They can be reached at 207-824-3694 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our trip was arranged by Unicorn expeditions. They can be reached at 800-UNICORN or email@example.com, www.unicornraft.com.
Whitewater rafting can be done almost anywhere in the country. A handy directory is "The Whole Paddler's Catalog," edited by Zip Kellogg, Camden, Maine: Ragged Mountain Press, 1997.
Helpful Internet Sites For Other Rafting Locations include www.whitewatervoyages.com (California Rivers; also helpful information about rafting in general); www.wildwaterrafting.com (Rivers in the Southeast); and http://home.epix.net/~ab257/raft.html (Guide to whitewater rafting in the Northeast)