30 Before 30: Go White Water Rafting

#12 from my 30 Before 30 list: Go white water rafting

Most people think of sky diving or bungee jumping when they think of bucket list adventures. Though I’m not really into swimming and water sports, white water rafting seemed more my style. Fortunately, Groupon recently had a half-off deal for white water rafting, and I signed up for a day of discounted adventure.

I booked a reservation for a group of four with Coal Tubin’ in Johnstown, PA. The plan was to bring a friend, and my sister would also bring a friend. We were scheduled to go in late August, but a couple days before our trip, we were notified that the run had been cancelled. (I later learned that the Johnstown “powers that be” decided to perform maintenance on the reservoir valves while the water levels were low, cancelling the dam releases that make rafting possible… when water levels are low. Essentially, Coal Tubin’ was forced to cancel rafting trips during July and August.) They offered to take us on a guided hike instead, but I decided to reschedule the trip since my heart was set on rafting.

I rescheduled for September 7 and looked for two more people to join the trip, since my sister was now unable to go. We were unable to form a full group of four, but I had two friends, Erin and Natalie, who were eager to join me on this adventure. At 6:30 AM, the three of us left for Johnstown, ready for some white water rafting on the Stonycreek River. On the way there, we saw power lines completely covered in black birds, the sun rising in the rear view mirror, and thick clouds lying in the valley below us.

We were among the first rafters to arrive at Coal Tubin’ for the morning run, but we were soon joined by several guides and six other Groupon-holding adventure seekers. While the guides inflated our rafts and tied them to the roof of the school bus/shuttle, we started up a conversation with some of the other rafters and soon discovered that we shared some work/school connections and mutual friends. We expected the other rafters to be local to Johnstown, so we were pleasantly surprised to learn that they were from our area and go to church down the street from ours!

Joining us on the shuttle bus were Jack and Coal, two BIG Bernese Mountain Dogs that were like official mascots. They sat in the aisles as we drove down to the river and received safety instructions from Chad, one of the guides and the owner of Coal Tubin’. Chad told us what to do in case we fall out of the raft. At first it seemed like we were just learning about all the different ways the river could maim or kill us (“the river always wins”), but we also learned what to do to keep ourselves in the raft, safe, and alive. We also had helmets and life vests. When we got out of the bus, we talked with the other rafters about how the safety instructions made us nervous and wonder if we should have said a final goodbye to our loved ones. One of the other rafters was confused by my nervousness, because she thought I was one of the guides. Haha – nope!

Safety first - ready to hit the rapids!
Safety first – ready to hit the rapids!

Our group of three joined two of our new friends in one of the rafts, and Chad was going to be our guide. We immediately felt more at ease. We carried our raft and paddles down to the water’s edge and had one last chance to go to the bathroom, or use the “facili-trees” as the one guide called it. Chad asked us who wanted to get the least wet, and when Erin and Natalie raised their hands, he assigned them to the front row. Little did they know he put them there as a joke, because the front row gets the most drenched! Our new friends sat in the middle row, and I sat in the back, just ahead of the guide.

Since Chad was the most experienced of the guides, we were the trip leads. We were usually the first to go through the rapids in order to help the others navigate safely. First up was the Showers Rapid, named for the efficient way it… cleans off anyone who missed their morning shower. We made it through the rapids with a little screaming and lots of adrenaline, but we were all still in the raft.

Chad guided us toward the eddy by the shoreline, where the current was calmer. He jumped out, planning to park our raft on a rock and prepare the safety rope for the other raft and the duckies (inflatable kayaks) behind us. The rest of the raft thought he had fallen out and tried to rescue him and pull him back into the raft. Eventually, Chad got our raft parked onto a rock, and we watched the others come through the rapids.

Actually, what we saw were three empty kayaks and Tyler (?) the kayak guide floating toward us – no kayak, no paddle. We were able to pull Tyler toward us, but in the process, our raft shifted off the rock and was taken downstream by the current. Tyler jumped in and directed us toward shore. We held onto tree limbs, and he tried to grab his kayak before it got too far. As he dumped the water out of his kayak, one of the other kayakers floated by in his ducky. He called out for a paddle so he could steer to the shore more easily, but the paddle landed just out of reach. He paddled by hand toward the shoreline and waited for help. His wife’s empty kayak floated by as she perched on a rock upstream in the middle of the river. Tyler’s paddle then drifted below our raft, and I was able to grab it out of the water before it got away.

