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Adventure Tourism In Central Oregon: River Rafting The Deschutes

Updated on March 29, 2011

Adventure Tourism in Central Oregon: My River Rafting Story

River rafting as you can see from the pictures is a very popular sport around the world. 

I also have to point out from the beginning here that if you notice in all the photos but one, the participants in these river rafting outings are all wearing helmets - save for one.  That group happens to be from the United States and is rafting on the Arkansas River.

River rafting in my opinion is one of those experiences in life that you either really, really want to do or you approach with fear and trepidation.  If you don’t know me yet, you might think because I mush dogs and seem to get myself into many, many adventures such as my soccer playing days, that I’d be the kind of person who said when it was suggested that I river raft….’sign me up’.  I actually would rather have said ‘beam me up’. 

As happens though when people are on vacation, you end up doing some things that you might not ever consider doing any other time.  I know because this happened to me. 

My family on the death ride - I'm the one grabbing at my hair
My family on the death ride - I'm the one grabbing at my hair

It all started out quite innocently.  We’d been coming to Sunriver Oregon for many years by the time I got myself into the river rafting situation – and had sent our children out several times to brave the rapids…literally. 

However, one year, we had a very large reunion in Sunriver and along with 2 of our kids, my younger sister who is an amusement park junkie and daredevil happened to be visiting.  So as you can imagine, one thing led to the next and before I knew it, I was being taunted by 4 people including my husband who had been roped into our next ‘great adventure’. 

Let me say here that I have a healthy respect for water – a VERY healthy respect for water since it seems I’m always getting into some scrape or another that involves water.  To me it seems a no-brainer to just play it safe and say 'no' once in awhile.  However, I have to admit that since my son who is legally blind could go on one of these river rafting trips, I felt humbled and slightly in awe of him.  I decided that it just wouldn’t do to turn HIM down and so that is the story I told myself.  I was doing it to show Patrick solidarity. (I hope he believed this)

The river rafting trips out of Sunriver are hosted by a wonderful company called Sun Country Tours. They have all kinds of great tours (of course none of these were the ones that I happened to be on because I was going on the death tour.  You are getting the flavor of how jazzed I am, right?).  They have several day trips (one which my sister and my daughter went on) and long leisurely day trips – and then the death thing – the Big Eddy Thriller.  (I always wonder if I would have felt better if it was called the Little Eddy Thriller but I'll never know)

Seriously, I don’t think anyone has died – I’m just covering my bases when I think about it – then and now.  I really had no desire in all my 40+ years at that point to take on rapids.  What had they done to me?  Why did I need to conquer them?  They weren't going anywhere!  Lastly, did it really seem like a good idea for someone as activity-impaired as myself to be going on this deathly little excursion?  Truly – no way!

So off we go – me and my misgivings….The tour picks you up right in Sunriver, then takes you up into the Mt. Bachelor area where you can pick up the rapids of course.  Did I fail to mention that these rapids course over lava rock?  That makes it even better in my mind – both before and after – for taking the chance of giving myself the exfoliation of a lifetime on lava and pumice.

As we road up on the bumpity old school bus, to make matters worse, the sky is darkening.  It was a hot summer day and in Central Oregon, storms come out of nowhere – big nasty thunderstorms with lots of lightning I might add.  I kept thinking to myself ‘it just gets better and better’. 

As I gaze around at my beloved family, who I may never see again the way my luck goes so often, they are all smiling benevolently and as well, they are alive with anticipation.  Even Patrick dang him – he’s enjoying this and can’t wait to get out on the ‘water’.  Did I mention yippee? 

We get to the place where we will push off so to speak and the guide we have is a very athletic, good-looking college aged fellow.  By rights, I should feel good about it – but in all truth I’m wondering if he’s paying attention to the dangers that lurk ahead of us and hover in the sky above us - or is he just scoping out my daughter?

As you can see from the 2 pictures of us (taken by a guide on the shore, there were 8 of us in the boat.  The guide is in the back by the way on the left hand side next to my daughter.  My sister is the long-haired maiden in front of her and there is another gal in front of her that we don’t know.  My son Patrick is perched literally on the front of the raft next to the very bald guy on the other side.  Right behind him is my husband, Bob and right behind him is me – Mrs. Chicken Liver. 

When we got into the boat, I was relieved that there were life jackets.  However, I did ask if there were helmets.  I got a couple of looks.  (So sue me - check out the pictures of other countries and how they go river rafting) 

I asked where the things were that tied us into the boat – that got a lot of laughs.  (I’m so not thinking this is a great idea right now).

Hmm….we get into the boat miraculously without capsizing and the guide runs us through a demo many times as we ‘set sail’ - what we will do later in the trip when we crash over (my words not his) the Class 3 rapids of Big Eddy. 

