Around the World... One Journey at a Time. Around the World... One Journey at a Time.

Across the U.S.: Day 42

by Kathy 31. August 2009 12:25

<< Day 41: Williamsburg to New River Gorge, West Virginia  | Day 43: Twin Knobs Recreation Area, Kentucky >>

New River Gorge, West Virginia


The New River Gorge area is known for its fantastic white water rafting. Today we had an all-day “family” rafting trip down the Upper New River. The trip was intended for ages 6 and up, so it was perfect for Sebastian.

We would be traveling down a 6-mile stretch of river that had a series of “rapids” rated Class I through Class III.

Genevieve had been eagerly anticipating this adventure for weeks!

The morning got off to a rather bumpy start—a series of unfortunate events . . . perhaps “small” things as isolated incidents . . . but when stacked on top of each other created a distressingly tall, teetering tower, . . . which ultimately led to me sitting down with one of the rafting company managers and receiving a partial refund and a sincere apology.

We put that experience behind us, and prepared to have some fun.

We selected helmets and life jackets and loaded onto the rafting bus.

Our guide leader was Elizabeth, who was from Ohio.

Sebastian was all bundled in protective gear.

We all were ready!

We would be using 2-person “duckies”, which are inflatable boats that you paddle. We had the option of sitting in a large raft, but the duckies were supposed to be a lot more fun.

Elizabeth, along with another guide (Kate), worked quickly to inflate all of the rafts.

While waiting, we marveled at the small dark butterflies that were fluttering here and there.

Elizabeth had explained the importance of having the safety helmet cover your forehead, which was the zone that she called “your personality” (because your personality would be severely altered if that portion of your head were injured). Sebastian’s helmet was overzealously protecting his “personality”, as well as his vision.

Moose was our highly skilled “ducky leader.” He was originally from Tennessee and had been working as a guide for 16 years. He has been at the New River Gorge for the past four years.

We all piled into our duckies. Ben is quite skilled at paddling and steering, so he rode with Sebastian.

Genevieve got stuck with me. I am not so good at steering and needed to practice quite a bit before I got the hang of things—even then, it was “touch and go” at times.

Moose provided some basic paddling and steering instructions in the water. He also had us fall overboard and practice climbing back in—not quite as easy as it might seem.

We were supposed to practice in the small area in front of the loading zone. However, Genevieve and I soon found our ducky drifting away from the group; despite our diligent efforts at paddling, we got caught up in the river current and were pulled away from the group—down the river we went! I yelled out to Moose, “I can’t turn back! What should I do?!” He raced over in our direction and yelled, “It’s okay! You’re doing fine!” Then he called for the rest of the group to come on. And so the adventure began! (Albeit somewhat prematurely.)

I am happy to say that my skills did improve throughout the day, and I gained a fair amount of confidence. Initially, when looking at some churning, frothy white water up ahead, I had to suppress a bit of nervousnous, knowing that I was responsible for getting Genevieve and I through safely. Her energy is a bit intense, like mine. She would often start to panic a bit as we entered the small rapids—and express this panic verbally, sometimes in pessimistic phrases. Not exactly “We’re all going to die!”, but her utterances were like sharp knives in the bubble of calmness I was trying to maintain in getting us through churning water.

The duckies slid up and down, and waves would sometimes come crashing over the front, slapping our faces and drenching us. At first, this was a lot of fun. In one set of rapids, Ben and Sebastian even intentionally took the line that dropped them into the “Ducky Muncher”--so named because most duckies get overturned there, but Ben expertly navigated through smoothly. Woo hoo! Genevieve and I got closer to the Muncher than I had intended—we had a short but sharp dropoff, lots of water in our faces, swirling and churning, and we emerged still in the boat, sitting upright (I think it was the prayers . . .).

During the long stretches of calm water, the children could jump out and swim beside the boats.

More and more clouds started accumulating overhead, and the air turned cold.

Around noon, we were all getting hungry. The trip was only supposed to last “4 ½ to 5 hours” (with a starting time of 9:00 a.m.); the rafting company was providing a lunch, so we hadn’t brought any food with us. We normally carry a backpack with water and snacks on all of our daily excursions, but we hadn’t brought one on the raft due to the logistics of where to stash it and how to keep it dry if/when the boat overturned. Moreover, the list from the rafting company of “what to bring” had not included water or snacks. We wrongly anticipated (drawing on our past experience with adventure tours) that water would be provided along the way. Next time, I will ask more direct questions, and we will never be without water or snacks again.

Around 1:00 p.m., I asked Kate if we were stopping soon for lunch. She said that we would be stopping near the “halfway point.” What?! We were a bit surprised to learn that we still had another hour of paddling to get to our luncheon stop. I asked if there was some water available now, and Elizabeth was kind enough to hand over her personal water bottle (with the drinking instructions of “no lips”!)

