In 2014 I took part in Camp America. I worked at a summer camp in Vermont for 2 months. Then I travelled down the East Coast with Camp America Treks. In 2 weeks we covered 2,645 miles, through 12 states. We packed in so much action into those 14 days and had such a blast. One of the states we passed through was Tennessee. Home of Jack Daniels Whisky and also, home to the Ocoee River. This meant I got the chance to tick off a bucket list activity. White water rafting!
The Ocoee River is the southern part of the Toccoa River. It is known for it’s white water rafting. In fact it is the most popular white water rafting course in the America. There are over 250,000 rafters on the rapids every year. The Ocoee River is dam-controlled, so even in the driest months the water levels stay constant. This means no matter when you are scheduled to visit, you are in for a action packed ride. The middle section of river which we were rafting is 5 miles and a grade 3+. This is out of 6 grades and indicates how difficult the rapids are to navigate. However, on the day we were going we were informed there were rapids up to grade 4. Whether it was a higher grade due different conditions or if they were just exaggerating, I can’t be sure.
- Grade 3: Intermediate. Small waves, maybe a small drop, but no considerable danger. May require significant maneuvering.
- Grade 4: Advanced. White water, medium waves, maybe rocks, maybe a considerable drop, sharp manoeuvres may be needed.
Due to the popularity of rafting on the middle section of the Ocoee, there are loads of different rafting companies in the area. We went with Cascade. Cascade offer both full and half day tours, with my group doing the latter. We then stayed at their campsite for the night. When I say campsite though, I actually mean a field at the back of their offices. The campsite wasn’t high tech but it was sufficient for the night. The staff we went rafting with were awesome though. We were split into two groups and both had a blast. Prices for the tours vary depending on the time of year, the day you are going and the number of people in your group. However, personally I consider it to be a very reasonable price for the amount you fit in.
White Water Rafting
We were so excited and nervous before getting on the river. None of us had been white water rafting before so didn’t know what to expect. We were given a briefing which covered the basics of how to paddle and what to do if we fell out. Then it was time for us to get into the raft and onto the water. There was no warm up and we were straight into some crazy rapids. Obviously at the time I didn’t know anything other than I was going over various rapids. However, now I have been able to look up the names of those rapids and I love the names they are given. This is how I found out the first rapid is called Grumpy and Grumpy’s ledge. All the names are that awesome.
We were on the water for about an hour and half during which we tackled over 20 rapids. It was insane. Luckily I didn’t fall out of the boat at all, however we were all continuously falling into the boat. We had 7 people in our boat even though the maximum group size was 6. This meant we were a bit wonky at times. Especially seeing as the two strongest guys were both on one side. We switched positions a couple of times to attempt to combat this. The guide then set the boys a challenge to sit on the front of the boat with their feet dangling out the front. This was hilarious to watch as they didn’t have anything to hold onto so were being thrown around. They were the only people to actually fall out.
Around the halfway mark you get to the doldrums. This is a gentler section of the river which lasts for about half a mile. It was here that we were given the chance to jump out to swim/drift down the river for a bit before we got to the next rapids. We decided to do so and jumped out and floated downstream, then when instructed we swam to the boat and pulled ourselves back out. However, we didn’t all make it. One of our group didn’t make it in time and had to be pulled into another boat before reaching the rapids. We did go pick them up though and she re-joined our boat.
We continued down the river, tackling the rapids as they came and having a blast. Then we ran into some more trouble, by literally running into someone. Another boat of rafters had pulled up on the side of the river to jump in from a big rock. That would be no problem except one guy decided to jump in right in front of us. Obviously, we have paddles but there’s only so much we can slow down when we’re being carried by the rapids. This meant we basically ran him over. He was fine but the guide of the boat he belonged to was angry we would dare run over one of their customers. This prompted a shouting match between our guide and theirs whilst we still floated downstream.
Smiles All Round
We all had a blast on the river and were so pumped to have done it. Cascade take photos whilst you are on the water which are then awesome to look back at. I was amazed that we all were smiling in every photo. You don’t always get that when you’re not aware photos are being taken but it shows how much fun we were genuinely having. They sell the photos on a disc to you but only one person in your group needs to buy them and then can send them to everyone else which saves everyone some money.
Rafting was hard work as the paddling does require some effort however it is totally worth the exertion. Just don’t jump into the water in front of a boat and you’ll be fine.
Is white water rafting on your bucket list?