Alabama Bucket List: Whitewater Express

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Bradley Robertson

By Bradley
Robertson

This is how our morning began on the day we chose to go Whitewater rafting: chaos, concern, tears, panic, emptiness and frustration; I could add a few more. But on the tip of this iceberg, my eldest son found a glimmer of hope.

“Since our day is mostly ruined, what if we all just go find something fun to do together?”

We all took a deep breath and thought for a bit, and in a moment’s time, we had a 2:00 reservation to go Whitewater rafting in Columbus, Georgia. In a blink, we went from pandemonium to pure excitement. This, my dear readers, is how you learn to roll in a pandemic, a practice that is sure to continue for years to come.

Now I know that technically this is not Alabama. However, I am including this adventure on the Bucket List because it is so close to home and such a very incredible thing to do with people you love.

I heard about Whitewater Express a few years ago, and this year was perfect for us since little Shep was just big enough to go along for the adventure. Whitewater Express is just off Highway 431 in downtown Columbus. It took exactly 30 minutes for us to get there from Opelika and there was no wait because we had made a reservation.

Whitewater Express runs the classic rafting guide daily at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., eastern time zone. The classic trip is best for first timers like my kids. Each boat has a guide who will coach you through every rapid and teach you all the good history and knowledge behind the Chattahoochee River.

My little farm clan was eager and wasted no time in getting suited up in helmets and vests and putting on brave demeanors. I could sense slight apprehension from the silence of Shep, but there was no way he was going to let the older kids have all the fun. We set off, with oars in hand, for a bus loaded with rafts to embark on life and laughter.

Whitewater Express in Columbus, Georgia, opened in 2012 and is part of the nationally known rafting outfitter that serves on the Ocoee and Nantahala Rivers. The company has been around since 1980 and is the same outfitter that oversaw all water sports during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. A good bit of money was put into the Columbus project to make it accessible and safe.

We arrived a few minutes down the road at our drop-in point. The Chattahoochee waters were shining bright for us that day, only a few clouds in the sky and rapids visible downstream far into the distance.

We got the quickest instructions from our guide and we helped carry our raft to the water’s edge. We hopped in our “boat,” as Shep called it, and were on our way.

This portion of the Chattahoochee is either all still-water or fast-moving rapids. There is no in between, which I found great for kids and adults. This offers much time to rest and relax and enjoy the wildlife and scenery.

We soon arrived at our first rapid. Braxton and I sat in the front together, Sissy and Shep caught seats in the middle and our guide had the tail end of the raft. “Row two,” the guide yelled. “Row four, row four again.”

Braxton was grinning ear to ear and the look on Shep’s face said, “what have I gotten myself into?”

I was laughing hysterically, filled with complete joy to be hanging out with my growing kids.

Our raft flew up into the air, bouncing over wave, after wave. We felt wild and free and there is just nothing more soothing than the splash of fresh water in a hot July sun. We were back among calm waters within seconds, smiles shined around the raft as we successfully completed our first rapid on the Chattahoochee.

We continued over the next hour and a half alternating between calm waters among islands and brush and a heron or two, and wild rapids causing an adrenaline rush for any age of person. The kids were able to get out and swim a time or two and the guide kept us highly entertained with his history of the river and great knowledge for rafting in general.

We arrived at our last rapid and the guide was sure to explain that this was by far the grandest and most exciting. We all braced and prepared ourselves and I finally got an exciting “here we go” out Shep’s mouth. He smiled his biggest grin of the day, and gave out a big, “yeeee HAW!” Sissy was in her usual champion style, cool and collected and happy as a clam. Braxton was laughing the whole way through, all of us feeling the freedom of a messy world around us.

The trip soon came to an end. The kids and I took one last swim in the Chattahoochee and we grabbed a few pictures to document our epic day.

My kids learned a valuable and lasting lesson that day. When given a sour situation it is up to us to create our own joy and greatness. We have a choice in how we move forward. That choice can make us better and grateful or it can keep us bitter.

The life we lead is in our own hands. We are not trees; we are able to move into better spaces and places that bring us life. Or maybe move into a wild ride down a river like the Chattahoochee.

Go create your own fun this weekend, you will never wish you didn’t.

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