Class V Whitewater Rafting on the Dead

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I’ve made the trek to The Forks, Maine, twice to whitewater raft on the Dead River. The Dead has the longest stretch of whitewater in New England, and it is also dam controlled so, depending on how much water is released the rapids, can go up to Class V (7,000+ cfs), which means there is huge water. The weekend closest to May 10 is typically one of the biggest releases and also when I’ve rafted it.

Since I barely know anything about rapids, and you may not either, according to Wikipedia, Class V is: “Exceedingly difficult, long and violent rapids, following each other almost without interruption; riverbed extremely obstructed; big drops; violent current; very steep gradient; close study essential but often difficult. Requires best person, boat, and outfit suited to the situation. All possible precautions must be taken.”

One of my best friends has spent many summers as a whitewater raft guide in Maine. A woman of many talents, she fit that in between her others gigs as an adventure tour guide in Italy, Hawaii and Alaska, and working as a neo-natal nurse. She guided our raft down the river the last time I went.

If you’ve ever paddled in a raft, you know the guide calls all the shots and directs all in the boat how and when to paddle. After we got situated and started down the river following all orders, I realized that I was riding down the river with the Harvard Glee Club. I used to look through my mother’s high school year book and wonder what the heck the glee club did. So, of course, I asked the members of the Harvard Glee Club what the Glee Club does and I was told the Glee Club sings.

So, of course I asked if they would sing for me. One guy threw out a couple song options, but got shot down because they had not practiced all the harmonies as an ensemble. Of course, one would not want to give a shoddy performance whilst paddling down a Class V rapid if one is a member of the Harvard Glee Club. They settled on “Amazing Grace.” We floated down the river while they sang, I listened, and our guide respectfully tried to call paddle orders without causing too much of an interruption to their melodies.

To set the scene, you can click here and listen: http://www.harvardgleeclub.org

The other rafts that were part of the same guide company as ours were filled with two separate bachelor parties, there for a weekend of male bonding, beer drinking and adrenaline rushes. I am sure you can just imagine how they loved the four-part harmony.

As the music crescendoed, I heard Adrienne repeating “Ahead, ahead, ahead” a little more sternly than before. That means paddle really hard. I looked up and we were headed straight for a huge cliff rock. The singing continued, then we smashed into the rock, and mid fa la la, one voice dropped about eight octaves and yelled, well, it was a big swear word coming from the mouth of a member of the Harvard Glee Club. And then, our guide, Adrienne was catapulted out of the raft and we had to save her. We did save her, but the Harvard Glee Club and I definitely looked like a bunch of ninnies while we were trying to do this.

That was one of those moments that I will remember forever, especially whenever I hear “Amazing Grace.” Of course now, halfway through listening to “Amazing Grace,” I feel the need to yell out an expletive, just because. And it is also why, unlike the rest of the entire world, when I think about Class V whitewater rapids, I think of the Harvard Glee Club.

  • If this happened in 2005 or 2006, that would explain why no one currently in the Glee Club knew about it at the time.

  • Heather

    This is not a charming, made-up story. It is a true story. Not one little bit of it is an exaggeration. In fact, it was much more hilarious in real life. It happened in 05 or 06, a while back. Unlike the bachelor party guys who stayed for the entire weekend, the Glee Club made a round trip from Boston and back in one day because they had homework to do.

  • This story made quite an impression with the Harvard Glee Club, but as far as anyone can tell it’s false, and the writer must have made it up. When the President inquired about this, no one admitted to having been in The Forks, Maine. Besides which, the chances of the distribution of voices being correct would be slim.

    It did create some confusion though, because the Glee Club sang Amazing Grace last year.

    Perhaps charming made-up stories are what people are expecting from this blog?

  • As a summer camper in Maine many years ago, we spent 10 days on the Dead River (or maybe some other river and then the Dead River?) in aluminum canoes. I am sure that water was not class V, but it was still a tough trip. We wrapped two of our five canoes around rocks (could they still be there?) and one of our counselors had to be picked up at one of the few road junctions because he was sick. It’s reassuring to know that rugged, wilderness adventures like these are still available in New England.

  • priscilla

    I’ve always wanted to go white water rafting. Any place in Mass that you suggest?


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