I’m asking questions like a chatterbox just because I really want to know what to do before I die and I have to say he’s being very patient.  I might add here that my family has decided that they no longer know me and have pretended to pair up amongst themselves. 

Something seemed a bit amiss though with the other 2 non-family members in the boat and if you look carefully at my pictures on here, you’ll notice that there appears to be some kind of goofy interaction going on with the bald headed fellow, his girl and some of us. (I was too busy being scared witless)

It appears from the outset, however, that at least the fellow has been drinking or somehow enhancing his overall ‘buzz’ because he is just WAY too jolly and WAY too ridiculously uncoordinated. If I wasn’t panicked before, I am starting to get there fast!

The tour lulls you into a false sense of security actually – you float down the river and it really doesn’t seem ‘that bad’. At least that’s what I’m telling myself and I’m getting more and more relaxed about it. “You can do this” becomes my mantra and while I’m still asking questions like a reporter gathering tidbits for a story, I’m feeling like I was getting what I needed to do.

Although I have to insert here that inserting my Teva-clad foot into the seam of the river raft does NOT seem like safety 101 practice to me. I have to tell you that I about jammed my foot through the underside of the boat making double, triple sure that my foot was not coming out anytime soon. Of course if we did overturn, I probably would have snapped my leg in half but at least my foot was in the crack like he said!

Just before we got to the Class 3 rapids (did I fail to mention that?), the guide pulled us over to the shore somehow and we all got out to use the portapotty – as it turns out, this was probably doubly fortuitous for me! Then the guide took us for a little looksee at the rapids that we would soon be hurling ourselves over.

As I stood on the side of the river looking down at this gurgling cauldron I have to say that 2 words came to mind – actually several sets of 2 words – but these were my cleanest…”Check please”.

I took one look at this natural wonder and I might add the oars that were on the other side of the river banging against the rocks and said “I can’t do this – I need to go back to the bus”.

The guide very hastily came over to me and then in very kind, explicit terms told me how far I would have to hike – straight up I might add – to get back to said bus but he did give me the option – bless his heart!

When I haltingly asked what the oars were doing on the other side of the river, he just shrugged and said ‘looks like someone capsized earlier’. NOT the answer I wanted unfortunately.

As if sensing my dismay, he launched into the ‘capsize’ scenario discussion which by the way does NOT make someone feel better when they are already scared. I suppose on some level it pays to be informed but I really did not want to hear the words ‘if we roll and we’re ejected’ connected with an outing that was supposed to be FUN and that I paid money for!

Just so you know - if we are ejected, we were supposed to turn feet downstream so our legs would be impaled and broken to smithereens on the lava rock and not our heads. It just keeps getting better and better.

I turned to glare at Bob one more time – after all it was his fault! If I hadn’t married him and had children, would I be standing here with my life on the line? Carefully, we got back into the raft and I have to admit I was shaking like the proverbial leaf. If my foot was lodged in that blasted seam of the raft before, I had it buried almost up to my knee this time.

For some reason, the guide had begun to notice that this other guy was not altogether with the program so he quietly talked to my son (who did I mention can’t SEE – hello?). He told him to be strong and that he, the guide, was going to carry the right side for rowing while Pat was going to carry the left since he was pretty sure party guy was not going to be much help except in capsizing us all (did he have to say that so I could hear it?)

He also drilled into our heads that when he screamed 'dig' we were to paddle and row for all we were worth - no matter what happened. Great pep talk!

Onward we went – as we approached the rapids and I prepared for the drop, there was so much paddling going on I honestly don’t know how we didn’t capsize. Unfortunately party guy was slapping someone’s paddle every minute rather than the water, so we did a little bit of a sway several times and we all thought pretty much we were going in. But Pat and the guide dug and dug (as did the rest of us) and somehow they kept us upright.

All was pretty good – except for the occasional high-pitched screams that were emanating from the old lady paddler sitting directly behind Bob. He would later thank me for making him deaf in one ear.

Miraculously, we rolled and plunged through the water – soaked to the skin but we made it! I almost stood up and did a happy dance but my foot was totally locked in the raft.

We came up on the other boats in our party and out of deference I guess to the ‘old people’ on the boat, they didn’t even hydrant us.

I have never been so scared in my life to be honest. I can see why they call these experiences dare devil exploits – someone must have to dare you to be that crazy – and the devil has to have thought of these exercises in fright.

I did enjoy it I suppose once I could pat myself from head to toe and realize I was still alive and in one piece. Would I do it again? No way, Jose! I figure the chances of me staying upright twice in a row are about zilch and although it was a great family experience, I think I’ll save my bravery for the trails and mushing.

