In my middle-years (middle if I live to be a
hundred), I've lately had the feeling that my
life isn't very adventurous. Oh, I fly fish,
but fly-fishing and adventures aren't two terms
that usually appear in the same sentence, and
fly fishers sharing stories would make non-anglers
comatose (just ask my wife). I decided it would
be good for the soul to have an adventure or two.
But what to do? Everest has been climbed so many
times that it is now, well, je jeune.
I considered skydiving, but then thought, why jump
out of a perfectly good airplane? "White water
rafting," suggested the bride.
We arranged with North American Outdoor Adventure
for a weekend of white water rafting in Maine,
about a four-hour drive, where the Kennebec and
Dead Rivers meet. They provided rooms (a rustic
log cabin lodge), food, rafts and guides.
And, I hoped, an adventure.
The lodge was just outside of the town of West
Forks. Town is a stretch - there was a general
store (complete with jackalopes) and, across
the street, a sandwich shop. That was pretty
much it. But the cabin was wonderful and warm,
Frost's cabin in the clearing. There were no
locks on the doors (never any theft, I was told)
and every boatman had a dog that meandered around
the grounds, perfectly at home. These dogs were
relaxed and friendly, and clearly considered
themselves on equal footing with homo sapiens.
They would come to you briefly for a pat on the head
and then just amble off to explore what was going on
elsewhere. Dogs reflect their owners, and we were
in good hands with people whose dogs behaved this way.
The boatmen (and women) had the same way about
them, content with themselves and their lifestyle.
None seemed to be over 30. Liz ran the show,
managed the extreme sporting goods store that
was part of the compound, oversaw the lodge
itself, and even cooked a wonderful breakfast
in the morning. As if that wasn't enough, she
was an expert boatman, too. Eric, one of our
guides, was a quintessential river rat, long hair
worn in a ponytail, a three-day growth of beard,
and a placid way about him. Dave, our other guide,
had the clean-cut look of a college athlete. It
would be fun to have a drink with Eric, but you'd
let Dave date your daughter (at least until you
found out he was a rafting guide).
Our trip would be on the Kennebec River. We had
a brief lecture on paddling (yes, you are expected
to paddle) and safety, and there seemed to be an
over-emphasis on what to do if you fell out of
the boat. The river was running at 4,600 square
feet per second (sfs). SFS is a volume of water
about the size of a basketball, so we were asked
to imagine 4,600 basketballs pouring through a
chute every second, but that image escaped me.
We loaded a bus and headed to the Harris dam
where we would embark on our voyage. There
would be seven of us in the boat, my wife, two
sons, me, two others, and Dave the guide. Eric
would follow with his dog, Willow, in another boat,
plucking those who fell overboard out of the water.
A friend said of white water rafting, "Once you
realize that you're not really going
to die, it's a lot of fun." I thought it was
exaggeration when he said it, now I see it was
rather insightful. As we approached the first
rapid--big, confused waves, a god's jacuzzi --I
looked at the faces of my fellow passengers.
We all had the same expression, how I imagine
kamikaze pilots looked just before takeoff.
Without elaborating ponderously on every wave we
pounded (and we pounded plenty), I will say it
was wet, scary, exhilarating, and the most fun
I've had in years. In river guide parlance, to
fall out of the boat is to "take a swim," and
there was one chucklehead who took a swim from
our raft, but I managed to hold onto the guide
ropes, and my wife and kids pulled me back in.
It was a blow to the ego to look in Eric's boat
and see that Willow the dog was having less trouble
staying on board than I was, but I chalked that up
to Willow's having a lot more experience at this
kind of thing. (I later learned it was Willow's
After a three-hour ride, one third of which was
class 3-4 rapids (5 is the highest that is navigable),
we returned to the lodge for a cookout and a recap
of the trip. There was steak, salmon, chicken,
baked beans, rice and salad - a feast. While we ate
I asked Dave what was the funniest thing that ever
happened on a trip. He told of a rotund man who
lost his swimming trunks in the rapids when he took
a swim, and had to paddle naked the rest of the way
(all the more embarrassing when you consider the
temperature of the water and the shrinkage involved).
I felt better about only falling out of the boat,
Willow the dog notwithstanding.
The dam was to have a big release of water the
following day, 8,000 sfs, which was something
that only happened four times a year. Dave asked
if we wanted to give it a go. "This might be the
last chance you get at water like this," he cajoled.
Hell, we were experienced rafters now, and we signed
up for another white water ride, showing less sense
than Willow, who chose to sit this one out.
"Oh, it's a monstrous big river," said Huck Finn of
the Mississippi. If Huck had seen the Kennebec this
day he would have said, "Oh, it's a monstrous big
(expletive deleted) river!!!!" Remembering that
poor man paddling naked, I cinched the drawstrings
of my bathing suit uncomfortably tight.
It seemed that we spent a good part of the trip
underwater, raft and all, but Connor, our guide,
kept us all on board and, after about three hours,
we reached the take out point. Impossibly, it was
even more rousing than the day before. Afterward,
we sat down to another delectable meal with the
adrenalin heavy in the air and everyone chattering
about the trip, not wanting to let it go. But,
except for the boatmen, we had to.
On the ride home, my wife Sue asked our teen-aged sons
how they rated the trip on a scale of one to ten.
"Twelve," they both replied.
I'd give it a 15, but, then again, I'm only a
fly fisher who hasn't had many adventures. ~ Dave
Dave Micus lives in Ipswich, Massachusetts. He is an
avid striped bass fly fisherman, writer and instructor.
He writes a fly fishing column for the Port City Planet
newspaper of Newburyport, MA (home of Plum Island and Joppa Flats)
and teaches a fly fishing course at Boston University.