Several months ago, Rich and I attended a fundraiser, where we won two silent auction packages. One was a white water rafting trip on the Wenatchee River in eastern Washington through River Recreation
With the weather expected to be in the 90’s over the weekend, I wasn’t looking forward to baking on a raft, with the sun reflecting off the water, further radiating my skin. Friday evening, we sifting through the bathroom cupboards, searching for the scarcely used tube of sun block. Finding none, we moseyed down to the local Safeway. While there, we stocked up on bottled water for the trip, and bought breakfast fixings.
After a hearty breakfast of eggs, sausage, and hash browns, which Rich cooked, we hit the road.
Our first stop was a roadside stand where we bought $2 worth of local Bing cherries. We hastily wiped them on our shirts and popped them into our mouths. They were sweet and juicy, no doubt, picked from the tree hour earlier.
The drive out to Monitor, Washington, where River Recreation is located, is punctuated with fruit stands, and acres of fruit trees, laden with apples, cherries, and pears. They’re in neat rows, spaced to accommodate pickers and large wooden crates.
Wenatchee, which is a little over 2 hours east of Everett, and near where we were going to raft is considered the “apple capital of the world,” with 170,000 acres of apple orchards, comprising the majority of the apples produced in Washington, Crops include deep red to light green apples, Braeburn to Cameo, Cripps Pink, Fuji, Gala, Gingergold, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Jonagold, Pink Lady, Rome, Red Delicious, and Winesap.
Each year, 10-12 billion apples are handpicked in Washington State. It’s the largest agricultural product grown in the state, and 60% of the apples eaten in the nation come from Washington. It’s not surprise that Treetop has a plant in Wenatchee, with around 150 employees, producing low moisture, chilled and frozen apple ingredients for the food industry. In addition, the Aplet and Cotlets factory is in the area, along with smaller enterprising producing fresh and alcoholic apple cider, and other apple products.
Further down the road, we came to Leavenworth, which is an over-the-top tourist town with nearly every building architected and painted—including the auto repair shop – to resemble a Bavarian village. Even the Best Western is called the Icicle Village and Starbucks has a German theme. It’s quite a few blocks of shops, restaurants, hotels, outdoor stages, and landscaped areas idyllically, sandwiched between dramatic mountain ranges, which like Leavenworth, is blanketed in snow during the winter. It has year-round festivals and events, and is a popular place all times of the year because it’s family-friendly, closing to skiing, rafting, and other outdoor activities.
I’m not delighted by anything German so the town is more obnoxious than delightful to me. Nevertheless, with time to spare before our rafting trip, we put $1.50 in the meter, and decided to walk around the outdoor art festival. Before we could start walking, however, I was recognized by someone I worked with when I was a contractor at Microsoft Kinect for Windows.
Small world because I’d only worked with her a short time! It was fun to catch up and learn what was happening in the group.
With our fill of Leavenworth for the year, we hit the road and headed to Monitor.
One of the tour guides, described Monitor as two houses, a pallet factory, and River Recreation, the rafting company. According to the 2000 census, 342 people live in the Monitor zip code. It definitely had a has-been feel with dusty streets, and run-down buildings and houses. River Recreation was super cool, and a had a fabulous vibe with numerous picnic tables under umbrellas, large painted school buses, a warehouse full of wet suits, half a dozen tents for the guides under a grove of trees, and several large BBQs, fired up, cooking lunch for the guests.
River Recreation oversees guided tours twice a day. A group of rafters go out in the morning, and return around 1 p.m. for lunch. A second group is asked to arrive before 1 p.m. Following lunch, they hits the rapids. We were in the second group, which provided time to work up a healthy appetite. Fortunately, they served barbequed chicken legs, pepper beef, green solid, three-bean salad, tortilla chips, watermelon, and white bread with soft-spread margarine. No doubt, it was Costco-to-table, but sufficiently tasty and filling.
After lunch, there was a bad rush to get wetsuits and booties. It’s the first time I’ve worn a wetsuit, which is comfortable once you pull it on, but quite the chore to pull up… especially when rushed. We were each given a paddle and PFD (Personal Floatation Device), and then herded onto two large school buses. Fortunately, the 90+ degree weather hadn’t manifested. It was overcast and delightfully cool.
