A Soggy Saga of Rafting the Ottawa River

My old university housemates had been talking about it for years. We have to go! they would plead “Rafting is so much fun.” It wasn’t that I was against rafting – I had been once before in Rotorua, New Zealand – but my friends lived in Ottawa, a stone’s throw from the Wilderness Tours rafting site. As a southern Ontario girl, I felt reluctant to give up my sandy beaches on Lake Erie to spend the better part of
what was supposed to be a beautiful weekend stuck in the car. Finally. I conceded. Graduation was. ahem, a few years behind us now and it had been too long since the four of us had spent the weekend together. I would have to kiss the beach goodbye for one precious (wedding-free!) summer weekend to go sleep in a hot tent and tempt fate on the rapids.

My reluctance to go turned into annoyance when I climbed into my hot car after work and escaped the hotter city, only to sit in the traffic jam and construction nightmare that is the 401 on a summer Fnday evening. Traffic, construction, stop. Traffic, construction. accident. Traffic, honk, scream. Bang head against steering wheel several times and question logic of rafting weekend. Again with my nerves in shreds I finally arrived at my first stop – Former Housemate Number One’s (FHN1) house in Toronto.

I picked up FHN1 for the remainder of the cruel journey – I was not yet half-way there – but at least there was some respite from the brutal city heat when the skies opened and torrential, non-stop rain accompanied us for the next six hours of driving. Which made the already break-neck curves on the seemingly abandoned, slick side roads on the way to the rafting site much more exciting. Did I mention it was dark by this point?

Finally, after ageing about five years, we arrived at Nowheresville, kind of outside of Ottawa, somewhere. The thought of sleeping in the car was more more tempting than trying to set up tends at night in the pouring rain in a field of mud. I pleaded with FHN1 to let us stay in the motel I had spied about an hour back. But she insisted – we were here to experience the full, harrowing ordeal. I would have preferred the 401 again. This was, needless to say, not a good start to the weekend and my annoyance was turning to rage. Mind-bogglingly, we somehow managed to beat our Ottawa counterparts to the site – the ones who suggested this “fun-filled weekend get-together.”

Eventually. FHN2 and FHN3 showed up – refreshed and happy after their short jaunt from Ottawa. They swiftly became Current Enemy Numbers Two and Three, and were therefore called CEN2 and CEN3 for the remainder of the weekend.
After we set up our tents in the pouring rain, at night, while lighting off back flies the size of our fists, it was time to retreat into the dry rafting lodge to register – but more importantly, it was time for a cocktail. Wilderness Tours is a great spot for everyone because it has so much to offer – sports facilities tor families, bungee jumping for reckless teenagers, romantic cabins for couples – and a bar for all the cranky, wet, 20somethings who get roped into driving half the weekend to throw themselves down rapids in a boat full of strangers. Needless to say, the busy bar was a high point in the night and certainly made falling asleep in a cold mud puddle a little easier. That is, until morning wakeup at seven a.m. with a throbbing headache. And it was still raining.

What they don’t tell you about rafting is that non stop rain makes the rapids a little – more rapid. And bigger. A bit scarier. And a lot more awesome. It turned out that all that rain was a small price to pay for one of the best experiences I have ever had. The rapids were thrilling and the swift current made cliff diving treacherously fun. I spent the weekend laughing and catching up with the best friends I had missed so much, and I can’t wait to go back, rain or shine. And the boat full of strangers? It turned out to be a bachelor party full of non-stop jokes that kept FHN1, CCN2, CEN3 and me in stitches. To quote the groom-to-be himself: “Its still not as scary as getting married, and it’s probably a lot more fun.”

Packages range in style and price from the “Gentle Family Adventure” packages to “High Adventure” packages and “Adventure Weeks.” There are even nonrafting packages available so you can please everyone in your group. Each package provides a range of rafting, sporting, resort and beach activities – even meals! The minimum age for High Adventure programs is 13 and the minimum age for Gentle Adventure is 7 years old. Chalets and cabins are available. Packages start at $84 for adults and $64 for children.

For more Information>> wildernesstours.com

BY KATHERINE LOW for Roam Magazine