Standing on the front porch of the cabin In Nantahala Village we looked out, across the valley, to the Smokie Mountains. That night we walked to the lodge, ordered dinner, and took it back to the cabin. The next day we went horseback riding. The day after that we hiked a bit of the Appalachian Trail. The next day, our 28th anniversary, we rafted the Nantahala. There were four rafts in our group, each with six adventurous souls. Before we set out we had a safety lecture during which we were implored, among several other things, to never let go of the T grip of our paddles. A loose T grip, we were told, could end up whacking someone up side the head.
Somehow I never got around to letting our guide know that I was blind until we were boarding the rafts. Jim sorta had to let our fellow rafters know why he was having to tell me about stuff that was clearly right before my eyes which I, just as clearly, couldn’t see. We took the front seat in the raft, sometimes known as the “adventure” seat, and set out.
We had rafted the Nantahala before but this time was different. In my sighted life, as part of the Sewanee whitewater team, we had regarded the rafters on the river as second class citizens. Of course they’d rather be kayaking or canoeing the river but simply didn’t have the chutzpa! And here I was, rafting the river.
For the first time, I had no desire or need to inform our fellow rafters that I had kayaked the river. No need to inform them of my skill and mastery on this or any other river. I didn’t ask the guide if he had known this or that person from those long ago days. I settled in, sharing the adventure with, until ten minutes ago, folks who had been total strangers. We laughed. We screamed with shock when the icy water hit us. We spun the raft around and around, using the current of the river to propel us faster and faster.
We had almost reached the Nantahala Falls, the last and largest rapid on the river, when my running the river in my youth came up. The girl behind me was frightened of going over the falls. Turning to her, I said, “I’ve been over those falls more times than I can remember. Once, my kayak flipped just upstream from the falls and I went through by myself. It’s a piece of cake, nothing to be afraid of.” She was relieved and said nothing more about being afraid. The woman behind me asked if it didn’t seem tame to be rafting instead of kayaking. She wanted to know if I wished I could still kayak the river.
To my surprise, I realized I was exactly where I wanted to be. I was having a blast! And I was sharing the adventure with Jim. Nuff said.
We entered the falls. Everyone in the raft was screaming this time. The entire left side of the raft, the side I was on, went under water. It felt like I was going to get tossed out of the raft! Jim and I both relinquished the T grips of our paddles. Jim grabbed me. I grabbed Jim. And then we were through the falls. And nobody got whacked up side the head with our errant T grips!