Eventually they were able to throw a safety rope to the kayaker and pull her into the other raft. The other raft now carried four rafters, their guide, our guide, and one kayaker. They finally got through the rapids and met us at the shore, where we had five rafters, no guide, and an extra kayaking paddle. At this point, our guide decided he was going to get into one of the duckies and guide us from there to the opposite shore, where the kayakers could get situated and the paddles could get back into the right hands. This whole ordeal lasted 40 minutes to an hour and began within our first half hour on the river. When Chad got back into the raft, he complimented us on the way we worked together as a team, saying it made him feel confident about taking us into more precarious situations. 

From there it was – metaphorically speaking only – smooth sailing. We fearlessly and successfully navigated through Class III-IV rapids, some with names as intimidating as the white water: The Three Ugly Sisters, Hydro, Beast, and Dislocation. We learned a lot from Chad about Johnstown’s ecosystem and economy during the trip’s calmer sections, and I think we learned a lot about ourselves when the water was anything but calm. I don’t think anyone in our raft felt any hesitation about going straight for the rapids, even when it looked like a steep drop off. Despite the adventure at the Showers, which could have made us want to quit and get out of the river, we were ready for more.

And we are definitely ready for more. We are sore and achy from the trip, but we plan to go again sometime and bring more friends with us. I think it would be an awesome group outing for all the young adults at my church!

Thanks, Chad and Coal Tubin', for an incredible day!
Thanks, Chad and Coal Tubin’, for an incredible day!

30 Before 30: Drive with No Planned Destination

#3 from my 30 Before 30 list: Drive with no planned destination

The initial source of inspiration was a Nissan commercial from 2006. In this commercial (or short documentary, rather), a group of friends head out on the open road with their Nissan Pathfinder, a big barrel of red licorice, and one rule: left turns only. They wanted to find out where that would take them. Ever since I first saw that commercial six years ago, I have found it to be an interesting concept. Where would I end up? What would I discover? Who would I meet?

I was also inspired by the road trip Orlando Bloom’s character takes in the movie Elizabethtown. Thanks to a one-of-a-kind road map, he discovered that there are so many quirky, historically significant, or simply breathtaking landmarks in the United States. I hoped that driving somewhat aimlessly might allow me to stumble upon a few of them.

I began with baby steps over the years since that commercial aired. During college, I had to drive two hours on the turnpike between home and campus. Every so often, when my schedule didn’t demand arriving at a particular time, I’d think to myself, “What would happen if I got off the turnpike an exit early?” Though I may have arrived later than expected or used more gas than I would have liked, I always found my way home eventually. (This one time, however, my sense of direction failed me, and I had to admit defeat by plugging in the GPS to guide me home.)

After college graduation, I spent the next two summers working in Boston, a city incredibly conducive to walking and public transportation. My first summer there, the city was just calling me to explore, and that’s what I did with my free afternoons or days off. With my work-provided subway pass in my pocket and some comfortable shoes on my feet, I set off. I never had a particular destination in mind; I just started walking to see where I would end up. If I got too tired to walk home, my subway pass was my safety net. If I were unsure of my location, I could just look for a big “T” marking the nearest station for any number of bus or subway lines and figure it out from there. This one particular day, I plugged my route into Google Maps and realized that I had walked aimlessly for six miles, discovering historical landmarks and the campus of MIT along the way.

This past Saturday (May 26, 2012), I packed up my car for a brief “no-destination road trip.” Though I don’t think I will ever be able to recreate this road trip with complete accuracy, I attempted to trace my route on Google maps. Here’s what I think my route looked like:

I started at the DMV, where I planned to renew my license before beginning the trip. Along with a few other people there, I discovered that the DMV was closed from Saturday through Tuesday for the Memorial Day holiday. I began my road trip a little earlier than anticipated, leaving the DMV at 9 AM. As I drove through Carlisle, I quickly realized that driving aimlessly is not as conducive to spontaneity as one might assume. By the time something caught my eye, it was too late to slow down for the turn or too inconvenient to head back. For example, I missed every entrance to Carlisle’s Thornwald Park. Instead I decided to follow signs to the Carlisle Fairgrounds. (I missed that turn, too.)

