Every summer, my family makes our pilgrimage to Sunriver, Oregon, where we love to run, swim, fish, geocache, bike, and kayak. Never in our five years of visits have we attempted whitewater rafting, so when Sun Country Tours asked PMB to review one of their excursions, I enthusiastically signed my sister, my nephew (9), my son (10) and myself up for the Big Eddy Thriller.
Full disclosure: though we are all active and adventurous in our own right, this was essentially a white water rafting trip for four beginners. We were all a tad nervous and a wee bit excited.
Our conclusion? It was nothing short of EPIC. Here was our experience.
The adventure starts with checking in at Sun Country’s HQ in Sunriver Village (they also have a Bend location). The Big Eddy Thriller is for ages six and up, and we immediately note a wide range of ages and abilities represented on this family-friendly trip. After a 45-minute bus ride to the Deschutes River, we are greeted by guides and rafts awaiting us.
Before the rapids
“I am kind scared and kinda excited,” my son whispers to me as we approach the loading area. We have no time to dwell on our nerves, as the guides swiftly get all 40+ of us into life jackets and reasonable groups. Our quartet is paired with a family from California – two parents and their college-aged children. Jason, our guide, introduces himself and memorizes everyone’s name in one shot as we step into the raft.
We start out on calm waters, where Jason goes through the standard safety precautions, striking the perfect balance of serious (for the boys) and relaxed (for the adults). He explains that in this three-mile stretch of river, we’ll encounter Class II and Class III rapids. We’re provided instructions on how to hold the paddle, what Jason’s different paddling commands mean, and what to do if we’re thrown off the raft. After a few practice rounds of paddling, we come to a bend in the river.
Testing the waters (literally)
“I can hear them,” my nephew announces, referring to the rapids ahead. We all share a nervous smile as we ease our way forward. Jason calmly issues some commands, and suddenly, we are blasting through the rapids, the kids shouting with glee when we get doused and the raft goes crashing over the water. A few more bumps and splashes, some more screams and laughter, and we are back out on calm waters.
“THAT WAS AWESOME!” my son yells, and the entire raft agrees.
“That’s just the beginning,” Jason exclaims, as bigger rapids lie ahead. Our kids start falling over themselves in anticipation of what comes next.
We pull over and hike up a short trail to visualize the rapids from above. Though the kids are too excited to think clearly, Jason lays out our game plan and the adults listen intently. When we load back into the raft, Jason switches our seating arrangements somewhat, moving the kids toward the middle for safety.
Amazingly, everything goes exactly according to Jason’s plan. He yells out the commands outlined a few minutes prior, and, in the delightful mayhem, I recognize the wisdom of walking through the steps ahead of time. The boys – nestled in the inside portion of the raft – are screaming wildly as we paddle through the natural rollercoaster. One after another, we bounce through the rapids and paddle onward, joyously hooting and hollering. As we roll out on the other side, every person in the raft is grinning ear-to-ear.
“Paddle high-five!” Jason yells out, and we lift our paddles in the air in victory.
A dad himself, Jason clearly knows how to amp up the fun. To my surprise, he asks the boys if they want to ride the next stretch of rapids at the helm, straddling the front of the raft. They excitedly climb to the front as we power through some smaller rapids. The look on their faces: priceless.
At the next stretch of calm waters, Jason suggests a game to see who can remain standing on the front of the raft while everyone paddles together to cause it to spin in circles. The kids win by a landslide. We stop for a quick swim, paddle through another section of smaller rapids, and then calmly work our way toward the takeout.
Giddy from the adventures, I notice as everyone is chattering and boarding the bus, the guides are making quick work of the task of packing up. It occurs to me they have this nailed down to a science: the bus ride, unloading, instructing, rafting, and loading back up. Nothing was expected of the rafters other than to enjoy the adventure, which is exactly what we did.
Back on the bus, we work our way back towards Sunriver, happily worn out from the afternoon’s activities. After a long stretch of silence, my son turns to me and says, “Mom. That was awesome.” He pauses and sighs, “I’m never going to forget that.”
Me neither, kid. Me neither. In fact, we might just make Sun Country Tours a mandatory stop every year.