“People have died rafting in this river.” The words kept playing over in my head like a broken record. I couldn’t focus on what Brett Lesnick, our guide for the day had said after that and forgot everything he said before it.
I like to think of myself as very adventurous but when it comes to water, I have a healthy respect for its power. That is why rafting, although I’ve always wanted to try it hasn’t happened … until recently.
What it comes down to is that I am really much more a bird than a fish. I can swim – just fine actually, but I really didn’t want to fall out of the boat for fear of being sucked into some powerful hydraulic pull or being swept down the river unable to make it back to the safety of the boat.
It was the words of my travelling companions that snapped me back into a better place, “There is a cold beer waiting in the fridge.” It was enough – I had found the key – thinking of the safety and relaxation post-rafting. It allowed me to move forward. Ah, I love people that get me.
That morning, I would be eased into the Class 3 rapids of the Youghiogheny River, known lovingly as the Yough (YOKE) in Ohiopyle State Park, Pennsylvania. Class 3 really had no meaning to me at the start but I know now how crazy things could be whilst aboard a raft. Rapids can be dangerous at any class as far as I understand. Classes 4, 5 and 6 are much more difficult to navigate and carry greater risk. Class 3, it seemed would be a good start for me.
Soaked pretty much off the bat, I found myself enjoying the calm between the rapids, and as the time went on I began anticipating what the next thrill would bring. Many times just the hype of the pending rush of water was enough to get my adrenalin going. But a few of them – one in particular when me and fellow journalist, Tim Johnson nearly got thrown from the boat and somehow managed to stay in – were purely exciting. Our bums were literally dangling.
What brought me to the calm place where I no longer feared for my life (besides the promise of a cold brew) was the expertise of our guide Brett. Crystal clear instructions while in the boat, down to the number of strokes with the paddles, made navigating the river a lot easier than I imagined. It also helped that I was rafting alongside folks who had done this before, as I was the only virgin rafter.
We stopped a few times to rest and take in some short hikes, one to a sweet 40 foot waterfall, another to watch the only brave soul in our group, James Ross jump off a cliff into the freezing Yough water. These well timed stops allowed us to take in the beauty of the area. It was so green, lush and dense – magnificent from our boat view.
As we finished up the day, the last rapid didn’t disappoint and was one of the biggest rushes we would experience that morning. Two hours had gone by and I left wanting more. With the success of my first expedition and some newfound confidence, I feel ready for an even more challenging rafting experience … someday.
Who knew rafting existed just outside Pittsburgh? I sure didn’t! And, there is a lot more to do during all four seasons like skiing, natural water slides, zip lining, hiking and more. Check out the area here.
Interested in challenging the Yough? Here is a rundown of the river’s rapids.
Thanks to Stacey Magda – rafter extraordinaire (and most definitely a fish) & Group Tour Coordinator for Laurel Highlands Visitor Bureau and to Brett Lesnick, expert guide and Operations Coordinator for Laurel Highlands Adventure Center.