I've spent some recent weekends satisfying my cabin fever by making a short weekend trip to visit some friends who work as raft guides at Cherokee Adventures on the Nolichucky River in Erwin, Tenn.
Raft guides are a different breed. They speak a different language. "So you doing the upper tomorrow?" they ask one another at the end of a hard day's work. "The upper," I discovered, is the part of the river with the challenging rapids, the part of the river the guides most enjoy. "The lower" is for amateur rafters like myself who would rather just coast down the river than actually have to use some upper body strength to fight the rapids.
But back to the raft guides. I at first labeled them "dirty hippies," and although they're all dirty, they're not all hippies. But they are all unique free spirits, who would rather spend their summer living in tents down by the river than holding air-conditioned office jobs.
My favorite dirty hippies Mike, Lyndsay and Randal have become my best friends over the course of the last month. I'm terribly intrigued by people who stay up late every night sitting around a campfire drinking Miller Lite and telling stories, dancing, singing and laughing, and then spend the entire next day hiking and rafting.
A couple of weeks ago the four of us went on a hike. I think it was about 200 miles. I thought I was going to die. There was one point where my three friends were so far ahead of me that I imagined I might be lost in the wilderness forever and have to slay dragons Princess Bride-style in order to survive. I took the Survivor challenge to walk over a railroad bridge meaning a train could have hit me head-on while I contemplated my pending death with each step. On the way back to civilization I decided there ain't no way I'm doing that again, so I took Option B, which was to cross the river full of big jagged rocks and a swift current.
Roughin' it may not be the way of life for me, but there is a moment of pride one feels after conquering one of these atrocities. After sitting quietly on a raft while my guide friend Randal steered me and another friend down the lamest part of the river, I was reminded of the moment in the comedy "What About Bob" when Bill Murray is strapped to a sailboat and calls out, "I'm a sailor! I sail!" After returning from the trip, I sent a message to my friend Lyndsay to inform her that "I'm a rafter." She wrote back to add, "And you're a hiker."
I never thought I'd see the day ?
My feet are blistered; my clothes are stained; my manicure is ruined. I've had to hike to the nearest bathroom or find a quiet place in the woods. I've gone days without washing my hair, and my legs seem to be permanently bruised and scratched. But you know what? I'm having the time of my life.
April Avison is the city editor of the Daily Herald. Her column appears on Mondays. She can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.