Experience Waves of Adrenaline in West Virginia White Water

Waves of Adrenaline
A family’s adventure to remember at River Expeditions in West Virginia
By Terri G. Weeks

My nest is starting to empty. My daughter, Corinne, is in her first year of college and my son, Connor, will start in the fall, leaving only 13-year-old Camille at home. While I knew that I would miss my kids, I hadn’t realized how much my kids would miss each other.

A break between college terms provided an opportunity to get the family back together over a weekend getaway, and I knew just where to go to make things memorable. Our destination was River Expeditions, a resort in West Virginia’s scenic New River Gorge, widely regarded as one of the best whitewater rafting destinations in the world.

My younger kids and I drove to the mountain getaway, stopping at the train station to pick up Corinne. Before bed, we couldn’t resist the steaming hot tub on the deck of our luxury cabin nestled in the West Virginia woods. While we soaked, we brought Corinne up to speed on the happenings at home and she told us all about college life. Afterwards, we enjoyed all the other comforts of home the cabin provided, like a full kitchen, satellite TV and Wi-Fi.

Ready to rapid
The next morning, we awoke refreshed from a quiet night’s sleep and excited about our whitewater river rafting adventure. We didn’t need to go far—the check-in was right there at the resort and everything we needed was ready for us. Wetsuit rentals kept us warm, and we were also outfitted with life jackets, helmets and paddles.

Along with our fellow adventurers, we were bused to the put-in point for Lower New River, an “Adventure Class” whitewater course. Although we’d been rafting once before, the kids had been younger, so we’d never done anything this challenging. I was a little nervous, but I could see sparkles of excitement in my kids’ eyes. It would not be as difficult as the “Extreme Class” (ages 16 and up), but definitely more adventurous than the “Family Class,” which is appropriate for kids as young as six years old. We loved that there were different options for different families, and that kids under 16 pay half price.

The rapids on the New River are separated by pools of still water. It was in one of those pools that we launched our raft, one of six in today’s class. John, our river guide, gave us instructions on how to paddle forward and backward, and how to anchor our feet in the raft to avoid falling out.

Once all the rafts in our group were ready, we started paddling down the river. No time to be nervous anymore. We were in this, and we were excited. Rapids are classified by the International Scale of River Difficulty, from Class I (Easy) to Class V (Expert). The first rapid on our trip was Class II (Novice)—an ideal way to start our adventure.

Each rapid had a nickname. The next one was “Upper Railroad,” which was a Class IV (Advanced) with a big drop followed by a big wave. As we approached, Connor hollered, “Everybody ready? Let’s go!”

As we went over the drop, my instinct was to let go of the paddle and grab the raft, but I remembered John’s instructions and kept paddling. We dropped suddenly, and then were bounced upward as the wave crashed over the front of the raft. Our fellow rafters whooped, hollered and yelled, all while furiously paddling with wide smiles on our faces. This was like nature’s rollercoaster.

Back in one of the quiet pools of water, my kids and I, dripping wet from the rapid’s spray, looked at each other with wide eyes and started to laugh. “That was amazing,” Corinne said. The calming breaks between the rapids gave John an opportunity to point out sights in the gorge. Railroad tracks ran along both sides of the river and we saw trains pass us by. He showed us ruins of former coal-mining towns along the railroad line. We also chatted with our fellow rafters about previous rafting experiences and other travels.

As we approached a large rock, John asked if anyone wanted to jump. Camille looked at Corinne and said, “I will if you will.” Connor couldn’t resist either, and we pulled up to the side of the river, where Corinne, Connor, Camille and more than a dozen other people scrambled up the rock and plunged into the river.

Even those of us who didn’t jump had felt how warm the water was. John told us it’s because the New River runs from south to north with its headwaters in North Carolina, so no melted snow from the nearby mountain tops.

Wet and wild
After a picnic lunch on the shore, we tackled the exhilarating “Double Z,” the second of two Class V rapids on our trip. After that, we went through “Hook 99,” where at the last moment, John turned our raft around and we went through backwards!

At “Greyhound,” John introduced us to surfing, West Virginia-style. After maneuvering through the rapid, we turned around and paddled upstream back into it. John yelled, “Get down!” and we huddled down in the raft as waves of warm water poured over the front. John skillfully rode the wave while we gleefully cheered.

Our excursion ended underneath the iconic New River Gorge Bridge, one of the highest and longest single-span arch bridges in the world. From the river, we had a fantastic view underneath the browned-steel arch bridge juxtaposed in a sea of vibrant green pine trees.

A bit chilled from our adventure, we headed straight to our cabin and looked forward to a warm soak in our hot tub. When I dipped my toes into the warm, bubbling water, I was very grateful we didn’t have to venture far from the resort for our whitewater adventure. We laughed as we recounted our adventure, and I was pleased by how much I had enjoyed myself. Those pre-raft butterflies had disappeared in waves of adrenaline.

Continuing the fun on dry land
While the rafting adventure was the highlight of our trip, the resort had plenty more in store for us during our stay. River Expeditions has their own zip line course, as well as paintball, hiking trails, mountain biking and even more outdoor entertainment. Your day doesn’t just end with rafting, because with so much to do on-site and nearby, you can easily fit rafting and other adventurous pursuits into the same day. We opted for the zip line and all of us loved the thrill of flying through the trees over the campground (they also have tent and RV sites if you prefer to sleep under the stars). Connor, ever the daredevil, tucked himself into a cannonball to go even faster.

The next day we visited the National Park Service’s Visitor Center. Our rafting guide had piqued our curiosity about the coal mines, so we set off down the Kaymoor Miners’ Trail in search of ruins. It was a strenuous hike, but a rewarding one. Not only did we see the ruins of the mine and processing plant, but also we saw a waterfall, blossoming trees and wildflowers along the way. Beautiful things we never would have experienced had it not been for the resort’s helpful and knowledgeable staff.

Too soon, it was time to take Corinne back to college. It was a short getaway, but one filled with adventures that we’d remember for life. The kind of memories that will keep my kids connected to each other as they begin to go their separate ways.

Book your adventure and experience a summer vacation for the record books.

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