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Dad Daze: Summer whitewater fun brings a family together

Whitewater is a tremendous family experience since it’s relatively safe, as long as you follow instructions.  (Ed Condran)
Whitewater is a tremendous family experience since it’s relatively safe, as long as you follow instructions. (Ed Condran)

Just after my camera slipped off my wrist and fell into the New River, I started paddling after it. Not a good idea since I was instructed to stay away from the right side of the river due to jagged rocks. But like a mouse in a maze, I followed the drifting disposable and shortly thereafter was moving rapidly at a boulder.

“I didn’t know whether to rescue you or shoot you as you collided with the rock,” my friend Nick said.

Fortunately Nick failed to rescue us and instead snapped a photo that perfectly captured my daughter Jillian, then 8-years old, screaming rock just before we struck the boulder and I was airborne.

Summer is synonymous with whitewater for the Condran family. The love affair with running rivers started when my daughter Jillian was on the aforementioned run that I turned safe to challenging and my son Eddie was just 5.

Every year we select a different river to traverse. I’ve experienced Class 5 rapids, but it’s primarily been Class 3s and 4s with a guide for most of my children’s young lives.

Whitewater is a tremendous familial experience since it’s relatively safe, as long as you follow instruction. It’s also fun and great for bonding. It’s a wonderful activity for children since they must pay attention and execute. They also can bounce back from adversity. On a number of occasions my children have become “swimmers” after being knocked out of their kayaks.

There have been some close calls. Milo, who has the most whitewater experience of my children, has traversed Class 5 rapids, the hard way. Our raft struck a boulder at the vaunted Drop 3 of the Colorado River – aka “Satan’s Gut” – in the Cataract Canyon in Utah two summers ago. I went flying and into the treacherous rapids while Milo somehow stayed in the raft, which wrapped around the boulder. Our guide, who also fell out, instructed Milo to abandon ship via hand signals from the side of the river. I watched from the safety of a boat 300 yards down the river as Milo nailed it and we left with an indelible memory. It was a valuable experience for Milo since he had to think and act quickly in the moment. Milo, then 15, dug his foot into the raft just before we hit rock and was one of two whitewater enthusiasts out of the eight who somehow withstood the collision. Then he was dealt with a fierce hydraulic and leapt to a safer part of the boat. After he was told to jump ship, he navigated the Class 5 rapids by keeping his feet above water to avoid foot entrapment, just like he was instructed. Milo survived to tell the tale.

Last year, we dialed it down by returning to Utah to traverse Desolation Canyon, which is comprised of Class 3 rapids.

Milo and I thoroughly enjoyed our trip down the Green River on the way to Moab. It’s a scenic 88-mile, five-day trip, which is stunning and serene. We experienced more than 60 rapids and best of all slept on cots under the stars sans tents since it’s so dry in the canyon.

Meals are prepared. Our itinerary was set as we traveled down the river courtesy of Western River Expeditions. It’s a terrific family experience since children 5 and up are welcome. It’s an exhilarating but safe trek through a stunning canyon.

Whitewater is an amazing experience even if something goes awry like it did when I hit the rock after my ill-advised decision to chase after my camera in the New River. I somehow landed back in the raft and we paddled our way through the rapid.

“I know we had a really close call, but I can’t wait to do this again,” Jillian said.

Her wish was my demand. We have 15 family whitewater trips under our belt, and each has been excellent so take advantage of one of the best experiences of the summer.

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