Photos taken of us by Sun Country Tours
Photos taken of us by Sun Country Tours

Tips on River Rafting From

Why people like to river raft

  • It's a thrilling way to see the great outdoors (if you survive)
  • River rafting is a great way to test your strength, endurance, reflexes and ability to think on your feet (if you discount the fact that one of your feet is locked in the seam of the boat)
  • It's a great family activity (I will give you that)
  • River rafting is an adrenaline rush (does panic count as adrenaline?)
  • It's a great reason to toss back some beers afterwards (I'm there on that one)
  • You can claim you tamed the river (I think I'll just leave the river as it was before and not do any claiming - I would have kissed it goodbye and said thanks for not killing me to tell the truth)

Classifications of rapids

They are usually numbered 1-5, 6 being the level that outfitters generally will not do because of the extreme danger. Class 5 are said to give you heart palpitations.  I volunteer that 3 will do that quite nicely thank you! If I hadn't stopped at the portapotty I might have added another thing it does to add to the list!

Trivia: Did you know that the Blue Nile River in Africa has rapids classified from 1 to 10? Do NOT sign me up!

Tips on river rafting

  • Arrive sober (uh oh - party guy didn't read this) - and stay sober - there is no drinking allowed on rafting trips (at least ones with a guide - and no duh!)
  • There is no need for special training at home (you can be totally inept just like me and still do it)
  • You should advise your guide of any medical conditions (such as extreme panic disorder, insanity, being water-impaired or activity-impaired)
  • You should be a good team player - all for one and one for all and all that. I can see that in action with the paddling or whatever we were doing but you should all be on the same 'page' or paddle
  • Pay attention to what the guide says - would have been helpful if party guy had listened
  • Your attire is important (and I left my formals at home that trip). Seriously, there are different fabrics for different trips and different times of the year so inquire before you go

Emergency Tips (Sure - now I read them)

  • Don't panic - too late! Actually deaths are very infrequent on river rafting trips - but then again I've always been an overachiever
  • Guides are equipped with first aid and emergency equipment (that was one question I never asked surprisingly)
  • Most reputable companies have a lead guide with all sorts of rescue equipment such as buoys, ropes and lifesavers (not the candies) and that should probably assure you safe keeping and safe passage
  • If you fall out of the boat, float downstream on your back until a guide can get to you (or you shatter both your legs and pass out) Seriously they will probably get to you really quick and tow you to shore whether you are broken or undamaged

Adventure Tourism in Central Oregon - River Rafting

All kidding aside, it was a great trip.  I just approach things in my own way and some things truly do take me out of my comfort zone.  This trip did I suppose because of the helplessness you feel going over a drop of that magnitude and amidst that much swirling inferno of crazed water!

I have to say that although I didn't ever think to say I'd tamed the river, I was really proud of myself for doing it - and most of all for surviving it!  I do think it's a great thrill for some folks and if I didn't get so many thrills from other things like mushing, I'd probably try the higher class rapids again. 

Their rafting trips are awesome though and if you get the chance while you're visiting Central Oregon to go on any of the trips - do it! The overnight trips are great as my sister and daughter can attest and the day trips are really relaxing - except for the rapids. 

River rafting on the Arkansas River
River rafting on the Arkansas River
River rafting in Brazil
River rafting in Brazil
River rafting in Costa Rica
River rafting in Costa Rica
Rafting in Sweden
Rafting in Sweden

Photo Credit Wikipedia Rafting in Brazil Wikipedia

Photo Credit Wikipedia Rafting in Sweden

Photo Credit Wikipedia Rafting on the Arkansas River

Photo Credit Wikipedia Rafting in Costa Rica

Sun Country Tours Office:
531 SW 13th St, Bend, OR 97702, USA

get directions

Deschutes River :
Deschutes River, Sisters-Millican, OR, USA

get directions

Sun Country Tours

Bend Office 

531 SW 13th St.
Bend, OR, 97702

Phone:  800-770-2161 or anywhere In Central Oregon 541-382-6277

Fax:  541-330-2608


Sunriver Office
Building #10 in the Village Square

Phone: 800-770-2161 or anywhere in Central Oregon 541-593-2161

The Big Eddy Thriller - I Did This!!

Big Eddy Run and Nothing But Water

Sun Country Tours Videos

Big Eddy Rafting Trip


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    • akirchner profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Kirchner 

      9 years ago from Washington

      Thanks Micky - could have used you in that boat....that guy in front was "way" too happy - and of no use whatsoever with the paddling as you can see!

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 

      9 years ago

      Beautiful stuff again! Thank you Dear!

    • akirchner profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Kirchner 

      9 years ago from Washington

      Good advice, BJ!

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      9 years ago from south Florida

      Yes, ak, floating is a good safe idea. Just be sure to do it face up! :)

    • akirchner profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Kirchner 

      9 years ago from Washington

      HH - I get myself into most trouble when I'm going with the 'flow' so to speak and let my wicked family talk me into things - obviously! I'm not sure I would even THINK about doing this now to tell the truth - I was so scared that day I'm surprised I didn't wet my pants!

