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Rafting in The Smokies

December 13, 2012

Drew’s pick-up truck roared out of the petrol station in Knoxville, Tennessee, and bounced onto the eastbound highway. “I’ll pay for gas, if you buy the beer”. We were heading for the Great Smoky Mountain National Park to try our hand at white water rafting. “Good idea”, I thought, “I’ll probably want to be drunk for this”.

Drew was a rambunctious adventurist with an infectious enthusiasm for living wild – the force behind his ‘Yee-haw’ could jolt a flock of Rock Pigeons from a tree in Kentucky. Leaving his log-cabin in the wooded foothills of the city, he seemed to display a distinct lack of concern that neither of us – myself and my friend, Oli – had been anywhere near a raft before.

The ever enthusiastic Drew

The ever enthusiastic Drew

The mountain pass took us up through a splaying landscape thick with a woolly greenness. The sky was unusually clear in the heights of the Smoky Mountains as little more than a light mist hovered above distant peaks. Towering Fir trees staggered along the riverbank and stretched skyward, hacking the sunlight into shards of silver, and cast looming shadows that maligned the river flow. I wondered if now would be a good time to start drinking.

The assent into The Smokies

Not as smoky as I had expected

I nervously pretended to help push the inflatable raft off the safety of the slipway; Drew delivered a couple of cursory instructions that I immediately forgot and Oli kept a close eye on the bag of beer. The river stretched on and on but we were already only meters from where it broke into a tumbling mess of froth and swirls.

Some frightening froth

Some frightening froth

The roar of the rapids battering against boulders soon sent my senses into a spin. I panicked and started randomly stabbing at the water with my paddle. The first sudden drop had me flailing like lunatic being attacked by bees and I immediately slunk off the side into the depths. Oli – who later described my face as ‘horrified’ – leapt across the bow to my rescue and dragged me back in by my life jacket.

Checking my body for puncture wounds I tried to compose myself. Oli did his best to suppress his merriment while Drew seemed more excited than ever. “Get ‘em, boys. Get ‘em!” – our cue to burst into some power-paddling. We attacked the next rapids at pace – a tactic that only seemed to serve us in a speedier dismount from the raft.

A rock the size of Rushmore raised Oli several feet into the air; he clattered back down onto the side of the raft, was flung into a backward somersault and then vanished into the roiling cascades beneath. “Yee-haw”, cried Drew. Oli’s dishevelled head popped back up the other side of a felled tree and he lifted himself back in.

Survived and no more

Survived and no more

Eventually, the rapids eased and we sailed into the relief of tender waters. The raft hushed its way around a gentle bend to a gun-sight view down the trench of the valley. Below the lurching boughs of the Cedar trees we drifted among the soothing intimacies of the wild – the best time to enjoy a beer.

The serene wild

The serene wild


From → USA

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