During lunch, we were joined by another couple, Kevin and Christine, who live on Whidbey Island. The probability of sitting next to someone who lives on Whidbey Island, during a rafting trip in remote Monitor, Washington, is close to zero. They are a delightful couple who shared interesting information about island life, computing on the ferry, and the challenges of getting a job, which is akin to one’s field. In Kevin’s case, he used to create and archive media for Disney in Los Angeles. He’s an expert is converting media to various formats for print, video, and other digital formats. Currently, he works at Nintendo.
We were hoping to be in a raft with them, but because I needed to take a pit stop when rafts were being assigned, we ended up on other raft with a Russian couple who live in Richmond, Washington, a hedge fund manager who works in Bellevue, and his associate, an Asian woman, who was visiting from Chicago. Our river guide, Brian, was from Bellingham, just north of the Canadian border.
As we drove to the drop-off site, the overcast skies, and distant lightning and thunder, turned into a hefty rain shower, which let up once we arrived… and then started up again a few minutes later. It was a torrential downpour. Fortunately, we were wearing wetsuits so it didn’t matter if we got wet.
There was a large group of rafters, from another company, in the water when we arrived so we not only had to wait for them to paddle down the river, but wait until River Recreation put all 17 of their rafts (we were towards the back of the pack) in the water… each with a minimum of 6 rafters and one guide per boat. Do the math. There were lots of rafts and rafters taming the rapids that afternoon!
Prior to our departure, we listen to a safety lecture with instructions for what to do if you fall in the water, how to get back in the raft (or float down the river with your knees bent and toes out of the water), how to help someone into the raft, and also how to correctly use your paddle. I was surprised at the extent of the safety lecture… as if people regularly fall into the water…
The first few minutes of the trip was spent learning how to paddle as a team, and understand the instructions barked out by our guide. It didn’t seem overly strenuous. It would certainly be easier than paddling a canoe with Rich when I’m in the front doing most of the work, and he’s just steering!
Our first set of rapids was exciting, pitching the boat from side-to-side. My first reaction was “Let’s do it again!” And “do it again,” we did numerous times for the 3 hour trip, which included taking out the raft by a small dam, and walking around the dam before putting it back in. At one point, the guide asked if anyone wanted to ride the next rapid – Snow Blind — on the bow of the raft. Rich volunteered me.
I was able to get on the bow with my slippery wet suit, but fell back into the boat, which was the instruction from the guide should I fall. The two men in the front of the raft were able to prop me back up on the bow, just in time for me to see the raft dip down into a crater of water. I held on tight for another few rapids, and then we came to a doozy of a rapid. I was immediately flipped into the boat with a tsunami of a wave that landed on top of me, knocking off my hat, pasting my glasses to my face, and cleaning out my nasal and brain cavity. It felt like I was underwater for 20 seconds or more.
Drenched, I slithered back to my seat at the back of the raft, happy to keep a low profile for the rest of the trip. At least, I hadn’t fallen out of the raft! The first time I rafted on the Guadalupe River in Texas, I was sitting on top of a back rests, and flipped out of the raft when we hit the first (and only) rapid on the water.
Throughout the trip, we could hear thunder and saw lightening in the distance. And several times, we paddled through a downpour. Crazy weather considering it was supposed to be in the 90’s.
Towards the end of the trip, we came to calm water, and the guide described several “games” we could play. One was rodeo where someone stands on the bow of the boat, holds onto a rope, and leans back while the rest of the rafters paddled in a circle. The hedge fund manager was game. He stayed upright for a minute or so and then found himself in the river. Rich pulled him out.
Another game is between two people who lock oars, lean back and walk themselves towards each other using their hands on the handles of the oars. Rich’s and my height difference would have guaranteed that I fall into the water. No thanks!
Most of the rafts had willing participants in the game… falling it the water, and then being retrieved. It became obvious why they’d given detailed instructions at the start of our trip about what to do when one falls into the water, and how to get back into the raft.
By the time we got back, the rain had subsided. It was nice to change into dry clothes, say our good-byes to our raft-mates, and Kevin and Christine. Maybe we’ll bump into them when we move to Whidbey Island in a few years.