Thom decided it was time for a manly man trip. One where the men could fight the elements, prove strength against adversity, demonstrate wisdom under pressure. What better way to do this than to whitewater raft down the dangerous and unpredictable Zambezi river! They’d have to fight off wild man-eating animals (though no such animals reside near rapids), avoid being bashed to pieces by dangerous rocks and fallen trees (though the water level is too high for that in the stretch of river they navigate), and finesse their way through turbulent churning rip-tide laden rapids (though they dropped in past the unnavigable rapids).
The Zambezi river below Victoria Falls is one of the premier whitewater rafting sites in the world. It’s considered a Class 5 river, meaning, “Exceedingly difficult, long and violent rapids, following each other almost without interruption; riverbed extremely obstructed; big drops; violent current; very steep gradient; close study essential but often difficult.”
The safari vehicle picked the guys up from Jollyboys at 8 am and after swinging by a few other hotels, gathering other rafters, took them to the launch site. They underwent about 30 minutes of training and were given their life jackets and helmets (helmets? since when do you need helmets to raft?). They forgot to ask my favorite question of all tours and resorts, “how many people have died doing this?” Silly men. Don’t they want to know?
There were six rafts full of 8 persons each (7 guests + 1 guide). People were separated into those who wanted regular rides (still pretty hairy given these were Class 5 rapids, but skirting the most turbulent spots), and those who wanted wild rides (went straight down the middle, all the way). It was not an even split. Not even close. In fact, they couldn’t even find 7 guests who wanted a wild ride, only six. (Given the wilds are clearly outliers, there’s no doubt a DSM-IV diagnosis for them.) Guess who filled half the wild ride guest spots? Uh-huh. You’re psychic. The other self-selected wilds were a triathlete and her friend, and a pastor (who figured he had God on his side).
They dropped in at rapid #10, aka “The Gnashing Jaws of Death Rapid.” (I’m not kidding. A bunch of white guys must have gotten high and drunk one night and named the rapids given rapid #11 is called “Creamy White Buttocks,” which seems pretty out of place to me, given this is Africa and all.) They rafted through rapid #24. You can read the names of all of the rapids here.
The wild raft first flipped at rapid #13, aka “The Mother.”
You can see in this photo it was not a gentle toss. No, the Mother was fed up with them and tossed them like one might fling bread crumbs off of your napkin. Apparently the boat flipped upside down and a few of the people were stuck under the boat, which really freaked them out. They guys thought the pastor was going to hyperventilate, he was so shook up.
When the boat was righted Ryan was the first one (besides the guide) to pull himself in. He looked down at all of these poor puppies hanging on to the raft side-rope in the rushing water. He looked at Eric, then his dad, then quickly reached for Eric first, pulling his dad in second. Later, Thom says, gee son, thanks for saving your poor dad first. Ryan said, dad, I looked at you and you looked okay, but Eric had this look of terror on his face that I had never seen before, so I thought I should get him in first. Turns out there was good reason for Eric to be terrified. As soon as they were all back in the boat Eric, a college football player and premier athlete, announces, “I don’t know how to swim.” Everyone laughed, that’s a good one Eric. “No,” he said, his voice raising, “I can’t swim!” (Okay, at this point, everyone’s thinking, who signs up for a Class 5 whitewater rafting trip but doesn’t know how to swim?) Well, Eric managed to stay in the boat from that point on, though others were tossed out a few times. (College football players have good balance.) He says he now can handle water being splashed on his face, which he never could before. (See? Whitewater rafting as therapy.)
They guys came back on a testosterone high! Thom says even today it’s the most fun he’s had in a long time. There are two more sons coming to visit, so he’s looking forward to taking them on a he-man trip too. I think I might join them next time.