Rafting/Tubing/Camping

Before I begin I need to say that this blog post is being done because I have no interest in going outside into the ridiculously hot, muggy weather we’ve got here in D.C.  This really is the nastiest I have ever felt it being outside in my life.

This weather is just a continuation of the heat wave that has hit the U.S. which started the day my friends and I went whitewater rafting/tubing and camping.  It’s a funny story about our experience that weekend.  We decided to go whitewater rafting in the morning and tubing in the afternoon with River & Trail Outfitters near Harpers Ferry on the Shenandoah/Potomac Rivers ($83 a person).  The ride from Washington, D.C. is about an hour. Little did we know that the oppressive heat during that day would be the cause of a ridiculously violent storm that night.  More on that later.

The River & Trail organization is top notch with knowledgable raft guides and they did a really nice job helping us plan the day.  For the whitewater rafting in the morning, they served us lunch on an island partway through the trip consisting of some remarkably good fried chicken, potato salad and watermelon (vegetarian options are available as well on request).  The rafting itself however was a little disappointing.  The water level was too low, so we ended up doing much more getting our raft off of rocks than actually paddling through rapids.  So here’s a tip: Try to find a weekend when the dams are opening.  The water level is higher and the rapids are continuous on the river throughout.   Also, in the event that you do like your raft guide, have a few dollars in your pocket (even if they get wet), because by the time we got on the bus back to the car and all that – getting money to your guide might slip your mind as it did our group (Sorry, Nate).

For the tubing in the afternoon, we drove our car down to the tubing launch point after the whitewater rafting trip was done.  Keep this in mind – by the time we got to the tubing, it was already around 3 so if you want to do both, know that the whitewater rafting will probably cut into the afternoon tubing time.  Most of the companies around Harpers Ferry that run tubing trips launch from the same point on the Shenandoah River, so be sure to compare prices first between River & Trail Outfitters, Adventure Center (formerly known as Butts Tubes, I guess they wanted to be taken more seriously), and River Riders to see where you can get the best deal.

The float down can take anywhere from an hour to two depending on how fast the current is and it is most definitely a relaxing time.  Don’t forget to put on your sunscreen even while you’re on the water!  Also, don’t worry about the rules saying no alcohol – you can bring whatever you want in coolers and most of those companies provide cooler tubes for $10 or so (River Riders have really nice yellow, large life raft looking tubes that fit a large coolers FYI).  Also, here’s another tip: don’t forget rope.  It’s more fun to float when you’re able to stay near your friends without needing to paddle constantly, and if you want to anchor yourselves to the middle of the river.

So after our little water baking/napping/drinking float we headed our way to Greenbrier State Park.  Greenbrier is about 30 minutes away from Harpers Ferry and for $25 a night you can book a tent spot, each with a picnic table and firepit/grill.  Note: the summer weekends and holidays will require you to book a least 2 nights.  The campground is really nice, with a beach and lake for swimming and some pretty decent hiking trails all around.  Also, there are several bathrooms/showers in the area that are remarkably very clean, as well as several drinking water fountains and convenient dumpsters located on the driveway out of the park.  The park also does host activities such as bingo, outdoor movies, and things of that nature on the summer weekends.

The one drawback is that some of the campsites are really close to each other, so when you choose your site to reserve online, try and find one that “looks” like its a little bit apart from the rest or else your tent could easily be a few yards away from your neighbor (who could be a loud 10 year-old kid or something).

So we get to the campsite and because we were on the water all day, we had no idea that a massive, historically bad thunderstorm was on its way to the area (apparently known as a “derecho” – http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/capital-weather-gang/post/derecho-behind-washington-dcs-destructive-thunderstorm-outbreak-june-29-2012/2012/06/30/gJQA22O7DW_blog.html).   The ranger told us we need to “batten down” as we were in the direct line of where the storm was heading.  Obviously we took this as, “Oh it’s gonna rain, that sucks”.  So we set up our tents, and started grilling our dinner (dum-dee-dum).  Tip: bring more coal than you think you’ll need.  Those fire pits don’t hold the heat in as well as a Weber grill so you need to keep pouring on the charcoal to keep the heat going.

Luckily for us, our grilling was just wrapping up when the rain came down – and boy did it come down.  We took shelter in one of the tents that, while water resistant, still was leaking all over us as we tried to play cards.  The thunder and lightning were pretty much continuous for most of the night.  I ended up sleeping in my car because the tent I was maybe planning on sleeping in with my buddy had flooded because the window in that tent was accidently left open (Tip: Don’t leave your tent window open in the middle of a thunderstorm…stupid).

In the end we survived the experience and despite the heat and rain, it certainly was better than being in the office.  I would recommend both River & Trail and Greenbrier if you ever do want to plan a trip such as ours in the Harpers Ferry region.  And here’s to good weather when you go.

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