What is the most daunting summer challenge when you’re a parent?
Kids that can’t sleep at night because it’s too hot so they’re terrifyingly cranky all week? Keeping little ones busy all day? Finding childcare while you work? Nope. Not killing each other on your family road trip? Trying not to put yourself into deeper debt with your summer vacation or their summer camp? Keeping the kids away from the video games and TV? Nope.
Well what then? What could possibly be left? Any parent of a teenager knows just how impossible it is to even talk with their teenager (rather than to them!) let alone enjoy an activity together. Those wonderful, carefree summer days of splash parks and playgrounds and bike rides are over. What on earth does a teenager enjoy, let alone three of them? And what could possibly last more than an hour or two without complete communication shutdown or typical teenage withdrawal?
I found the answer. Rather, my husband did, as much as I’d like to take the credit. I was skeptical, as was my daughter because we’re just not the try-new-things type.
My family consists of a by-the-book, nitpicky stepdad; a laid back but critical, scaredy-cat mom; a gamer-bookworm, housebound young adult son, an over-the-top daredevil teenager/young adult son, and a bookworm, scaredy-cat, social teenage daughter. Good luck finding anything to do together that doesn’t end disaster right?
But it is possible. The answer is whitewater rafting! And you don’t even have to travel very far to do it. There are numerous whitewater rafting companies located two hours from Calgary or less. There are some located further out though if a vacation is what you’re after. But if, like us, you’re just after a day trip, try one of the more local companies.
Start with a lovely drive out to Kananaskis or Canmore for example. That will be the meeting place. Once each guest has arrived, the company will lay out the safety rules and provide you with all necessary gear. Just remember that the safety rules are all based on rare, worst-case scenarios or you’ll end up so freaked out you just won’t go!
The gear includes a wetsuit; a light, waterproof windbreaker; a helmet; and neoprene booties. You’ll feel like a land-bound scuba diver, but you’ll get used to it. And trust me, when splashing around on that cold, glacier-fed river, you’re definitely going to appreciate it. My personal tip, though, is make sure you wear a swimsuit under the wetsuit. Anything else will bunch up and won’t dry. The guides will say they don’t care if you wear nothing under the wetsuit, but do you really want all those who-knows-what-kind-they-are cooties on your skin all day?
Once you’re suited up, the guides will demonstrate the rafting process and commands for you. They’ll also demonstrate the safety procedures and what you should do should you or someone else fall out of the raft. I don’t know that I remember them all anymore, but I do remember feeling very overwhelmed and frightened at that point. You may too — but don’t! It is so very rare for any of these situations to happen. Because there’s a trick to staying in the raft!
I always used to wonder why everyone sat on the edge of the raft rather than on seats in the middle. Well it turns out that those seats in the middle aren’t seats. They keep the raft balanced. The edges are the seats! Only small children sit in the middle. So to keep yourself in the raft, slide one foot in the corner between the raft’s edge and the ballast and stick the other foot backwards underneath the ballast behind you. You’d be surprised by how secure this is. But don’t worry, there are handles enough for everyone on the edge of the raft. There will be times that you’ll lay your paddle down and grab the handle. Even for a scaredy cat though, it’s so easy and surprisingly safe — as long as you’re paying attention!
Once in the raft, your guide will teach you a few basic commands. Oh? You thought this was going to be a lovely float down the river and your guide would do all the work? Ha! Think again. You will be paddling, and paddling most of the time, so listen to the guide’s instructions closely. But the instructions are not only basic, they’re very easy to remember. The one thing they will remind you of besides being in sync with the other paddlers? No lily dipping! We all loved that term. It means you can’t just dip your paddle in the water and expect something to happen! You really do have to dig deep into that cold water and really use those muscles, whether they exist or not.
Once you’ve practiced the commands in a nice, steady, calm stretch of river, you will get to hit some rapids. Listen closely while you enjoy! This will keep you in the raft and keep the raft going in the right direction, avoiding rocks and shallows and the like.
You will get splashed, and you might even get a mouthful. But it’s over in seconds and you really do feel secure the whole time. The river will alternate between rapids and quiet spots so you still have opportunities to admire the view and the wildlife and take pictures and selfies. A GoPro is definitely recommended!
And rafting is more than just the paddling and ducking and admiring the view. Your guide will even have games to play and dares to try, hence the reason everyone will love rafting, regardless of personality. My daughter and enjoyed the paddling and the view while my daredevil son got to hang over the front edge of the raft. And miracle of miracles? Each teenager forgot they were a teenager! They even smiled…more than once! And laughed too and talked about it all the way home. Parental win!
So if you’re at a loss and don’t mind paying a little bit to try something new, give whitewater rafting a shot. You won’t regret it and you’ll be the hero of the summer. If you’re on a budget like us, there are Groupons available. A short list of the many whitewater rafting companies is below.