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Thursday, June 15, 2000

After my first whitewater rafting experience, on the Snake River three years ago, I swore no one would ever get me into a raft again. But time has a way of erasing the fear and trembling I felt as I clung face-first to the bottom of the raft, which was pointed straight up on end in some of the more severe rapids. I did remember the fun everyone else had, because they still talk about it.

So when I heard that the raft ride offered by the company here in Estes Park was mild, suitable for children even, I changed my mind and decided to give it a try. Then as we drove past the part of the Poudre River where we would be rafting this morning, I had a sudden urge to change my mind again, forfeit the money and wait in the van. Oh, but there was no way I would do that. It takes me a while to make this kind of decision, but once I'm in, I'm in.

The van ride up to the take-off point started at 6:30 this morning, fourteen very quiet people (nine of them from our family). We drove through Big Thompson Canyon, where the Bobcat fire was still raging, and as soon as we rounded the curve into the canyon area, we were engulfed by smoke. It was enough to reduce visibility and penetrate the lungs. I could feel it burning my eyes. It was thick like that for several miles, but the river where we were headed was well out of the fire area.

They had two rafts for us, each with seven people plus the guide. I was in Kirk's boat, with David and Eric in the lead paddling positions. I was just behind Eric on the right side. They gave us dire warnings of what might happen if we didn't follow the guide's instructions, and they told us what to do if we fell out and got trapped underneath the raft. Once again, I thought of backing out, but it was too late.

The water in the river had been snow just yesterday, they said. We struggled into our rubber booties and expected the worst, but once our feet were wet we were past the worst of it. We thought a cold wind would make it even icier, but conditions were pleasant and I wasn't uncomfortable from either the air or the water.

The river was indeed gentle, relatively speaking, but there was enough white water and the swells were high enough to suit me. It was too tame for David, but he's more adventuresome than I am — not to mention younger. I like my horses and my rivers a little slower.

Our guide Kirk was a lot of fun, and good at his job (as far as I could tell). He was so impressed with how well our group responded to his instructions that he tried a couple of maneuvers usually reserved for more experienced rafters. In one of them, which he called "surfing" the raft, we paddled into a position where we pointed the boat straight down into the wave and let it skate on top and pull itself out. Those in the lead positions (that would be my nephews) got submerged doing this, but we came out of it perfectly. Kirk said it was the first try at surfing this season, and he did it because he had confidence in our crew.

Because the river further downstream was too low for rafting (at least for commercial rafting), we carried our boats up the bank at the halfway point, then rode back up to where we started and ran the same stretch of river a second time. We took some different angles this time and seemed to move much faster through the water. It was also a little rougher, but still within my personal range of tolerance.

After the second run we changed into dry clothes in the two outhouses they provided. They gave us cookies and lemonade to tide us over for the hour ride back to Estes Park. After the splash of cold water and some time to wake up, we were a much livelier crew on the ride back. We were back early, too — about 11:15 — but I'd been up since five and I was ready for a nap.

Photos of this adventure were taken by the rafting company, and as soon as they send them I'll have them up here. (Can you believe I didn't take my camera on the raft, after taking it on the trail ride yesterday?)

There was one added element of adventure this morning. John and Suzanne's van wouldn't start and we had to borrow a car to get to our ride on time. After we got back John spent a couple of hours arranging for a tow and a loaner (which turned out to be unnecessary since the local dealer had a replacement for the defective part). It was a nuisance, and it would have been more of one if we'd had to delay leaving the area, since we have to be out of the house by ten tomorrow morning. As it was, it cost John a half day of his vacation, and it cost the rest of us his company for that long.

It's a very good thing that our vacation is nearing its end, because there's not much left that my body can do. My legs are still sore from our hike Tuesday morning, and my rear is painful from the horseback ride last night. I'm already starting to feel the muscles in my arms tightening from pulling on that paddle this morning. It's even hard for me to get in and out of a chair today.

Tonight the family got together for the last time. Really, I think it was the first time, as well, that all seventeen of us were in the same place at the same time. David told everyone that he'd cook a good dinner for us, and somehow we managed to gather the whole clan together.

living room in Estes Park houseDavid preparing our family dinner

After dinner we had a lengthy photo session involving all of us in various combinations, taxing the patience of the younger members, who don't realize what a rare occasion this is. So many people, related by blood and marriage, of all ages and from such distant places. We had to take advantage of the moment and cherish it.

that's all of usthe last night

Afterward, we gathered around the pool table until people started drifting off to their various sleeping locations. It was a lovely way to spend our last night here.

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