White water weekend wrap-up.

This weekend I went to Maine to white water raft the Penobscot River. I went with my Dad, his friend Bob, Bob’s two sons, Rob and Mark, their friends Justin, Sean, and Vic. We all met at Vinny T’s on Friday afternoon, right after the free lunch from American Express Financial Advisors. I rode up with Dad, Bob and Rob. Rob drove the whole way, he had just gotten a new car and it only had 200 miles on it, so he wanted to break it in. Rob burned a bunch of comedy CD’s for our ride up. We listened to Frank Caliendo – Make the Voices Stop, Ron White – Drunk in Public, Mitch Hedberg – Strategic Grill Locations, The Blue Collar Comedy Tour, Lewis Black – End of the Universe, and part of Bill Engvall – Dorkfish.

We made pretty good time up to Millinocket Maine. When we got to Millinocket we followed the direction and that led us to a bridge being out. We turned around and got directions to Three Rivers Whitewater.

When you give directions and use Strip Clubs as landmarks…. You might be a redneck.

As we were heading back to the other end of medway road (the road that Three Rivers Whitewater is on but wraps around in a semi circle with a bridge out in the middle.) we saw two moose crossing the road. One big old bull and a calf. Moose are huge. And it was just after dusk and they are hard to see, luckily another car was coming the other way and lit them up so we had ample time to slow down.

We got to the front desk of the lodge/bar/restaurant and checked in. We were assigned a Yurt (#1) and given directions to the Yurt. We brought the cars up and parked them and moved our stuff inside. A Yurt is a circular building that have walls that look like the old fashioned baby gates, there are wooden slats that when pulled apart make a diamond shape. Then a plastic canvas is stretched around the whole thing. That is what the sides look like, the top of the Yurt has wooden slats that all come to a point in the middle. There we see five triangles of Plexiglas so that you can see outside up into the night. This was the mosquito gathering point. There were screened windows on each side of the Yurt, a small door in and another door that led to a bathroom with a toilet, sink, hot water heater and shower, (so small that each time I turned around I shut off the water or turned it up or down.)

After unpacking we headed back to the lodge and had some dinner and a couple of beers. There was karaoke happening that night. We did not sing. I for one was a little nervous about the next day and I didn’t really know the other guys very well yet so I did not get out there and sing. But the guides were singing. There were some wild guides who were singing and dancing and having a great time. We had a great time watching them and talking and having some really good food.

Sleep did not come easy. There was a rather lengthy debate about the South Park movie being a musical or not, plus a group of 40+ year olds from Boston who were up all night yelling, and drinking and causing a ruckus all evening and into the early morning. This would be a nightly ritual. That and I was again nervous about the next day. Why? Read my recap of my last Whitewater Adventure. But sleep finally came and it was morning far too early.

Saturday morning we had a buffet breakfast in the lodge and then gathered as a large group to get sign our waivers, get our equipment and be assigned a guide. We also got the safety speech, which was very very entertaining and yet didn’t exactly put me at ease about what I was about to embark upon. You see the Penobscot River has many Class V rapids. Class V is the highest and therefore the most difficult to navigate. Well we heard about all the different scenarios for falling out of the raft. Each one was when you end up progressively further away from the raft. If you come up close, swim to the raft and grab the outer rope, the people will pull you up on the raft. If you are out further someone will reach out their paddle so you can grab it; they will pull you close and then pull you onto the raft. If you end up further out that that you can hook your paddle to the paddle of someone on the raft. The part that hooks together is a 1-inch piece of plastic called a T handle. If you end out further away from the raft then the guide has a throwbag with 75 feet of rope in it. The guide will throw that to you and you are to grab the rope, not the bag, because if you grab the bag you will unravel the entire 75 feet of rope. And believe me no one likes to pull in 75 feet of rope. Got the scenarios, good. Well forget ‘em. Because when you are out in the rapids and you fall out, you scratch claw, kick and climb onto any raft you can find. And while in a rapid it is next to impossible to hook a tiny piece of plastic to another tiny piece of plastic.
Another huge safety thing to remember is that if you fall out of the raft, close your mouth and open your eyes. You don’t want water in your mouth that will make you panic and you want to be able to see the guide or any rocks you are about to smash into. Also the biggest thing is to keep your feet up. If you do not keep your feet up then as our instructor told the group, the defecation will hit the oscillation! And he is so right, because if you put your feet down and get a foot caught between a rock or on a tree branch, well, lets just say that your insurance premiums better be paid up. The force
of the water will slam you to the bottom if you are caught on a rock or a tree branch. And you will not get up.

