We started out our day by planning on going on a Jet Boat ride on the river. (It’s one of the few excursions in the area for people on a tight budget and since I knew I wasn’t going to be able to swing one of the big rafting trips I figured it would be a good way to experience the New River) We headed into town and stumbled across a sweet little farmers market where we chatted with locals (even ran into a guy from the cooler isle at Wal-Mart who recognize us and asked if we figured out our cooler situation, I was PROUD to announce we would be returning the cooler since I figured out the propane system!!!) and bought some fresh local produce. I was chatting with a woman who was giving me an awesome recipe for grilled acorn squash and she recommended a great breakfast spot up the road. We were planning on a quick bite at Cathedral Cafe before the Jet Boat but decided to take her suggestion and headed to Vandal’s Kitchen.
It took us awhile to find because it was tucked back and we actually walked past it about 3 times before we finally spotted the sign. I ordered the special breakfast sandwich of the day since they had a GF bread option which I was TOTALLY stoked about and Sienna was thrilled to order chocolate chip waffles!! It was the cutest little cafe with incredibly fresh food and the best vibe I’ve experienced in the area!!!! As I was paying, my phone rang…… I was elated to see it was my soul sister Shannon from home. I picked up and immediately started crying at the counter….. Tears of joy for the time to catch up with my friend were mixed with tears of sadness, born in the ache of missing her so badly!!! We chatted through breakfast and Sienna became restless and went outside to play several times. I remember feeling guilty for talking the entire breakfast but also not wanting to stop the time I was having with my friend!!! I haven’t had much contact with friends since I’ve been gone and those friends were such an incredibly HUGE part of my daily life, I just couldn’t hang up. I eventually gave in to the pull and decided to hang up and go check on my girl.
I walked outside to find Sienna talking to this guy at another table. I remember doing a quick scan to check in with my gut and no red flags popped up so I sat down and joined them in their conversation. We chatted about camping and hiking and the river. This totally awesome guy told us his favorite hikes and was a wealth of local knowledge. I started taking notes of his top recommendations. I was inquiring about age requirements for rafting and asking about the section of the river I was planning to put our SUP in and somehow, before I even knew it, he was extending an invitation to go out on the river sometime in the next few days if we wanted to. UMMMMMMM HELLOOOOOO?!?!?! Want to, we’d LOVE to!!! I tried to play it cool and decided not to jump up out of my seat and do cartwheels across the lawn and instead just nodded forcefully with big eyes and smiles. We continued talking about traveling and we explained what we were doing and he gave us some recommendations for places in New Mexico and Arizona, even Alaska! As we were wrapping up I asked about contact info to connect for rafting and we finally exchanged names lol….. Somehow the conversation turned to what Evan was doing and he said he was just hanging out, hoping to find someone who was up for getting out on the river today since he was solo and needed someone else for the shuttle….. Again, UMMMMMM HELLOOOOOOO here we are….. Your shuttle girls for sure!!! Hahahhah I quickly let him know our plans were EXTREMELY flexible and we were available!
The next thing I knew we were paying our bill and heading to the Exxon station for water and snacks for a day on the river. (It’s a good thing half of everything I own is in my car at all times and I had bathing suits, towels, dry bags, AB&J fixings for lunch and even some fruit and snacks from the day before lol) We headed to the put out and left his van there. Transferred half of my life into his van (3 bins of clothes, a bag of Sienna’s school stuff, my go to bin filled with maps and travel books, another bag of various junk and all my plates/weights) into his van to make room for the boat and oars and pumps and vests and helmets and OH and Evan in our car. We all piled in to the Subie and headed to the put in. After chatting more on the way I found out Evan has been a river guide down the New River and Gauley for the past 8 years and I had a quiet moment of gratitude while I wondered why I didn’t ask this PRIOR to setting out on this adventure. I quietly chuckled to myself and exhaled with a smile! I did feel an extra confidence since I already knew he was an EMT, so that’s always a bonus when you’re about to go do dangerous stuff with your 8 year old child!!!
