Beginner’s Guide To Whitewater Rafting – It’s Not As Scary As It Looks

When my boyfriend first proposed (I just realized I got a LOT of family member’s hopes up with those first five words) the idea of going whitewater rafting, I thought he was insane. I envisioned the experience being something like this:

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Photo by Colorado Adventure Center

Much to my surprise, you can actually go whitewater rafting on completely newbie-friendly rapids. 80% of the ride you barely even see any white water. The rapids you do go through are totally non-threatening and are actually super fun! After witnessing other beginner rafters making their way down Clear Creek while driving on I-70, I began to think this was something I could definitely do.

Despite my newfound bravery, I was still dragging my feet about actually going…until  my boyfriend’s mom said that her number one “to do” item was whitewater rafting when she and my boyfriend’s stepdad visited Colorado this August.

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My boyfriend’s mom is ridiculously good at doing extensive internet research, which I admittedly lack the patience for. Thanks to her aptitude for Googling, she (unsurprisingly), found a great company based in Idaho Springs called Colorado Adventure Center.

Quick aside…since we did go in August, the water levels were pretty low. This doesn’t diminish from the fun you have, but when water levels are higher at the beginning of summer your experience might be a little different. Colorado Adventure Center’s staff is really helpful and informative, so if you are at all concerned, don’t hesitate to contact them (especially because I am word-for-word regurgitating what our guide told me and have no actual experience or knowledge of what the water is like in early summer).

Anyways, the most anxiety-inducing part of this excursion was what the hell I was supposed to wear to go rafting. I knew the water would be absolutely frigid (thank you snow melt), but it was also going to be a pretty hot day. Thankfully my boyfriend has no qualms about bringing an entire bag of clothes for “just in case.” I brought all quick-drying layers (this means no cotton or denim!) as well as my raincoat and rainpants.

It was a beautiful day in Idaho Springs – hot and sunny with barely any clouds in the sky. I ditched my raingear and banked on not getting too wet (completely realistic with beginner rapids!). Fortunately, this panned out. I opted for running shorts and a long-sleeved running shirt that has really good ventilation. If you sit in the front of the raft, you do get more wet, so throwing on a raincoat wouldn’t hurt.

I would definitely recommend renting the wetsuit booties (only $3!) from Colorado Adventure Center. While only one of my feet got really wet, it would have been nice to just have rented the booties and not dealt with gross wet sneakers afterward (Yes, I left them in the car overnight underneath a towel. Yes, they smell absolutely horrific now. Don’t make my mistakes!). If you don’t want to get the booties, you can do what I did and wear old sneakers. I wouldn’t recommend wearing socks – that was a pretty dumb idea on my part.

If you’re in Colorado (or any mountainous state that hosts whitewater rafting) make sure to bring sunglasses. If you have non-sporty sunglasses like mine (the sporty sunglasses I used to have met their end thanks to someone sitting on them. Definitely not me), make sure you have Croakies or something similar on them so they don’t end up in Clear Creek. Better safe than sorry! If you don’t have Croakies, find the nearest frat boy and ask him for some. Just kidding. Go buy some cheap ones on Amazon.

As always, slather yourself with sunscreen, but make sure you do not put it on your forehead or above your eyes. You will spend the rest of the trip with your eyes on fire when your sunscreen is running into your eyes after being splashed by water. Ask my boyfriend, he experienced this agony for a majority of our day.

Like I said, the beginner rapids are quite calm, and thanks to the awesome guides at Colorado Rafting Company, we had an absolute blast. Mark was our guide, and while he’s done for the season, he will be back in 2015 and I would definitely request him. All the guides were great, but Mark was the one in the raft with us, so I have to give him a special shout-out.

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You will follow I-70 on your trip down Clear Creek, but you can’t beat how convenient it is to Denver. Colorado Adventure Center also has locations in Glenwood Springs and a few other areas in Colorado (check out their website for more details) and caters to all levels – from scared, nervous, newbie all the way up to experienced, ballsy, veteran!

I had a blast rafting and will definitely be taking on the intermediate levels next summer. You have a little bit of time left in the 2014 season, so get rafting while you still can!

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