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Whitewater Rafting and More...

We needed something that would spark enthusiasm for our entire youth group. That has been the major problem of every summer trip we have ever taken. We could never find common ground and then settle for someplace that was at least agreeable. The only problem, “agreeable” seemed to mean some crowded beach with a bunch of cheesy things made overseas and with nothing but tourists.

This year I decided to speak up. I have always wanted to go whitewater rafting on the New River in Fayette County, West Virginia. We had driven through the place a number of times, and it always seemed like it would be a great vacation site. The New River Gorge Bridge alone almost demands a stop. After peering down into that beautiful canyon, I knew we had to give it a shot.

At the annual vacation meeting in February, my sister Anna and I laid out the best proposal we could. We’ve both been working in sales for our high school yearbook for two years, so I like to think we had an idea of what we were doing. Our best friends, Patrick and Natasha, were easy to convince. They have been to West Virginia many times and to Oak Hill in October for New River Gorge Bridge Day. They were more than ready for a return trip.

My brother Bob and his friend Sarah were tougher and Sarah’s brother, Lee, was not crazy about the idea of missing the beach. However, after he saw the bike trails that criss-cross the Gorge, he took little arm-twisting. My cousin Kate loves the beach as well, but when I told her about the impending white water adventure, she was ready to leave right then.

Many of our chaperones do not consider it a vacation unless they get to play golf, eat out, and play more golf. Once I convinced them that there would be plenty of that, they agreed.

Upon the advice of some friends we decided to do the adventure portion of our vacation with Songer Whitewater. As we were driving over the longest arch bridge near Oak Hill, I got one more look at the New River Gorge. We then drove to Songer and located our campsite. It was perfect. We had plenty of room with great shower facilities, video game facilities, and live music.

We got up the first morning, ready for our trip down the mighty New River. Rivers Resort has their basecamp set up so they are only a few short miles to the launch site for our trip and the only outfitter located at the takeout area. We met our guide, Steve, and took off. The river trip was everything I expected it to be. We navigated some of the most extreme whitewater on the East Coast. Rapids like Surprise, Double Z, and Miller’s Folly were as challenging as they were exciting. The Rapid that stands out most was one called Lower Keeny. We hit huge walls of bubbling whitewater and towering waves deluged us from every direction. The boat, which was self-bailing, was constantly flooded with water. It was amazing! One of our chaperones, who is approaching 70, but still thinks she is 20, had a blast. She could not stop raving about how great it was. It was a truly wonderful feeling to be with good friends and family on such an adventure, not to mention the great riverside lunch Rivers provided.

That evening we had a delicious dinner at a local restaurant. Barbecue ribs that fell off the bone. My cousin is a vegetarian and she had rave reviews of the Veggie Lasagna. That evening we were all tired, and a little sore but anxious for what the next day had in store.

We woke up the next morning ready for more adventure. Some of the adults headed off to the Brier Patch 18 hole golf course. Others in our group went to Tamarack and Twin Rivers, local gift shops and museums, showcasing the best of West Virginian artisans and craftspeople. That left the rest of us to spend a day kayaking on the upper section of the New River. Although none of us had ever done it before, our guide John was very patient. We had such a great time, enjoying a leisurely and instructive day on the river.

We met everyone else in Beckley, a neighboring town, for a quick bite to eat. We then went to watch Theater West Virginia’s outdoor drama, “The Hatfields and McCoy’s.” A great play about a bloody feud that took place on the West Virginia/Kentucky border.

The next morning most of our group headed out to do some early morning Mountain Biking. Lee, my mountain biking friend, was eager to go. We enjoyed a wonderful day on the Minden-Thurmond trail. It was beautiful trail that follows the river. Lucky for us, it was easygoing and had breathtaking vistas of the New River. Our guide Joyce said there were more white-knuckle trails ahead and I later found out what she meant.

Joyce, Lee, and I left the less experienced group behind with their guide, for some of the most exciting bike trails around. We encountered hairpin turns and sheer drop-offs that were extremely challenging. It was amazing to see how brutal and untouched those Appalachian Mountains can be. After almost two hours on some wild trails, we decided to meet up with the rest of the group.

After another mouth-watering meal, the adults went to The Red Dog Saloon to have a drink and listen to some live music. It was a great bar with a high energy atmosphere.

The next morning we wanted to do something different. We decided to set up a caving tour in near by Greenbrier County. After being shuttled to the cave site, we were taken on a guided tour deep into the earth. It was very powerful to be in a cave. Our guide told us to turn off our lights to experience total darkness. The formations were amazing. Knowing that I was standing next to something that was over 1000 years old was a truly intense feeling.

That night we decided it would be a good time to watch the sun set. It was lengthy trek to the edge of the gorge, so we decided we should take a horse ride.
We got together a team of horses at Babcock State Park and took off for a overlook. As we watched a glowing sun sink behind the lush hills of West Virginia, one of my most skeptical friends turned to me and said, “ I don’t think I could have asked for a better vacation. Thank you.”

We watched the sun set on the horizon. Looking at our group, I realized how special it was to have everyone together like that. I knew that another trip to Oak Hill and another stay with Songer would be on the agenda for next summer.

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