Rafting Down the Nantahala River
This Short story won Second Place in the June, 2014 Aspiring Writers Short Story Competition
My wife, Betty and I had long looked forward to rafting down the treacherous and scary Nantahala River. We practiced rafting the friendlier Ocoee River until we felt we might be experienced enough to attempt the mighty Nantahala. Researching the Nantahala River, my wife found the word Nantahala was a Cherokee Indian word meaning, “Land of the Noonday Sun.”
On July 4th 2013, we arrived at the Big Bear Lodge just a few miles from the head of the Nantahala Lake. From here the water is carried through giant, sixteen feet in diameter pipes, a distance of eight and one-half miles through the mountains to two giant turbines. When water is released from the Nantahala Lake to produce electricity the whitewater rapids are formed. When the turbines are not being supplied, the river is very calm, but when the water is released, it becomes dangerously turbulent. It is then that white water rafting can occur.
We rented a raft with a guide from the Nantahala Outdoor Center. We started out from the head of the river where we were a little concerned because the river looked more turbulent than we had expected. The guide said the recent rains had added to the amount of water flowing through the power plant, but the extra hurly-burly would make the trip more enjoyable. Rafts were being launched every ten minutes. Leaving just in front of us were two young men, who we later found out were college students from Western Carolina University, who didn’t have a guide. Behind us were two young ladies who did have a guide, and we later learned were high school students from Andrews High School. I told Betty, “The young men seem very interested in the high school girls.” Betty said, “and vice versa.”
We pushed off without any problems. Our guide positioned us such that we could, following his directions, keep the raft afloat and headed on the right course. We noticed the two men seemingly were trying to capture the strongest rapids. The two high school girls and their guide were, as we were, taking a middle route. Approximately two miles down the river, the river narrowed and the rapids grew stronger. The two college students in front of us were jubilantly shouting for joy. Their raft at times seemed to be completely under water and headed in the wrong direction. Our guide seemed a little concerned and tried to steer our raft around them as he shouted for us to push our raft to the right. The two high school girls and their guide were trying to stay behind us as by now it was evident the two young men were in trouble. They were still shouting for joy, but at the same time, we sensed some concern in their voices. Then in a flash they were thrown from their raft, and washed into the most turbulent part of the rapids. One seemed to have hit his head on a rock and the turbulence pulled him unconscious under water. His friend plunged under water trying to find his friend, but to no avail. Our guide and the guide with the two girls shouted for us to push toward the two men. The raft with the two girls went toward the young man who by now was exhausted, crying, and almost past even moving his arms when they pulled him into their raft. Our guide shouted for us to look for the first man as he had not been seen for several minutes. Then, Betty spotted him partially under water lying near the bank. I dove into the water and worked my way through the rapids until I reached him and pulled him onto the river bank. One of the high school girls gave him mouth to mouth resuscitation and soon he was breathing on his own. We got him into our raft and took him to a first aid station. The last we saw was the girls and boys in the first aid station talking. They finally got to meet, but not under the circumstances they expected.