In all honesty the price for a guided trip down the Nantahala was a bit more pricey than I really wanted to pay, $38 per person and for $23 you could go it alone with all the gear and a ride to the top. Like I said before, the Nantahala is considered one of the more tame rivers for big monster truck rafts like what we had so we figured our lack of skill in the rapids might bring a little more excitement to the table.
They had us watch some silly movie, showed us how to properly fall out of the raft and of course how to wear a life jacket but I was more concerned about losing my sunglasses than going for a swim. The bus ride up was pretty entertaining or I guess our bus driver was entertaining. Jose Paco Sanchez Julio was his name or so he said and his personality was just as large. We had a few laughs on the way up, in hindsight he might have been working for tips but we didn't tip him.
As we loaded into our raft Andy and I argued over who was going to be the raft leader, you know the person in back doing the least amount of paddling, all the steering and the guy who gets to bark orders at everyone else. We decided to arm wrestle for it but after 15 minutes of neither of us pinning the other we settled on sharing the job which worked out good.
The river was packed full of rafts, some guided, some not and a bunch of kayakers. It wasn't hard to tell which way to go as everyone was taking the same line and the pre-trip video show us in detail which line to take in both of the big rapids. In all reality it's hard to screw up bad, those rafts are huge and will pretty much roll right through anything. Just point them straight and paddle, worse case scenario someone goes swimming or you get hung up on a rock.
With both Andy and I in the back, the raft sat a little lower in the rear, maybe it was designed to do that, I'm not sure but we were ankle deep in ice cold water which made my feet go numb. Walking around with numb feet is harder than you would think and I'm sure pretty funny looking. Being that the river was so crowded with rafts we tried to give ourselves plenty of room as we went through the rapids. At one point we back paddled trying to let the boats in front of us get though and two boats behind us came up beside of us one on each side of us. They both just kind of looked at us funny and then all of the sudden started splashing us from both side with the cold river water. It was pretty funny and really we couldn't get away so we just fought back as best we could. One of the rafts in particular, a group of young guys, seemed to be the ring leaders and were doing the same to other unsuspecting rafts.
A little later on down the river we came across a stranded guy alone in the river, his raft of campadres a couple hundred yards down the river. He had obviously gotten tossed from his boat and they were having a hard time trying to get him back due to the current. Being the nice people that we are we scooped him up and carried him downstream to his raft. As we bussed him down I recognized him from the group of guys who had splashed us earlier. We thought about tossing him out but decided against it with a better idea. As we approached his raft we picked up a little speed maneuvering through some light rapids. Rather than back paddle before reaching his boat we rammed it at full speed. Funny thing was, the guy jumped from our raft into his perfectly just as we hit. The impact shoved their raft up on some rocks hanging them up and we bounced off of them and continued downstream laughing as we watched them trying to get off the rocks.
The rest of the trip went well, we maneuvered the rapids good enough that no one went swimming. We did bounce off a couple rocks here and there, some sideways. The very end just before the take out was where the biggest rapids were consisting of what they called a 4 foot waterfall. I'm not sure it was really a waterfall but it was rougher than anything I've ever done un-guided. There was a take-out point just before the falls for anyone who wanted to scope out the run or for any chicken who just didn't feel up to the run but after some debate we opted to run it blind just in case looking at it scared us into taking the chicken line. It was a little scary, I will admit and for a second I thought we were going to run it sideways, my side first. I actually almost came out but somehow we pulled it out and made it safely to the end.
I probably could ramble on about the weekend some more but I'll save you from the boredom.