Tour guide can define ‘adapted’ when it comes to rafting

Sep 05, 2013
Tagged with: Tour guide can define ‘adapted’ when it comes to rafting

Back in June, my family and I headed to my home in East Tennessee for a week of relaxation with my mom and grandparents. My little hometown of Elizabethton, TN, is full of outdoor opportunities. There are lakes that surround the area, and rivers tie the map together. Outdoors life is part of things in East Tennessee. So we did what we’re supposed to do on any visit there: We booked a trip to go whitewater rafting down the Watauga River.A family friend, Teresa Miller Nidiffer, owns Watauga Kayak just a mile away from my mom’s house, and it sits directly on the riverbank of the Watauga River, a Class I-II rapids river that cushions Elizabethton and provides good fishing and great scenery. Teresa is always asking, “When are we going down the river?” I’ve gone rafting with her two other times before, so I was looking forward to another trip. Still, I felt my nerves deep down.

I live with cerebral palsy and walk with forearm crutches, so comfort is essential—both mentally and physically. I remember the first time I went rafting with Teresa, I had dozens of questions and she answered them all patiently before we put one foot into the water. My concern wasn’t whether I could physically handle the jostling down the river, but more of what kind of setup I would have as we rafted. How would I keep my balance? Could I help paddle? What if I fell in? Let’s be clear: The Watauga isn’t tossing you around like a lifeboat in the ocean; it’s more of a cruise when you take one of the easier routes. I still had the basic questions, and Teresa had the soothing answers.

That first trip, I simply held on to the rope she rigged onto the raft while my family did all the paddling. The second trip, she hooked up a chair-back seat at the front of the raft that allowed me to lean back and rest during the three-hour trip while also doing some paddling just to get the hang of it. This time, I wondered if we would use the chair-back or if the setup would be without it. As we loaded up to drive to the Watauga Dam and get in, I realized there was no chair-back seat but it was no problem. I had confidence in Teresa’s judgment and setup.

Teresa made sure I was comfortable getting ready for our trip down the river. She told me exactly where I would be riding in the raft before we got in. I was once again positioned at the front of the raft with my wife beside me, my mom and my 5-year-old son in the second section, and Teresa in the back as the guide. It’s difficult for me to sit upright, especially when there is turbulence such as in a raft on whitewater rapids. So, Teresa adapted.

When she put the raft into the water, Teresa first ran rope through several rings near the front of the boat and secured it to the cross-section where I sat. It was tight. “Josh, you test out that rope and see if it feels good enough for you to hang on,” Teresa told me as we stood in the icy water of the Watauga. My mom and wife helped me roll into the raft and get positioned, then I yanked on the rope a few times just to get a good feel. It was like I was busting a bronco at a rodeo, and the raft was my horse. It felt great, so off we went down the river.

Teresa is an expert on the waters, and that leaves a calming sense on her boat passengers. She pointed where to look for wildlife on the banks and in the water. She asked if we want some bumps or a smooth ride and adjusts the course accordingly. And she continuously asked if my ropes were working for me and if I was comfortable.

As we made our way toward the first set of rapids that would be among the biggest of the day, Teresa warned me of how the boat would react. She told me the direction the water would come in, and ensured I was OK with things before we proceeded. I was, and we did. It was fantastic, and it wasn’t that bumpy at all. Water splashed all over us. The boat didn’t rock as much as I anticipated, so my tight grip was plenty enough to hang on.

We navigated a few more light rapids during our journey, and then guided into the river entrance to Teresa’s shop. We shoved onto the land, and my wife and mother held the boat while Teresa helped me over the inflated raft and onto dry surface.

I don’t write about my summer rafting experience to give a play-by-play of the tour. I write to show that whitewater rafting is possible with the right tour guide who is innovative and proactive. Teresa’s willingness to try new setups with me inside the boat is indicative of how she runs her shop. She often boasted: “If my grandmother can do it at 94, then anyone can.” She loves to provide people with new adventures. And that’s what it takes to get me and my crutches into a raft on the water.

My advice to you if you want to cruise your nearby river: Go talk to the tour guides. Ask them questions. Get to know them. It will be beneficial for them to know your strengths, weaknesses and fears. It will be beneficial for you to know their plan of attack when you decide to get on the water. Who is up for rafting?



Author: Josh pate

  • Teresa Miller

    A great family day on the Watauga River, can’t wait until we try kayaking.