Then our instructor went over the commands we would be getting from the guides. All ahead meant that the group paddles ahead in unison, the two guys in the front setting the pace. All back meant that you paddle backwards all in unison with the front guys setting the pace. Back right meant that the right side would paddle back and the left side would paddle forward, Back left meant that the left side paddles backwards and the right side paddles forwards. Shift right meant that the left side would shit across the raft to the right side and Shift left mean that the right side would shift over to the left side. Hold on meant that you grab the inner rope with the hand that was not, at all times, holding the t grip of the paddle. This would place your body over the paddle and get into the crash position. This is another scenario where the defecation has hit the oscillation.

So we take a class VI bus ride from the lodge to the put in point at the McKay station. There all the rafts were carried by each group down to the water just above the hydroelectric plant and dam. When we all got into the raft Rob and Justin were in the front positions, The Sean and Mark were next, then Vic and Bob and Me and Dad took the last two spots. Then our guide Al was in the back. Al is a carpenter from Taunton and he does this on the weekends. Al was a great guide. So we paddled around and went over the commands. Once Al was satisfied that we had a clue we were on our way.

The first rapid that we hit was called Exterminator. Yep, a class V rapid to knock the morning cobwebs right out of your head, by way of your ass because this was pants crapping scary. We hit the rapid and Al is shouting all ahead, all ahead, dig, dig, together. We hit the rapid; Justin goes up and out of the raft. Vic and I go up, but I land between the thwarts (Thwarts are the rubber tubes that go across the middle of the raft. They look deceptively like seats but no they are not, they are the places where you jam a foot underneath as you sit on the side of the raft lean out and paddle for all you are worth.) and Vic lands on top of me. We are still in the rapids. Vic gets back up and Al shouts for me to stay where I am. So I’m sitting sideways in the raft facing the side I had just been sitting on, water is coming up and over the raft and we are taking a pounding. Dad got a mouth full of water in the first splash and he quickly learned that rule about keeping your mouth closed and eyes open very quickly. So we make it through Exterminator, and we are in a beautiful gorge. Justin was hauled back in the raft; I got back on my seat. I thought to myself, man it was really easy for me to slip off the side of the raft. I wonder why that was.

The next set of rapids we came to was called the Cribworks. This was another set of class V rapids. But rather and one big rapid it was a series of rapids. WE made it through that very well. No one went out of the raft. A thing about our raft, we were 9 full-grown men in 16 foot raft; we were basically a barge. We would see all the other rafts playing in the rapids and waves, whereas we would have to paddle really hard just to get through them because of our weight.

On the next rapid, the Amberjack falls, we went over a small class III rapid and then there were two bigger drops class IV. Well on the second drop Vic and I both flew out of the raft and into the water. I popped up to far from the raft so I swan to the rafts that had gone ahead of us and was pulled into one of them. Vic was pulled into another raft. Vic and I were clearly the two heaviest guys on the raft. And once we were out of it the raft was able to raise up. Then the remaining people on the raft had to switch around to distribute the weight better. Needless to say we didn’t do a lot of playing in the rapids. Vic ended up coming up with my paddle and his was swept down the river. So once we both got back into the raft I ended up without a paddle and had to hold on to the inner rope each time we took any additional rapids. During one of these runs Dad went up off his seat but Al grabbed him and slammed him back onto the raft. Dad was very grateful for that grab.

