What No One Dares to Tell You About Whitewater Rafting


Earlier this week, I enjoyed my first father-son whitewater trip with U.S. Rafting in West Forks, Maine. My 11-year-old daredevil is wearing the blue helmet. I’m the grimacing guy with the red helmet and yellow oar.

Although every photograph shows me snarling, I loved the experience and felt it provided just enough of an adrenaline rush. The Class III and IV rapids on the Upper Kennebec River almost tossed me from the boat a few times, so I fully respect the power of nature and feel no need to graduate to their “Extreme Whitewater Adventures.”

If you double click on the pic below, you’ll see that the guy is the black helmet is smiling for the camera. Absolutely insane that he could be posing for photos while our fate depends on the power of his paddling.


U.S. Rafting is a smaller, newer outfit that often gets overshadowed by Northern Outdoors, the dominant player in Maine — and the company that gave me my first rafting experience in college. Don’t be turned off by their amateurish, lackluster website — or the horrific font in their logo — the U.S. Rafting guides are top notch.

Below, you can only see my yellow oar. These must have been the rapids that knocked my glasses off my face, despite being secured by Croakies!


All the rapids have cutesy nicknames like “Rock Garden,” “Big Mama,” and “Magic Falls.” They all look the same to me when I’m paddling.


One of the most surreal experiences was learning how to time my strokes with the rise and fall of the whitewater. Several times I went to dig deep into the water and I’d be swatting at air.  See below:


Apparently, the rapids are either afraid of Don, our guide, or there is a force shield around him:


One of the big surprises for me was that you do not sit down in the middle of the raft. You sit on the sides and twist your body around to paddle. It’s counter-intuitive, but leaning out toward the water and putting your weight into your stroke helps keep you in the boat. There were a few times when I chose not to believe the physics and grabbed the safety rope when I thought I was about to be hurled into the abyss.

This three-hour or so trip was far more physically demanding than I expected. I knew my arms would be sore from paddling, but it was really my torso that took a beating. I felt like I was a baseball catcher, not allowed to stand up for the entire game, while twisting my body 180 degrees like an owl.

In a canoe or kayak, the paddling position is more natural and it is much easier to get a power stroke. I wish I had been taking yoga for at least a year before I signed up for this trip. It’s now four days later and I’m still feeling soreness in muscles I didn’t know existed. No pain in the arms — just all torso, or “the core” as you exercise enthusiasts call it. I felt privileged to have only five people in the boat instead of 10 when we did the rapids. But maybe that doubled the soreness, too.

Best part of the trip?  Jumping out of the raft and letting the current sweep me down river.  Will definitely be coming back to the Kennebec next summer. Would be awesome to fill an entire boat next time with family and friends!

darren garnick-whitewater rafting maine kennebec 7

Feeling Triumphant — A fist pump to celebrate not being thrown from the boat!

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