© 2012; 2000 Connecting: Solo Travel Network & Diane Redfern. Information
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Landlubber Ahoy! Whitewater Rafting in Whistler - A Solo Travel Report

By Diane Redfern

Home-based Holidays – When the Budget is Tight
Stay Home and Do Something Different

I might have reconsidered had I thought there was any real chance of my taking a dunking in a glacier-fed whirl of rapids. Naaah, no worries, I told myself; they have all that under control. Signing up with Whistler River Adventures would satisfy an unfulfilled youthful yen to try whitewater rafting. Also, the day trip to Whistler and the Pemberton Valley would be a scenic addition to my plan of spending a home-based vacation in consideration of a travel budget too meager to cover flights and hotels abroad.

I wanted to make sure my holiday didn't get waylaid in mundane activities like washing dishes, watching TV, and shopping at the same old places. Except for breakfast, I would eat out, and I would be sure to plan a special event for each day, preferably do something or go somewhere unusual. Both whitewater rafting and visiting Whistler fit my scheme perfectly. Like many folks, I tend to neglect local attractions and dream of travel to faraway places.

It was a dozen years or more since I had made the 90-minute trip from Vancouver to Whistler, even though the Sea to Sky Highway easily ranks among the world's most scenic drives. West Coast City and Nature Sightseeing operates a daily minibus run (C$62; US$44) to Whistler, departing Vancouver at 9am. I could have taken a train trip with BC Rail but opted instead for the companionable, instructive banter of a narrated tour. You learn interesting bits of trivia as you go. For example, I bet you didn't know that Brackendale, which is en route, holds the record for the most bald eagles – 3,766 – counted in one day.

WCCNS gave me the option of stopping overnight in Whistler or returning later the same day. The company will help with hotel reservations if need be, and the driver can book other excursions around the village, such as helicopter, floatplane, and glacier excursions. Or, I simply could have hung out in Whistler Village absorbing the alpine atmosphere, rented a bike, gone golfing, walking, hiking, but I was pumped for whitewater rafting.

Whistler River Adventures

Whistler River Adventures offers half and full-day whitewater rafting and jet boating trips either from their office at Whistler Village or from their rustic Adventure Ranch in the Pemberton Valley, 25 minutes' drive north. As part of a Paddle and Saddle group, I was headed for the ranch. While some of the party saddled up for a horse ride, I went and got fitted up in hard-hat, and a flashy colored wetsuit that "matched" my eyes, according to Joe, a cute and cheeky, red-headed river guide, young enough to be my, well never mind about that; let's just say his effervescent enthusiasm was inspiring. I was keen and ready for the river.

Safety First

The rapids of the Birkenhead River, at the base of Mt Currie, are a spectacular introduction to the thrill of whitewater rafting, offering continuous action on Class 3 rapids on a scale where 6 means unnavigable. I and my fellow adventurers gathered around to hear Joe's safety talk, which took longer and sounded rather more earnest than anything I had anticipated. A little voice in my head began quietly niggling, pointing out that my mates were much younger and probably much fitter than I. They, no doubt, were all expert river rats, and I was only a tenderfoot clad in rubber-booties. I would very likely make a fool of myself or worse get the whole bunch of us drowned.

"Okay! Let's go and have some fun," shouted Joe in conclusion, but by then the little voice in my head had grown to a yell: What the . . . are you doing here!

Calm down, you'll be fine, I told myself, gamely lining up with the others alongside an oversized rubber dinghy. Just remember instructions: if you go overboard, stay with the boat – but not under it. First try to grab the rope. Avoid wood. Relax and listen to your guide. What else did he say? Jeez, I forget already.

Heave ho! We paddlers hoisted the boat up overhead and then began a slip-sliding, gravelly march down to shore. Ouch! My feet!

The Birkenhead flowed by cool, green and serene. That, at least, was reassuring. I stepped aboard gingerly, took my place, watched nervously how everyone else held their oars, fell in sync with the lead paddler, and off we went, a little flotilla of three rafts, and a sidekick kayaker who went along as backup support. Quickly gliding around a bend we were immediately into rapids.

"Left paddle" ordered Ken, our leader. "Right paddle! Hard now! Ease off." And so on. The roiling water churned the boats headlong in a turquoise and white-capped froth. We bounced, slipped and careened in and out of one set of rapids after the other, each seeming more vigorous than the last: Childeater, Campground Corner, Carnage Corner.

Whitewater Cowboy

Whooeee, this was more fun than a roller coaster. We'd just made it through Carnage Corner, and I was feeling great. "Awesome paddling. We're the best!" Ken called out gleefully. He steered us into a quiet pool so we could look back at the other two rafts flailing in a roisterous wall of water that tried to flip them upside the riverbank.

Facing the unpredictable power of raw nature brought forth a surge of pride: Look at you, old girl, I thought to myself. You are good. You can do this. Momentarily we were off and running again. Come on Darwin's Rock. Come on Waves & Tree. I'm ready for you.

What happened next isn't too clear in my mind. I do remember a sudden tilt that sent some opposite paddlers flying into the center of the raft, and I bounced up and over the side like popping cork. I do remember yelling, "Good grief! I'm in the water," followed a moment of terror before I realized that I had instinctively grabbed hold of the rope that girdled the raft – just as I was supposed to do.

I don't remember Ken hauling me back into the boat, but there I was in a jiffy, none the worse for wear except for a numb finger, shaky knees, and slightly bruised ego. I was after all, the only one to go overboard. On the other hand, I had remembered instructions, and the episode certainly added mirth to the bus trip back to the ranch. Ken got a good laugh telling everyone, "Diane must have the strongest toes in Canada." Apparently, one foot had remained firmly lodged in its foothold at the bottom of the raft the entire time, so I was half in, half out – a situation that appeared highly comical to those who had the time to notice.

Okay, that was cool. And now for my next trick – maybe hang gliding . . . one of these days.

If You Go Whitewater Rafting


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