I went on a whitewater rafting trip down the Lehigh River in the upper Lehigh Valley Gorge with Whitewater Rafting Adventures today, and had a great time. The river has scheduled dam release dates which bring the water level up and make the river a class 3 whitewater. Whitewater Rafting Adventures offers individual inflatable kayak trips down the river on those dam release dates. These inflatable kayaks are essentially a pair of durable plastic tubes joined at the front and back to form a kayak shape, with a permeable bottom. This construction makes them very stable and difficult to flip over, though it can still be done by certain water features.
The rafting trip was led by two experienced guides which led the group of kayakers down the river. The lead guide Jeff knew the features of the river and described them with names and stories about incidents that happened in certain spots which added a lot to the trip. Its like this, if you just go down a rapid with no description or guide, parts of it might stick in your mind, and you might get a story to tell. But if you hear that you’re about to go into the “No Way Out” rapids that has a bunch of rocks at the end that leave you with no way out, that excites you with anticipation and it causes the experience to stick in your mind better. Which is exactly what you’ll want if you buy a rafting trip.
On top of that, the lead guide shared bits of jargon and had knowledge about other whitewater rivers to be found in the US. The term “strainer” stuck in my head, because I had a mermorable encouter with one before, without knowing there was a name for it. A strainer is anything in the river which will block a large object like a boat or swimmer, but still allows water to flow through it. The most common type of strainer is fallen or submerged trees, but they could also be manmade grates. They are dangerous because when they stop you, the water presses you up against them with its full force. This can cause your boat to flip and submerge or pin you, and can cause you to submerge and leave you trapped under by the pressure.
There weren’t any of these strainers on the part of the Lehigh we were on today. Oddly enough, I ran into one of these on a flat (flat is another bit of jargon, meaning calm, safe water) water river float back in Illinois. It was a fallen tree right across a narrow part of the river that I hit after taking the wrong turn around an island. A mother daughter duo in a canoe behind me had asked me which way to go before the turn, and I said I didn’t know but I was going right, and they followed me. The strainer lay across about two thirds of the run, and though I tried to turn around it, the water took me straight into it, flipped my hard rental kayak up and the water pressure pinned me between the kayak and the tree. Fortunately, the water was shallow enough that I could stand. So when the canoe inevitably rammed my kayak, jack-knifed, and started to flip, I was able to grab on to it, stabilize it, and push it sideways into the clear part, where the water turned them back into the right direction and took them back on their trip with a shouted “thank you.” I was still pinned up against the tree. So I took the kayak, and forced it sideways and down under the tree. The water sucked it down under the branches. No longer pinned, I was able to walk to shore despite the current, and I walked down the river, retreived the kayak, and continued, no worst for wear except I’d lost the bag containing my keys.