Rafting on Ouachita

20130720-Rockport Rafting-001

If my graduation trip to the Grand Canyon is going to work well, Bryan and I ought to have some idea about how oar rafts work. One pretty afternoon, our friend Debo offered to show us how to row one of their rafts. I sort of understood the way the raft worked but had a hard time getting my arms to work well with my brain in order to make it go where I wanted it to go. I could get it down the river ok, and I could turn it in circles in the middle of the river, but actually catching eddies along the sides of the stream were really more than I could figure out.

20130720-Rockport Rafting-002

Bryan did better than me in the ‘how to make this thing go where I want it to’ department, but his big advantage is that he has about twelve times more upper body strength than I do, so he was able to row longer and harder and actually get the boat to behave better than I was. My primary job for the last two thirds of the trip was taking pictures and jumping up and down on the air-filled raft in order to make people laugh at me.

20130720-Rockport Rafting-003

As is the case on most summer weekend afternoons, when we got to Rockport we found lots of friends in lots of boats. As fun as it is to play at Rockport, it’s just as much fun to watch others work on surfing and tricks at the ledge. People in rental canoes and flotillas of tubers wander down and through the group, too, and on a good day there are extra boats around – rafts and duckies and standup paddleboards to play with.

20130720-Rockport Rafting-004

I’d wanted to take Cowper’s Star raft for another trip down the river, but I should have known better – there were games to play. Tanya Sacomani and I helped paddle the raft into a hole where we were able to park it for awhile, the upstream motion of the wave holding us steady against the downstream motion of the river current. We pulled cans of beer out of our pfds and drank them as the boat pitched and Bryan took pictures.

20130720-Rockport Rafting-007

Usually, a trip to Rockport means an afternoon in the water followed by a long supper with friends at some area Mexican place, and this day wasn’t any different. Sure, we could save time by making the half-hour drive to the ledge, staying for an hour or two, and then driving straight back home. But we never, ever do. It’s funny how these trips have become just as much about the friends as about the boats and the water.

The Ocoee Trip, and The Accidental Spacecamp Visit

It’s our anniversary! There’s no need for wine and roses and chocolates and romantic cards. I got a new hammock, and we went on a road trip with Mandy and our great friends Britt and Debbie. And some pipe cleaners.


I picked Mandy up from her ecology camp around lunchtime on Friday, somewhere between Hot Springs and Mount Ida. We stopped in Benton only long enough to pick up Bryan, and in Little Rock only long enough to switch cars at the Thompson’s. We didn’t arrive at the outfitters’ in Ocoee, Tennessee until the very small hours of Saturday morning.

20100626 - Ocoee (small)

And on Saturday, we were up bright and early. I did a load of laundry for Mandy (who arrived home from camp with super-stinky stuff) and we hopped on a bus to the put-in point to float the upper and middle Ocoee. Britt and Bryan have floated it before but this was a first for Debbie and Mandy and I, and holy crap it was fun! I don’t think any of us stopped grinning the entire trip.
When we got off the river, tired and giggly, we put some effort into searching out a Outback Steakhouse, consumed amazing quantities of food, and then went back to collapse into our camp. We headed home first thing Sunday morning, but didn’t get very far.

Britt grew up in the area around Birmingham, and cut his caving teeth in the pits in the neighborhood. Souda Cave is closed now but we parked at the gated road and walked to the entrance.

20100627 - Ocoee (small)-3

Like so many other caves in the eastern and central US, it’s been closed to visitors because of the spread of white nose syndrome in bats.

20100627 - Ocoee (small)-2

There’s a tourist cave in the area still open, though, and Britt wanted to show us. He explored Cathedral Caverns with his father when he was a kid, years before the cave was commercialized. It’s a beautiful cave, and they’ve done a pretty good job of setting up the tourist trails and lighting.

20100627 - Ocoee (small)-6

The car trip through this whole area was fun. Britt and Debbie have spent so much time here caving that they’re both full of stories about ‘what’s in that hill over there’ and ‘the time we went to the cave that’s down this road.’ And those stories moved into ‘when I went to Mexico’ and ‘the first TAG Cave-In we did together.’

20100627 - Ocoee (small)-4

It’s funny how much better you can get to know people on a road trip. We’ve spent lots of time with Britt and Debbie, but one thing we didn’t know is that the reason Britt grew up in Alabama: his dad worked for an engineering firm involved in the space program. So a quick side trip past the Space Center in Huntsville was a sort of requirement. We had no intention of doing more than peering in the windows, since we were pressed for time. But Debbie somehow wheedled the Front Desk Person into saying that we could go inside free since it was the end of the day. It’s five o’clock, and we’re in Alabama, and everybody has to go to work tomorrow. Should we stay? Of course!

20100627 - Ocoee (small)-9

Britt and Mandy and I rode the Super Scary Giant Torpedo Thing. (This is probably not its real name.) Bryan rode the 4G with her, the bin that spins around and around until it makes you stick to the wall and wish you were dead. We did some other rides too, and got to see lots of interesting exhibits.

20100627 - Ocoee (small)-10

And we got to see Spacecamp! Not only did we look at the building where the Spacecamp kids stay, we were under the shuttle when some Spacecamp student groups were spread out on the grass having class sessions. So we eavesdropped on them. Mandy and Britt say that they want to come back next summer and go to Spacecamp together. They’ve been funny all weekend, linking arms in parking lots and skipping and singing songs. They’re such sweet friends. If only the center would allow sixty year old men and twelve year old girls to go to Spacecamp together, I think they’d have a wonderful time.

20100627 - Ocoee (small)-8

It was such a fun trip. We didn’t stop talking the whole time we were in the car, telling stories and laughing. I won’t admit what time we got back to Little Rock, but we all managed somehow to get a little sleep and show up almost on time for work on Monday. Was it the best road trip ever? I’m thinking it may have been.