Rafting with Children - A Family Perspective
-Water Rat in Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame
"What’s our river this summer," Gabe asks. When my twin boys were seven we took our first family overnight float, a four-day journey down the class II Grand Ronde River in Oregon. What we remember is "Butterfly Camp," where hundreds of monarchs visited us on the beach, and the way the boys and their step dad, John, lost themselves in the art of creating fire from a spindle and bow they made from a branch and some driftwood. In the end all that emerged was some smoke and a lot of shavings and we were glad we had remembered to bring a lighter so we could grill the steaks. That night we set up the tent, but slept outside, four across on a giant tarp, drifting off before nightfall. The next morning each of us commented on how we awoke at some point in the middle of the night to see the brilliant night sky.
My sons are twelve now and we’ve taken at least one, sometimes two river trips each summer. In recent years we’ve sometimes gone with an outfitter on what my sons’ call the "luxury line." They are impressed with dessert every night and the fact that they don’t have to do the dishes. Usually they find themselves helping out anyway. That’s where the guides are and they are by far the most fun kids on the trip.
On rivers my sons learn to row a raft and paddle their own inflatable kayaks. They learn to read water: to know where the safe eddies are, and how to find the tongue of a rapid. They learn to notice hawks in the sky and trout in the current. They learn to entertain themselves on the flat stretches, by attempting kayak acrobatics or starting a water fight. We’ve endured many acts of piracy with everyone including the captain ending up overboard, and there are always plenty of stories to tell at camp. I have never heard Gabe and Dylan laugh harder than when we are on a river.
We go on other vacations, car camping, resorts, once the boys even talked me into an amusement park. But our river trips hold a special place in our summers. Maybe it is that odd relationship between the way time slows down but the current keeps moving. Each night there is a room with a new view and new beach to explore in search of rocks and swimming holes and wild denizens. Each day there is a new stretch of river with rapids or hot springs or pictographs along the way. There is no word for boredom in river speak, or if there is, in five years of river travel I have yet to hear it.
After one trip a woman, mother of three, asked a guide what he wanted people to get from the river trip. "It’s a vacation, but it’s more too," he answered, "A river experience is a chance to tune into a place, and to your own wild roots." I’d add to that list, and to each other.
© 2007 Laura Stavoe
Laura Stavoe writes essays for many national magazines including FamilyFun, Prevention, Paddler and Ladies Home Journal. She is currently writing a memoir about motherhood, relationships and the outdoors. You can read more of Laura's work on her website www.laurastavoe.com.