We stopped and had a cookout for lunch. It was nice to relax. During that time I got another paddle and we were back out on the water. Our next stop was the Nesowadnehunk Falls. These falls were 10 feet high and we would paddle up and go on over the falls. Once we got to the edge Al yelled Hold on and I reached for the rope on the thwart ahead of me, but got slammed sideways and took my hand off the T-handle of my paddle and jammed my pinky into my Dad’s helmet. And it hurt like hell. But what am I gonna say in a moment like that. We had made it over the falls, and now we turned around to go back and ‘play’ in the falls. Playing in the falls consists of paddling up to the falls, as close as possible so the suction holds the raft and the guide can move the raft back and forth and ‘surf’. So we did this a couple of times and then we carried the raft back up a giant rock between the falls and went over the falls again. Then we went into the falls and got a couple of rafts that had gotten stuck. This was a lot of fun, unfortunately the pain in my hand made me think only about that and not on how much fun this was. On our last rescue mission we got stuck, sideways at the falls, and I was on the side next to the falls. I tried to paddle but my paddle struck the rock and smacked back at me and reverberated into my hand. Not fun. Very painful.

So once we were out of the falls and were done playing I told Al about my finger and got it taped up. It still hurt but less chance of it banging into stuff indiscrimently.

The rest of the trip was a nice and quiet paddle down the river. We saw some fantastic views of Mt Katahdin. Just beautiful. The weather was awesome, warm and sunny. And the company kept us all in stitches with their Sean Connery as… bits. We couldn’t have asked for a better day.

When we get off the water and bring the raft and the equipment back up to the busses we find out that one of the busses has a flat tire. So everyone piled onto one bus and we cruise back to the lodge. One the way back I saw two more moose. They were out in the distance at the water’s edge as we drove on by.

Back at the lodge we dropped off our gear and went back to the Yurt to change. Then we headed over to the lodge again to see the slide show. We agreed to buy two of the photos and then we watched the video. Man, the video was awesome. They put together a great soundtrack as well as some funny skits between the action. So we agreed to buy one of those too. After that everybody but Dad, Bob and I went back to the Yurt to shower. I figured, one shower 8 guys, I can wait here with a beer or there with the mosquitoes. So we hung out there and had some beer and ordered some nachos. It began to pour out and there was lightening and thunder, so getting into the hot tub was out of the question. Then the power went out and the emergency lights came on. Bob is an electrician and he figured that the emergency lights only had 90 minutes on them, and he was right because at 90 minutes one of the emergency lights went out and t
hen the other. But beer was still flowing and the kitchen could still make pizza so we stayed and ate and drank.

A live band was scheduled to perform that evening and by the time they arrived all the guys were back, Vic had gotten caught in the shower when the power went out so he got half a shower. As the band brought in their equipment we looked at the poor guy carrying in the lights and thought, “Here’s a guy who’s doing something pointless.” Because the power had been out for about 2 hours with no signs of it returning. I left and went back to the Yurt before they began to play. I guess they got a generator and began playing, then 10 minutes after the generator started up the power came back on. But I was already up in my bunk and dead tired. So I went to sleep. Actually all the guys were in bed and asleep except for Dad and Bob, they listened to the band for a little bit and then came back to the Yurt. We slept until the guys in the Yurt next to us started their nightly ritual of partying and random loud mouthed swearing for no reason. Needless to say I did not sleep soundly.

On Sunday morning my Dad and I went for a walk up to where the bridge was out to see if maybe we could see a moose. Instead we saw about six large snapping turtles that were along the roadside laying eggs. They would walk up to the roadside and dig into the sand and lay eggs and go back to the water. Then we had lunch and headed back home. We listened to the rest of Bill Engvall – Dorkfish, the Dane Cook – Harmful if Swallowed, Lewis Black – The White Album, Bill Engvall – Here’s Your Sign, Mitch Hedberg – Mitch All Together, and Lewis Black – Rules of Enragement I got some great photos of the lake and the turtles and the Yurt. I did not however get any photos of the trip itself because we did not have a waterproof camera. And you know I’m kinda glad we didn’t have one because that would have been one more thing I would have had to worry about keeping track off when we went through the rapids. I’ve got a couple of photos coming so when they do I’ll show you those too.

A complete gallery of the photos I do have will be going up on the Buzznet PhotoBlog on Friday. I have reached my allotment of photos on Buzznet for the month and need to wait till next month to add more. I have just enough for Photo-A-Day. Which on Saturday I tried to upload via Vic’s camera phone but we had no connection and so that didn’t work at all. In the meantime here are a few of the pictures I did take. So check back Friday for a Buzznet Gallery of pictures from the trip.

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