Rookie reporter Jessica Stugelmayer tames the rapids
Published in the Lake County Leader
Fresh out of college, and ready to conquer the journalism world, I immediately agreed when Leader editor Bryce Gray offered me the last seat in the boat. I wasn’t scared, mostly.
Hop aboard the “Fool Bus” with the Flathead Raft Co. and prepare for a wet and wild ride. The company has many adventure tours that include kayaking, river boarding and, of course, whitewater rafting.
I had never whitewater rafted before. Sure, I had been in a raft and I had gone over rapids, but none measure up to Buffalo Rapid, the largest rapid in the state of Montana. Buffalo is classified as a four, but the rapid changes classifications with the water level.
Our guide Cory Davis told us every time the water level changes in the river it is a whole different monster. That is why there is no optimal time of year to go rafting. The waves depend on how many cubic feet are flowing down the river per second. More water washes out some rapids while creating others, and conversely, less water causes more rocks to surface. This means that you can raft the same sections multiple times and the river will have changed from the last time you were in it.
Davis has guided many rivers recreationally, but his forte is the stretch of Flathead River below Kerr Dam. As he explained wildlife and geology as we floated along the more placid parts of the river, it was easy to see how Davis is a beloved employee to the Flathead Raft Co.
Growing up in Montana, I have had my share of adventure. I wouldn’t call myself a thrill-seeker, but I like my adrenaline. So when Davis explained that we could easily flip our raft if we didn’t hit the wave just right, I started to get antsy. If in the case of a flip, we were to stay above water, reach for the raft or the safety boat full of trainees that trailed behind us.
As we approached the precipice of Buffalo, Davis made the call, “all forward,” willing all passengers of his vessel to paddle toward the rapid with all our might. In a rush of water, wind and adrenaline, we battled our way through the rapid and came out on top.
Whitewater rafting, if done under correct supervision, will thrill both avid adventurers and meeker persons alike. In what I am sure has become an annual tradition of hazing in the Lake County Leader newsroom, the editors will throw the newbies to the waves each year and see who survives. Whitewater rafting will forever be in my memory as my first week of “real” employment.
Just don’t tell them I’m afraid of heights.