      BJ - Honestly???? OMG - see - I tried to tell these 'hillbilly people' that this could happen!! I seriously am not sure why I let my family talk me into it but as I said, I don't think I'm stupid enough to try that one again! Once was quite enough of being scared witless for me and the only way I'm going on the river again is to float - NO rapids!

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      9 years ago from south Florida

      Well, Audrea, at least no fish died in the process of making this historical trip and accompanying hilarious hub.

      Up to the year 2005, I would have been delighted to be part of your river-rafting crew. I, Poca-haunt-us (Indian for She-who-dares-extreme-feats-of-derring-do).

      Unfortunately, while checking out a river-rafting excursion on a Caribbean island that shall be nameless, I hit boulders on the side of the river, not with the raft, but with my stronger than Krypton ribs. It felt like I might have bent one or two but I carried on with the feminine version of true grit.

      Two days later when we reached civilization (an ER with an X-ray) turns out those two bent portions of my framework were really nine fractured ribs.

      I can't write more - it is too painful to even relate. I was completely recovered after a 6-week hiatus from my twice a month working cruises but completely broken ... of the sport of river rafting forevermore.

      Happy you got this out of your system with no evil consequences. Yet.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      9 years ago from London, UK

      Audrey, why do you hate yourself so much? Why do you do this to yourself? hahaha It looks fun but no I am too much of a coward for that extreme fun.

    • akirchner profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Kirchner 

      9 years ago from Washington

      Thanks Sandy and glad you got the flavor of it all!

    • Sandyspider profile image

      Sandy Mertens 

      9 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

      Just looking at the photos and video made me feel like I was experiencing this amazing rafting ride.

    • akirchner profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Kirchner 

      9 years ago from Washington

      Thanks, Simone - yes, the thought of hitting lava rocks did not appeal much to me!

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      9 years ago from San Francisco

      Hehee- I'm glad you got so much out of your rafting experience!! Rafting rocks.

    • akirchner profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Kirchner 

      9 years ago from Washington

      Thanks MMP - I think it was a little more than I was bargaining for but I made it through and that's what counts...I think! Thanks for the read!

    • MyMastiffPuppies profile image


      9 years ago

      What a wonderful hub! I am not sure why, but I have never been whitewater rafting. I do think it would be fun, exciting and once is probably all I would want!

      I love the water but I think rafting like the ones in the the Brazil and Costa Rica pictures are almost more than I could stand. Kudos to you for braving the rapids!

    • akirchner profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Kirchner 

      9 years ago from Washington

      DeGreek Feels good to be back says IP! I don't believe in hurting anything that didn't (thankfully) hurt me - I went, I saw - I did not conquer - except maybe my fear and that was okay in the end I suppose!

    • De Greek profile image

      De Greek 

      9 years ago from UK

      The Insane Person is back at last! This is so much better than the tour guiding you've been doing lately :-))

      And I like your demogratic spirit. Who would have thought that you would be against empire building? I refer of course to " What had they done to me? Why did I need to conquer them?" :-))

    • akirchner profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Kirchner 

      9 years ago from Washington

      Steph - I probably would have found some way to bite mine - I was wondering in the picture how I managed to be grabbing my hair but it was probably after the fact because we seemed 'semi-relaxed' when that picture was snapped. I was SO frightened I can't even tell you and had it not been for the major walk back ALONE through the woods and to the bus, I would have bailed that day. I think it was worth it but I think it made everyone laugh at me - yet again! Too funny on the lawyers and no helmets!

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Marshall 

      9 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      When I was a summer associate at a law firm in Seattle (many years ago), I think they were testing whether or not to hire us by taking us white water rafting in Eastern Washington. It was thrilling and nail-biting (provided you could take your hands off the death grip on the side of the boat and actually bite your nails). One of the women fell in and she was scared to death - even though we all had life jackets on.

      Leave it to a bunch of lawyers though... none of us wore helmets! LOL!

    • akirchner profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Kirchner 

      9 years ago from Washington

      Carolina - EXACTLY - what is wrong with helmets? I would rather have it on than lose what brain power I have left!

      Alekhouse - It was a one time deal I assure you - now that I'm even older, no way, Jose!

      Pamela - Thanks and I think once is enough for me on the white water part! I've since been on the water just kayaking and actually did fine and floated the Deschutes - no rapids involved. I can handle that!

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      9 years ago from Sunny Florida

      That looks like so much fun and I've only ever been once. Your article was very thorough and I loved all the pictures.

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 

      9 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      Looks like a lot of fun, but a little scary. I used to canoe in some pretty rough waters, but no more. Lost my mojo.

    • carolina muscle profile image

      carolina muscle 

      9 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

      I hate helmets -- but in whitewater, you wear a helmet unless your head is harder ( or dumber) than a rock.

      Great post!!!!!!!!


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