The Tippetts spent summer vacation week together and usually went to my Uncle Bill's beach house at Emerald Isle, NC. One year, however, before that became the tradition, we went to the mountains. Tommy Birch was a college professor but also a builder and property developer. He built his own retirement home, Birches' Perch, in the NC mountains near Fontana Dam. He developed a beautiful valley with rentals. So we rented one of the large houses in his Tobacco Branch Village (good ol' Tarheel name for the hilly haven.)
Knowing there was white water rafting nearby, we borrowed a 5-man raft. My brothers, Bert and Ricky, Doug and I were the only brave souls to climb aboard. Our conquest was the Nantahala River! Back then the sport was not so common and our knowledge was limited. Few places were open to the public. Today this same river is cluttered with water sport businesses.
My sisters-in-law, Dianne and Gwen, volunteered, "We'll drive you and the raft up river to put in where the dam water releases. Then we'll follow along on the road, watching til you reach the end." Wise women. Wiser than the four inexperienced fools in the raft.
"How hard can it be?" one of us chirped, climbing in, oars in hand. We sat down, pushed off and began to float downstream.
"This is a cinch!" another novice bragged, as we waved to our lady spotters now heading to the safety of their car.
It was beautiful drifting slowing on the clear, cold water. The trees on both banks waved and cheered us on. We laughed that sibling laugh that only DNA harmonizes into musical joy!
I don't recall whose ahhhh morped into the first of many ouches but soon our quartet of giggles and ahhhs became loud, excruciating cries of pain. Our bottoms were firmly planted in the bottom of the raft. In shallow water we felt every pointed rock targeting our derrieres.
Bert, the smart one, first rose to his knees. . .smaller targets. Should help. So we all assumed the praying position, oars still flailing pointlessly.
"Owwww! That's worse. My knees have no fat cushions!" I exclaimed. I'm the expert on the obvious. Soon we all got the point with our knobby knees. Literally!
Doug, the creative one, whipped off his white crew socks, tied one around each knee. Voila! Soon we all donned instant, innovative knee pads. Things were better and we felt quite proud of our ingenuity. OK, so it was Doug's ingenuity.
Until another 5-man raft overtook us. They perched proudly with their posteriors on their pontoons, feet firmly planted in the bottom of the raft. They passed us, looking down on us literally and figuratively.
Simultaneously we noticed. FEET firmly planted on the BOTTOM! Not bottoms on the bottom.
"Oh. You're supposed to sit on the sides," we whimpered. We rose in tandem from the pain pit to the pontoons.
Life was good again.
Learning curves, often painful, are worth it. Sometimes the white water moved swiftly. We bounced along, navigating boulders. Doug was the rudder man in back and Ricky was in front calling out what was ahead. I tried to look relevant from the side, mirroring whatever Bert did with his oar. We got pretty good! We bobbed along, avoided the big rocks. The white water became calm at times so we rowed merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily (there were four of us) gently down the stream.
Now and then we'd hear from the high bank near the road, "Yoooo hoooooo! How's it going?" Concerned wives relaxed at each interception, seeing how well we were learning.
Admittedly, the boys and I became a bit cocky, kinda like Barney Fife. Our confidence exceeded our competence, however, when two smart-aleck kayakers passed us, yakking to each other, "OK. Just ahead are the falls!"
They disappeared. We quit rowing but kept forging ahead into rapidly flowing white water.
"The falls? The falls? Did he say the FALLS?"
That's when we discovered reverse raft rowing. We discovered. . .there IS no such thing!
We pictured Niagara Falls just around the bend.
The bend. Might be better we NOT see where we're about to die.
We braced ourselves, best you can in a seatless, beltless rubber tub cascading toward the Grim Reaper.
It was over in mere seconds. They seemed like hours! The falls turned out to be a rather gentle 3 foot drop.
Wives smiled and cheered us to the finish line. Our shrill cries went from terror to the thrill of victory in one breath. We smiled back, trying to appear brave.
Other years followed. Smoother sailing evolved. But we never had more fun than that first run! Never had more fear either! I think fun and fear are first cousins.
Here's our youth group on the terrorizing falls years later.
Below Doug and I once again navigate the now familiar river with our nephew, Brian Tippett (Bert's son.) Christian Powell and Judy Bell Worthington from the youth group paddle on their right side.
Kimberly, our first born, maneuvers front right fearlessly,
unlike her parents on their first run!
I like to think of our generation as pioneers who braved the new world for our offspring to enjoy. I like to THINK that. Family stories can take Barney Fifes and carve them into Christopher Columbi! (Well,it should have a plural form!)
Sometimes we grow older precisely because we grow wiser!
Riding safely from my recliner,