Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A most memorable whitewater experience

I had out-of-town visitors last week and took them to the U.S. National Whitewater Center, a relatively new Charlotte facility that hosted the 2008 Olympic kayak trials.

We went rafting on the manmade rapids (more on that later), kayaking on the nearby Catawba River and ziplining. I even took a 46-foot leap off a platform -- the Mega Jump -- with a cable attached. We could have done rockclimbing, an obstacle course and other activities, too, but we were too exhausted and sun-drenched.

As for that rafting experience ...

Our guide calls himself Capt. Dan. He was so tan it looked painful, as if his entire body and face had been stretched to the limit and then wrapped in a leather girdle. It quickly became obvious that he was full of himself, as he rattled off the names of the dozens of rivers on which he had steered rafts. Oh, and he spoke in a fake, sometimes unintelligible southern drawl; I mean, the dude's bio says he's from Hoboken, N.J.!

Simply stated, Capt. Dan was a piece of work.

Two in our party were kids and two more were middle-aged ladies, and Capt. Dan soon became frustrated that power and teamwork were lacking. Near the end of our five-run trip, he pretty much gave up on us ... but not before our raft capsized, spilling all of us into the water.

It was a brutally hot day, so I didn't mind the swim, but one of the women in our group briefly had gotten trapped under the raft and started panicking a little. Thankfully, she came out of it just fine.

So was the whole day a disaster and, given the nearly 50-dollar-a-head price, a rip-off?

Not at all. While it wasn't quite the same experience as actual rafting on an actual river, we had a lot of fun.

And Capt. Dan gave us something to talk about for the rest of the weekend, maybe even for the rest of our lives.

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