The hamburger and fries that I had at the restaurant were delicious and seemed all the more so compared to the freeze dried meals I had been eating for days. My room wasn’t fancy, but it was comfortable and I slept soundly that night knowing that the first leg of my journey was complete.
I had a day to relax while I waited for my friends to join me. I spent the day cleaning my camera gear, charging batteries and sorting through my clothes and other gear. The next leg of the journey was to be a white water rafting trip through the foothills. This section of the river is known for its ledges and the rapids that have previously hosted kayaking competitions. Only experienced rafters should attempt this part of the river, so we hired an outfitter to guide us through these dangerous waters.
My friends began arriving at the Mukwah Tours base camp, next to the Panther River (a tributary of the Red Deer River) on that Friday evening. They set up camp and we sat by the fire drinking and talking about the next day's adventure. It was a pleasant contrast to the solitude of the previous week. I also had a chance to speak with our guides. They were all the type of young men who were drawn to outdoor adventure and extreme sports. Most of them had managed to find jobs that allowed them to maintain this lifestyle. In the winter it was snowboarding and in the summer it was rafting, kayaking and whitewater canoeing for them. One of them, who was from South Africa, also loved surfing. We found common ground when the conversation turned to preserving the river, conservation and ecology.
The next day turned out to be rainy and cool, perhaps the coldest day of my entire trip. After an early lunch, we prepared for the day’s rafting. We put on wetsuits, special jackets, lifejackets, neoprene gloves and helmets. After instruction in safety and paddling, we launched our raft into the swift waters of the Panther River. Shortly we found ourselves at the conjunction of the Panther and the larger Red Deer River. We were shadowed by another raft filled with neophyte paddlers and two of Mukwah’s guides. We had a single guide who drilled us briefly on rafting techniques and we were off and over our first ledge. There was excitement and nervous laughter as the water dropped out from under our raft. We watched as the other raft followed us and listened to their screams and laughter. After playing briefly in the backwaters created by the ledge, our group was on its way to the next challenging portion.Our guide yelled instructions and steered from the back of our raft as we maneuvered our way down river through a series of ledges and rapids. Probably the most impressive of these was called “Nationals” after the National Kayaking Championship that had been held there years before. Between rapids, the other raft would challenge us to races and the South African guide would taunt us with cries of “lily dippers” and other insults whenever they managed to overtake us. We stopped for a rest and hot drinks near a twenty-five foot high cliff, from which most of us felt compelled to jump into the icy waters of the river. At the end of the day’s rafting, a van waited to shuttle us back to base camp for an evening of steaks, drinking and music.
|Photos courtesy Donna Pinder|