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High times on the Ocoee River

After a particularly violent band of summer thunderstorms bombarded the Southeast, my wife and I had an epiphany: What better time to go whitewater rafting? So, we took our two teenagers and their cousin up to the Ocoee River. I've rafted the Ocoee for years, and I've never seen the water that high. It was almost as bad as my neighbor's basement.

Our guide was a rookie, a young girl of 19 or 20. We'll call her "Brittany," mostly because that was her name but also because it explains everything.

Near the end of the trip, Brittany got us stuck on a huge vertical rock, the force of the water pinning the raft in such a way we couldn't possibly pry it loose. I know, because she and I spent 45 minutes trying, while the others huddled on the steep rock face. Passing rafters expressed concern by pointing and laughing.

At last, recognizing the futility of our efforts, Brittany shifted her focus and came up with the highly intelligent idea that we should all jump into the raging river.

For those unfamiliar with the Ocoee, let me provide a little background. Whitewater rapids are typically described by classification, Class VI - "will probably kill you" - being the highest. The Ocoee has mostly III's and IV's, many with such encouraging names as "Broken Nose" and "Slice and Dice."

Our rock, known to paddlers as "Diamond Splitter," rose from the ledge of a Class III rapid that on this particular day was more like a IV-and-a-half. Understand, when I say "ledge," I mean the water dropped about 8 feet on either side of our perch. It was into this roiling cauldron of potential pain and suffering that Brittany brightly suggested we hurl ourselves.

At first we balked, but only because we're not stupid. (Actually, the rest of my family balked. My initial response was, "Cool!") Then we hit on the novel idea of jumping into passing rafts, which seemed to make as much sense as waiting on that rock until the next drought.

My wife was first to go, landing successfully in a raft full of middle-aged men. They seemed thrilled. Then my daughter and niece missed their intended targets and ended up swimming the rapid anyway. At this point, my son and I looked at each other, shrugged and jumped. I felt like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

I wish I could tell you how scary that swim was. The truth is, my first response was correct: It was cool. I was a little worried about my son, but I needn't have been. He came up flexing and hooting like a third-string linebacker after a routine tackle.

I did learn some valuable lessons, however, such as never to go rafting with a guide named after a pop diva. Next time, I'm going with Justin or Enrique.

Lawrenceville resident Rob Jenkins is associate professor of English and director of the Writers Institute at Georgia Perimeter College. E-mail him at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.com.