I now had Sebastian as my paddling partner. Ben and I decided that Ben’s calm, unflappable temperament was much better suited for Genevieve’s projections of doom and gloom when entering the rapids. (Plus, in his capable hands, she was less likely to utter those pessimistic predictions in the first place.) Sebastian and I worked well together, and he didn’t panic once, even when we momentarily got swept up on top of a large submerged rock and then started surging backwards at warp speed—that boy remained calm as a cucumber.

The last hour before lunch was a test in perseverance for all of us. I just focused on paddling, with the thought that surely this would end soon. Sebastian was laid out in the front of the boat with his head thrown back and his eyes closed, not saying a word. He was shivering from the cold. I would periodically murmur some (hopefully) soothing words, “We’re almost there.” “I’m so proud of you for being so brave.” “We’re going to get you warm soon.” “There’s going to be a nice lunch for us when we stop.”

We finally pulled up to shore around 2:00 p.m. Elizabeth had some dry shirts/jackets stashed in a large waterproof bag—the children quickly dressed themselves in the warm clothing.

The guides set up a delicious feast for us—a variety of breads, lunch meats, cheeses, vegetables, and pudding, with large dispensers of lemonade and water.

While the guides cleaned up and repacked the food away, Ben led us in jumping jacks and other exercises in order to stop our teeth from chattering.

After lunch, the children opted to ride in one of the two large rafts with Kate—they had experienced enough waves in their faces. Ben and I paddled a ducky together. I was perched in the front, completely relaxed and feeling like “Queen for a Day.” We sailed beautifully through the Class III rapids.

The big raft that the kids were on did not experience the ups and downs of the lightweight duckies. Their ride looked very peaceful (dare I say “boring”), and I was glad that we had chosen the duckies.

We finally arrived at our ending point around 5:15 p.m. We carried the boats to the loading trailer. High fives all around! Sebastian gave a toast with his root beer.

Genevieve joined in the celebration.

Elizabeth predicted that at least 5 kids would fall asleep during the bus drive back to the rafting office. Sebastian was one of the first to close his eyes.

Before heading back to our campground, we stopped by the lookout point for the New River Gorge Bridge. The parking lot area had beautiful flowers.

The New River Gorge Bridge was completed in 1977. It is the world’s longest single-span steel arch bridge.  The arch span is 1700 feet.

At 876 feet high, it is the 2nd tallest bridge in the United States. The Washington Monument and 2 Statues of Liberty would fit underneath, with 20 feet to spare. 

We walked down a long and steep staircase to another lookout point. We could see the old bridge across the New River below.

On the way back up, Genevieve counted almost 200 steps.

We had originally planned to camp at the Rivermen’s campground a second night (and had already paid our nonrefundable fee), but we spontaneously decided to move on. We looked in our KOA directory and found a nice place with a lake, playground and laundry facilities near the western border of West Virginia. We called and made a reservation. Off we went!

We chose to take backroads most of the way, and soon found ourselves winding along a beautiful 2-lane road.

The New River:

We passed through many small communities. Here are some sights along the way:

The London Locks and Dam.

The Kanawha River had large piles of coal on both sides, with empty barges waiting to be filled.

We drove through Charleston, West Virginia. The capitol dome was very beautiful.

In the distance, we could see some smokestacks creating a huge cloud. Hmmm . . . I saw a chicken sitting on a nest, . . . and Ben saw a squashed Mickey Mouse face.  Let the psychoanalysis begin!

The setting sun:

As we passed the cloud-making smokestacks, we saw that they were neighboring three short and squat distinctly shaped smokestacks.  We thought it was a nuclear power plant, but those stacks are actually the cooling towers for the AEP's John Amos coal-fired power plant. 

We camped overnight near the town of Huntington, West Virginia. The RV park had a great playground and a small lake. We were all very tired tonight and slept soundly.


<< Day 41: Williamsburg to New River Gorge, West Virginia  | Day 43: Twin Knobs Recreation Area, Kentucky >>

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Comments (2) -

10/25/2010 12:34:28 PM #


The power plant is AEP's John Amos power plant. It's coal fired, not nuclear ;) The cooling towers usually throw people off. Glad to see you all enjoyed WV! I've enjoyed reading your blog.

Mark United States | Reply

10/25/2010 1:11:07 PM #


Thank you, Mark!  I'll make the change above.  West Virginia is a beautiful state!  After this trip around the U.S., we traveled to China and saw the same type of coal-burning towers there too. I just didn't make the connection back to what we had seen in West Virginia.
I'm glad you have enjoyed our stories!  Kathy

Kathy United States | Reply

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Places We’ve Been, w/Quick Links

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   Virginia Beach, VA
   Washington D.C.
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   Winom Frazier OHV Area, OR
   Winslow, AZ
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For us, each journey begins with the initial heart pangs to venture to a certain part of the world. Then the ideas start coming together . . . ahh, the possibilities . . . and the dream evolves gradually into an actual plan. But, oh, the joy of the dream!  Click here to learn more about how we plan and prepare for our journeys.

Where Are We Now?

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Words for the Heart

“. . . and then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Anais Nin