Our family has a long and varied “to-do” list of adventures that we look forward to sharing together. Before having children, my husband and I did some fairly rugged travel, but once the girls arrived we chose to put a moratorium on our more ambitious plans. Now that our three girls are old enough to embark on some decently rigorous exploits, we’ve begun to work our way through that list and this past summer we accomplished another item on our agenda–a day of whitewater rafting.
We were spending July 4th week in Maine’s Moosehead Lake region at Spencer Pond Camps and I was researching area actives when I came across the idea of rafting on the Kennebec River. While my husband had done some rafting before, I had not and it was something I’d wanted to try for quite a while. A day-paddle on the Kennebec looked perfect for our family. Our youngest daughter had just turned eight in the spring–the minimum age required for the trip which included nice mix of fun class III & IV rapids with plenty of downtime for a swim in between.
There are quite a few rafting outfits in the area and after perusing several companies’ websites I decided to give the folks at Northeast Whitewater a call. I spoke with Jessica Hargreaves who co-owns Northeast Whitewater with her husband Jeremy. Jessica was friendly, enthusiastic and very knowledgeable, taking the time to answer all of my questions and making us a reservation to paddle the Kennebec the morning of July 4th.
As Friendly as it Gets
Northeast Whitewater is located in Greenville–a 45-minute drive from Kokadjo which is the “town” nearest to Spencer Pond Camps–and we arrived a bit late. Quick side note: we had our dog Sadie along on this trip and had made arrangements with the family renting the cabin next door to take her out that day as we knew we’d be away several hours. However, Sadie was not happy to stay behind in an unfamiliar place without us. Just as we were leaving for Greenville we were approached by Dana, the owner, who said that Sadie was barking quite a bit and he was worried about her disrupting the peace of camp while we were gone. We opted to bring her with us, resigned to the fact that we would have to tell the Northeast Whitewater folks that we needed to cancel our trip. We walked into Northeast’s headquarters with long faces, ready to share our bad news. Jessica took one look at the girls and exclaimed, “Turn those frowns upside down! We’ll just keep Sadie here with us today!” Her generous offer was completely unexpected and Sadie spent a happy day following Jessica around the office (and stealing her sandwich!) while we paddled the Kennebec.
Although the weather during our first few days in Maine was uncharacteristically hot and humid, July 4th dawned cool and rainy. I knew that water temperatures in the Kennebec could be chilly and opted to rent full-length bib-style wetsuits for our younger daughters and wet-suit jackets for our older daughter, my husband and myself. We suited up in the big changing tents outside and got fitted for our helmets while the Jessica assigned groups of 8 to each of three rafts. The guides, Brandon, Dylan, and Anne were chatting with everyone, organizing their boats for a pre-paddle group photo, and answering questions before directing us to the bus that would take us to the Kennebec’s put-in spot about 40-minutes away.
Our family was assigned to Brandon’s boat with another dad and his two teenagers and the five kids chatted the whole way. I made my way up to the front of the bus to ask the guides about the likelihood of one of my girls pitching into the river. Brandon told me that the chance of that happening was slim but that if it did happen he’d be in the water to retrieve her in a flash.
We arrived at the Harris Station Dam put-in point where our guides inflated the rafts and gave us a quick lesson on where and how to sit, how to paddle and which commands they’d be using. The one’s we’d hear from Brandon that day were all ahead, all back, and take a break. After that we each grabbed a raft handle and carried our raft down to the put-in point at the base of the dam. There were several stairs down to the put-in which were equipped with stainless steel rails. We hoisted the raft onto the rails so that it slid easily along each set of stairs as we guided it downward. Brandon showed us how to get into the boat and we waited until the other two rafts, lead by Dylan and Anne, were ready to shove off.
Running the Rapids
I was surprised that the water felt nice and warm and Brandon told me that it was because it was a cool day. We headed down the river with the cathedral-like rock walls of the gorge surrounding us on both sides. We paddled ahead toward the first of a series of rapids we’d encounter that day with names like, “Big Mama,” “Whitewasher,” and “Magic Falls.” The girls shrieked with joy as the raft dipped low and took on water and we were all quickly drenched, which didn’t matter since it was pouring anyway. As soon as our run started I felt totally comfortable about the girls’ safety. Brandon was a strong and competent guide with lots of good stories to share and a great sense of humor.
We pulled off for a riverside barbecue where we made a somewhat feeble attempt to get a fire going in the rain and shivered while we ate the chicken and steaks grilled by our guides. Our girls, while adventurous, definitely have their moments of complaining when the going gets tough. It is certainly a testament to the fun they were having that they remained in good spirits the whole day despite the chilly temps and persistent downpours. In fact, I’m sure I would have done my share of whining if I hadn’t been having such a great time.
The remainder of the paddle was more mellow and we had the opportunity to head downriver in an inflatable kayak called a “ducky” if we wanted to do so. My husband took a spin in one of those while the rest of us remained in the raft with Brandon. To her delight, toward the end of our trip, Brandon let our youngest daughter climb into the ducky and towed her along behind.
We had an absolutely fantastic family rafting experience with Northeast Whitewater on the Kennebec River. The outfit is well-organized, well-equipped and very professional and their guides are friendly, skilled, and a lot of fun. We will definitely do it again.