July 3, 2019 Column
The thing about whitewater rafting is that it’s done, um, in a raft. A big, forgiving rubber raft that is really hard to turn over. Using a raft is a really important part of whitewater rafting!
Canoes are tippy and impossible to self-rescue, but still fun in whitewater with the right operators. Kayaks are easy to roll back over for skilled paddlers, and fun to maneuver through the rapids. But rafts are safe (with the right guidance) for a wide variety of paddlers.
A few years ago, we took a group of kids to the Wolf River near Green Bay, Wisconsin. Dan Monskey needed material for a Life to the Max show he was putting together with my brother Donny on kids and whitewater (see Life to the Max Show #138). We learned a lot about the forgiving nature of rafts on that trip.
Big Smokey Falls is located on the Wolf River in the Menominee Reservation. Here the Wolf River drops over 20 feet in a relatively short, but complicated cascade. You can rent rafts and hire a shuttle at the falls (Big Smokey Falls Rafting) to carry you upstream for a day of exciting whitewater action. And the trip ends with an exhilarating run over Big Smokey Falls.
The thing is, they rent rafts to pretty much anyone who shows up and slaps their money down. No questions, no paddling tips, no encouraging words, and no guides. They hand you a paddle, life jacket, and helmet, stick you in the back of an open pickup truck, and haul you upstream. It’s great fun! Many of you have seen the photos of that trip on the slideshow we present at most fundraisers.
The point is that whitewater rafts are extremely forgiving. We saw novice rafters go down very wicked-looking rapids backwards. We saw two paddlers in a raft facing in opposite directions, asking us how to steer the thing (we had no answer). We saw young couples in the pouring rain in soaking wet cotton sweatshirts with five hours of paddling ahead in 60 degree weather.
We did great on that trip, and our crew did great last Friday on our 24th annual Whitewater Rafting Trip on the St. Louis River near Cloquet, MN. Swiftwater Adventures runs a great trip, and everyone had an exciting, fulfilling, and adventurous afternoon of paddling.
Thanks to Devan Karol and Bill Virant for leading these great kids through a day they will never forget. And thanks to our young paddlers for making their job easy. This year’s brave paddlers were Katie Sibila, Katie Good, Adrianna Schlangen, Kayla Pinske, Trenen Pierskalla, Deric Schlangen, Bridgit Kruger, Sierra Roeser, and Colin Lahr.