RPI Team Rides the Waves of the Chattahoochee
A new employee enjoys the thrill of whitewater rafting team-building.
Flustered in a store cluttered with sporting goods and souvenirs, Rowland Publishing employees clutched towels and shared sunscreen.
They had arisen earlier than usual to catch a chartered bus for the two-and-a-half-hour ride from Tallahassee to Columbus, Georgia, home to WhiteWater Express outfitters and what it bills as the longest urban whitewater rafting course anywhere.
Rookie rafters like myself didn’t know what to expect. How does a Class I rapid compare with a Class IV?
We had no idea. Would rafts flip and co-workers fly? Meanwhile, experienced rapids riders fairly salivated; for them, bigger meant better.
Organically, the newbies and veterans organized themselves into groups of like and kind.
The WhiteWater guides seem to recognize this separating of the strong from the weak and, indeed, the first-timers would be taken down a route less challenging than the one reserved for the confident.
All of us were escorted to a staging area outside the shop where we were furnished with helmets and paddles and fitted with personal flotation devices (PFDs).
I thought I had properly donned my PFD, but the guide who checked my work wasn’t satisfied. He tugged on the straps of the life jacket until I was corseted.
“If you can’t breathe, you can’t drown,” he said.
Next, an especially youthful looking guide served up a safety sermon, one he had surely recited a hundred times before. But he spiced things up with a few jokes that were new, at least to me.
It turns out that the most hazardous thing on the river isn’t the rapids but flying equipment. Following directions, I curled my thumb around the T-grip of the paddle and closed my other fingers over its top as the guide, stern now, made us loudly pledge that we would never let go.
After a short walk and a sticky bus ride, we arrived at the drop-off point on the Chattahoochee River. I noticed that Marah Rhone, our human resources coordinator, had affixed a GoPro to her helmet.
You know HR folks; they’re all about documentation. The Rowland delegation was split into five groups of five.
I would be going down the river with Marah and three other women. Our guide was a charming young dude who delighted in having an all-girl group to torment — and he wasted no time in doing so.
With several deft scoops of his paddle, he soaked us before our raft even departed the bank. While amused by our chorus of squeals, he innocently claimed he was only trying to acclimate us to the water.
The guide showed us how to secure ourselves while seated atop the sides of the raft. But, he told us that if we heard him call out, “Hot tub,” we were to immediately drop to the floor of the raft and brace ourselves for a big rapid.
“Three strokes forward!” our guide bellowed. While not entirely synchronized, we were off. On one side of the river, Columbus. On the other, Phenix City, Alabama. Though the Chattahoochee rapids are manmade, I felt that we were retracing old explorations as the guide fed us tidbits of information about the area’s history.
A light rain began to dimple the river, as we approached the first white water.
The river dipped and then lobbed our raft over the frothy bubbles of the waves. Now on the bottom of the raft, we surfed a swell as our guide managed to keep us all aboard.
Another Rowland raft, however, took on the steepest part of the rapid, and its occupants, with the exception of the guide, were jettisoned into the drink.
Marah wished she had turned her GoPro on at that moment to capture the priceless reactions of five colleagues as they were fished out of the river and hoisted back aboard.
We were already having so much fun that the prospect of our own boat tipping was no longer a fear.
Passing under several bridges, we soon arrived at the “Lazy River,” a bit of a misnomer. Rowlanders jumped shipped (intentionally) in favor of floating down a half-mile stretch of current.
As soon as we departed the raft, the current jerked me and my raft-mates forward. The five of us joined hands or grabbed other body parts in order to stay together.
A passerby on a kayak pointed out that we resembled a group of freefalling skydivers, clinging to one another as we spiraled down the river.
Oh, how we dreaded the upload of Marah’s GoPro footage. Helmeted and with water shooting up our noses, we could only imagine how attractive we all looked.
By the time we reunited with our guide, adrenaline was coursing through us, and we assured ourselves that we were ready to face the upper-class rapids.
The final rapid, aptly named “The Rookie Crusher,” was my favorite. In the same way it does in response to the initial drop of a rollercoaster, my stomach flipped as we descended.
Though no rookie crushing commenced, Marah and I were knocked onto the floor of the boat. Making a speedy recovery, we hopped back up to conquer the remaining whitewater.
Our raft came close to tipping when we were propelled into the air, but we stuck the landing and were gently ejected into the relative calm of the remainder of our trip.
We passed under a bridge called “Boo Thang,” a nod to a touching proclamation of love made by a graffiti artist.
Boo Thang surely was honored. My inner redneck surfaced when the guide showed us how to slap our paddles flat against the surface of the water while we paused beneath the bridge.
The resulting reports sounded like shotgun blasts.
Alas, we had come to the end of our rafting experience. All wished that the trip could go on.
There wasn’t a single person without a smile on her face as she came ashore.
The trip worked as intended. It was a team-builder. I saw my coworkers’ true personalities come to light.
And as someone who was just getting started at Rowland Publishing at that time, I was delighted to have shared my river experience with people who proved warm and supportive.
As the uncrushed rookie, it made me feel at home.
White Water Express: whitewaterexpress.com | (800) 676-7238