This summer, I took a big leap: I moved across the country to work at a whitewater rafting company. If you can believe it, I showed up to Wet Planet having never actually been on whitewater before. Born and raised in Indiana, I learned to paddle a canoe at a young age, and I got my boating license before I could drive a car but had never experienced a true whitewater rafting trip. Nevertheless, I embraced the opportunity to join Wet Planet as a Reservations Specialist, where I help people make unforgettable plans in the great outdoors during their vacation in the Pacific Northwest, planning their whitewater rafting trips on the White Salmon River.

paddling Shawnee National Forest

Getting ready to paddle in the Shawnee National Forest, IL

My first week on the job, I was dying to get on the river, but the weather seemed against me. March was full of sunshine and the spring flowers had started to bloom, but suddenly April brought another bout of winter; it was raining nearly every day, and one day it even snowed in town. Still, I was truly desperate to get on the water. I needed to know what drew my coworkers from all across the country here to Wet Planet and the White Salmon River. I wanted to experience what being “stoked” really means. I wanted to see what the hype was all about and why this place ranked high on the New York Times list of “major global destinations.”

Mt. Hood Views Rafting

Alright, with these Mt. Hood Views it’s really not a mystery why it’s ranked as a top destination.

Finally, on an icy April morning, the time came to take another big leap; my schedule said “rafting” instead of “office,” and I arrived at work ready to get a taste of what I moved out here for. A group of guests and myself listened as Josh Dickey, who has 14 seasons as a guide under his belt, introduced himself as our trip leader. Right from the start, he had me laughing out loud as he gave us a quick rundown of how we’d prepare for the trip.

First, we got our neoprene booties, a fleece jacket, and a wetsuit to change into. Once suited up, the guides gave us splash jackets (basically a raincoat made for wearing on the river), fit our PFDs, and pointed out the helmets and paddles. We all spoke about how surprisingly warm we felt under the layers of gear before Ron, one of our awesome bus drivers, took us up the highway to the put-in. It was my first time on a school bus in a looong time!

At the put-in, it all started to feel real. I saw the big, yellow rafts (which are surprisingly sturdy to the touch) and listened as Josh gave a characteristically hilarious but effective run down of safety measures and risk management strategies. Then, he sent us to our boats, where we met with the guide who would personally sit in the back and steer us down the rapids.

Rafting trip

A group of rafting guests getting a pre-trip orientation at the put-in

Wet Planet can take seven boats on the river at once, each with six people inside plus the guide as the seventh; on this early-season day, we had three boats going in. Because Wet Planet only hires experienced raft guides, I knew I would be in great hands no matter who they sent me with. Durham Jacklin was my first-ever raft guide and had the privilege of initiating me into the whitewater community by swamping our boat with waves while also making me feel safe and taken care of.

Whitewater rafting for the first time

Durham burying our crew in Rattlesnake Rapid

While I thought I’d be nervous, I was truly just excited, and this is the feeling that stuck with me the entire trip down the river. Every picture our stellar photographer Hattie Fletcher snapped of our raft shows me cheesing up a storm, stoked as can be.

First Time Whitewater Rafting

There’s me – second back on the right – all smiles before our first big rapid!

After everything I’d heard about whitewater rafting, my experience on the White Salmon River was somehow still better than I ever could have imagined. Lined with moss and conifers, the canyon offered picturesque views as we drifted and bounced down it. There were moments of calm water to adjust my position and take a deep breath, deep enough to both smell and taste the pine.

White Salmon River Rafting

The character of White Salmon River is exactly what you think of when you hear “Pacific Northwest”

The water is Caribbean blue, and there are moments of pure wilderness and opportunities to sneak peaks at impressive log cabins and properties tucked alongside the river. Near the take-out, we passed houses that used to be “lakefront” properties until the Condit Dam was removed. Now, they’re riverfront! It is extremely cool to experience nature, habitat restoration, and local history all at once.

The Narrows White Salmon Rafting

This is what the river canyon looks like below the Condit Dam. We didn’t raft through this part, but I’m excited to check it out later this summer on our White Salmon Full-Day Rafting Trip!

For me, the best part of the experience was that I trusted every person and piece of equipment from the start, which made me feel no fear. I know the high standards held by Wet Planet and wouldn’t have wanted my first experience on whitewater to be with anyone else. Cold and wet, but smiling ear to ear, they somehow got me to leave the raft and board the bus back to base. Ron brought us rich, steamy hot chocolate to sip on the ride back, which warmed the whole group up in body, mind, and spirit.

Hot Chocolate Wet Planet Cafe

Laurel whipping up hot chocolate for the rafters!

From start to finish, Wet Planet took care of me and everyone else on the trip. They provided everything needed for the whitewater adventure, including memories that will last a lifetime. I also got a bunch of amazing pictures to share with friends and family back home.

White Salmon River Rafting First Time

My mom will definitely be printing this one for the refrigerator!

I am especially grateful to have done something I had never done before but always dreamed of doing – for me, it’s a summer of taking new leaps. I’m even more grateful that I now want to do it over and over again based on the stellar experience. Rafting the White Salmon River with Wet Planet is something I would recommend to anyone, and I can’t wait to get out on our other Wet Planet trips so I can check more whitewater firsts off my bucket list!

White Salmon Rafting

I can’t wait for more moments like this one!

Author Grace Bohlsen works as a Reservation & Guest Service Specialist at Wet Planet Whitewater. She enjoys connecting adventurers with nature and getting them stoked to be out on the rapids of the White Salmon River.