I continued driving and found myself heading up a mountain in Perry County. Again, I spotted signs for places that could have been interesting, but I kept missing the opportunity to stop. I saw signs for a local creamery, several yard sales, and antique cars. I passed by a road sign for a community center and then drove past a Little League game by Lupfer’s Grove & Campground. Shortly past the baseball field, I saw another sign for the community center and hung a quick left onto Pisgah State Road. The community center was a small building and pavilion, and I ended up driving right by it. On the same road, I saw a sign for a small alpaca farm, but I wasn’t able to stop.

from the pitcher’s mound -Valley Road Park

I continued onto Valley Road. I was finally able to stop and get out of the car at the Valley Road Park in Carroll Township, PA. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, because the long path from the road to the “parking lot” was just gravel. Only the first 10 feet off the main road was paved. There was an abandoned excavator bucket on one side and a telephone pole lying on the ground on the other. I was also surprised to find the baseball field empty for such a sunny Saturday. I wandered around to take photos of the grassy area (where I found what might be the remnants of some kids’ bottle bomb) and the baseball field. I’m still perplexed by this location, and so far, Google searches have not revealed much about “Valley Road Park.”

After the park, I continued east on Valley Road and turned onto Richwine Road after spotting a sign for a Christmas tree farm. Again, I wasn’t able to stop, but the farm was basically acres of evergreens planted on a hill. There will be an excellent selection come Christmastime. I think it was along this road that I saw a buzzard eating a squirrel in the middle of the road. As my car approached, the buzzard hopped over to the shoulder in front of someone’s house. Richwine looped back to the road I had been driving on, which caught me by surprise. I didn’t think I had driven in a circle (though now I realize, looking at the map, I had driven in an big “S”-shaped path). I kicked myself for not stopping at the creamery or this abandoned-looking building, places I told myself the first time around I wanted to visit should I end up back there.

After making a big loop toward the North and getting detoured for a Memorial Day parade, I ended up at my second stop, Cove Barn Antiques in Duncannon. Apparently this place is open regularly on Sundays and on other days by chance. I caught them on a good day. Basically this place is a three-story barn filled from wall to wall with stuff. Taxidermy animals, comic books, VHS tapes, appliances… I think most people there were antique collectors rather than people like me who were looking for kitschy things to post on Instagram. I will say this: their definition of “antique” is very broad. Atari: vintage, yes; antique, no.

Definitely give the cream of potato soup a try.

After the antiques shop was lunch at the Marysville All American Diner. I asked my server, Pam, if she had any recommendations. “What’s your favorite thing on the menu?” I asked. She said that everything was good, and since the menu was so large, it would be hard to choose. She pointed out the items on their “senior menu.” She informed me, “It’s not just for seniors. It’s also for people who don’t need a lot of food, like little girls like us.” I took a couple minutes to look over the menu and decided upon chicken cordon bleu from the “senior” menu. It came with a cup of soup (cream of potato) and one side (macaroni salad). It was all very delicious, and the service was excellent. Even though the meal was from their selection of “lighter fare,” I ended up taking half of my meal home, and I am looking forward to finishing it up today.

Pride of the Susquehanna Riverboat at City Island

Though I was driving somewhat aimlessly, I ended up in familiar territory not too far from home – Front Street in Wormleysburg. I decided to turn onto the Market Street Bridge and walk around City Island to take some pictures. I have rarely been to City Island during the day, so I would be able to get some different images. I stopped by the Pride of the Susquehanna riverboat, the “beach,” and the bath house before walking the perimeter of the island around Metro Bank Park, home to the Harrisburg Senators baseball team. I walked across the Walnut Street Bridge to the Arts Fest in Harrisburg.

After City Island, I stopped by Negley Park in Lemoyne to get another view of the river and maybe visit the playground there. I didn’t stay for too long, because the sky was beginning to look a little stormy, and I didn’t want to look too creepy hanging around the playground while a bunch of little kids played. On my way out of the park, I spotted a huge groundhog that was running next to my car. He was camera shy, though, because he would run away when I stopped to take his picture. From there, I drove the five miles back to home.

I think I would like to try this again, though I would do it a little differently. I would probably rent a car, which I can do officially after my 25th birthday this coming Saturday. I would make a weekend or a week out of it, traveling further than 60 miles to discover more of this country. I would bring someone with me to keep an eye out for interesting locations and help me decide when to turn. I would stop more and spend more time talking to the people I come across. I intended to make a video out of this trip, but I didn’t end up doing that. If I do this again, I would definitely be more intentional about taking video along the way. I was able to take plenty of photos, though!

Click any image to enlarge.
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