We got all geared up and set out on the river.
Evan took us through a standard orientation and engaged Sienna like very few can. He had her listening and working from the start. We got into our first rapid and Sienna was thrown from the raft, popped up in the white water right next to the boat and we pulled her back in…… It was one epic experience after another from that moment on! We went through 23 Rapids ranging from class 2 to class 4. At one point we heard some thunder in the distance and within minutes the rain was chasing us down the river. We stopped at a massive rock called The Whale and had lunch and let the rain pass us, which it did in about 5 min max….. It was epic to watch the storm roll over us and down the gorge!!! After the storm and lunch Evan locked Sienna in to a throw bag and let her jump off the rock into the rapids and pulled her back onto the Whale. The second time she jumped it took a moment for her to surface and I remember having a fleeting thought of “oh shit, she’s been under for a bit, do I need to panic?” And just as I was about to set into panic mode up she popped with wide eyes, a bit of panic herself, and then a HUGE smile!!! I was blown away by this little 8 year old girl who stood on the edge of a rock and flung herself into a class 4 rapid like it was no big deal…… Don’t get me wrong, she asked questions and knew what to do, felt safe and went for it and by this time I’d had enough experience with Evan to know if he was giving us the thumbs up it was reasonably safe enough to go for it.
We continued down the river through more rapids where we swam through one and I got sucked into a whirlpool for a moment, for a split second panic set in…… I remembered to stay calm and loose and swam up and out. But for that split second it was like NOTHING I’ve ever experienced before! I’ve been in rip currents and crazy crashing waves and all sorts of ocean conditions, but nothing compares to being sucked down by a current on a river. I’m not sure I have the words to describe it but I could hear Evan’s instructional words of staying calm and letting the water spit you out ring through my head as I also swam up like I was ascending from a dive trying to break the surface and give my lungs some oxygen! (I know I can hold my breath a decent amount of time from breath retention and lung expansion practices….. Yet that all goes quickly out the door when I felt myself being pushed under by that current) I popped up to the surface and saw Sienna looking for me and smiled to let her know all was ok. We floated down the river for a bit together and tears of immense gratitude for this AMAZING day rolled down my face. We came across Jump Rock and Evan offered us the opportunity to “JUMP”. Sienna quickly responded yes and I had fleeting thoughts of Laurel Falls and I agreed. Evan dropped us off with climbing instructions and we climbed up a BUNCH of rocks to the jump off point.
Sienna wanted me to go first and Evan said we either go together or she goes first. Sienna walked to the edge, (I have no idea how high it was but I’d guess 20 feet) and said, “FINE!” She looked over the edge, and leapt!!! Holy shit…. Did that just happen?!?!?! I was absolutely BLOWN AWAY!!!! So now it was my turn, and I was nervous….. But my 8 year old just threw herself off the edge like it was NOTHING!!!! So I took a big breath and jumped!!! “Holy crap…” is all I could think the whole way down!!! I was seriously blown away the rest of the day watching my sweet girl completely engaged and in her element the entire day on the river!
We stayed the course and Sienna was so excited when she finally got to “work/paddle” a class 4 rapid. (Yes she did wear a helmet through the rapids….. Safety first right?)
We beached the raft and hiked to a beautiful secret waterfall…. We got to play in it and feel the freezing water beat down on us. I would have done just about anything to hit pause and stay in this magical day forever!!! But reality set in, as it always does and we continued along our journey….. We paddled AND swam through a few more Rapids until we came to the put out……
As we paddled to shore Sienna and I spoke about what an epic day we had and how this has been by far the most adventurous day of our trip together! We spoke about the magic of being present and staying open to possibilities! We spoke about the beauty of saying yes and enjoying all that the Universe provides for us!!! Sienna and I decided it would be a kind gesture to take Evan to dinner and give him a good meal as a token of gratitude! We went to Country Thai and finished an epic day with an epic surprise of amazing Pho!!!! You know what the very BEST part of day was???? Being invited back tomorrow!!!! Hell yeah….. See you on the river!!!
Love & Light