How 7 friends from different states found themselves on a raft floating down the Lower Gauley
Like many across the country, the challenges brought forth by the Covid-19 pandemic dramatically changed our lives. Our friend group originally met during our freshman year at Harvard University in Boston. We all grew up in very different parts of the country, representing West Virginia, Texas, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Michigan, and Hawaii. While we have a lot of differences, one thing we all have in common is we love to travel and explore new places, and we were able to take advantage of this over the past year. We were juniors in college throughout the majority of the pandemic, and all of our classes were moved online with no hope of returning to campus anytime soon. While it was disappointing not being able to be on campus with the rest of our friends, we used the opportunity to travel the country, visiting as many national parks as possible. Between the 7 of us, we visited over 15 national parks within the last year alone. From camping under the stars in Big Bend National Park in Texas, sledding down the white sand dunes in White Sands National Park in New Mexico, and climbing the famous Half Dome peak in Yosemite National Park, we took our adventures to the next level exploring the most beautiful parts of the country.
After our travels wrapped up this past summer, we were all excited to return to campus and start our senior year. However, after a few weeks of being back on campus and confined in the classroom again, it was clear we were all missing being out in nature and adventuring together. We saw on social media that Gauley Fest was coming up, and we decided there was no better time to go and explore West Virginia. At the end of 2020, the New River Gorge became the country’s 63rd National Park. Anthony and I are both lifelong West Virginians and we could not wait to show our friends the beauty of West Virginia and what the newest national park has to offer. Since I was a kid I had been coming to Fayetteville and the surrounding areas. From cliff jumping in Summersville, to exploring the world famous ghost town of Thurmond, and of course hiking Long Point trail and enjoying some delicious Pies and Pints pizza afterwards, I have had so many impactful experiences in and around the national park and I could not wait to create more with some of my best friends.
We packed into a rental car and made the long drive from Boston, Massachusetts to Fayetteville, West Virginia. We finished class on a Thursday afternoon, and 12 hours later we were in Fayetteville and ready for a fun weekend ahead. When looking for a place to go whitewater rafting we wanted a company with lots of experience in providing amazing experiences on the Gauley. While most of us had never been whitewater rafting before, we didn’t want to let that stop us from taking on one of the most famous whitewater runs in the world: the Gauley River. It was clear from the advice we got from locals that Adventures on the Gorge provided the best experience on the river, and they certainly did not disappoint. We arrived early on Friday morning to an energetic and friendly staff ready to make the most of the day. We climbed aboard an old school bus and rode through the curvy back roads of West Virginia, trying to remain calm while listening to the crash course on rafting and staying safe. Once we got to the river, we met our wonderful guide who fit in so well with our group. She told stories of her wild experiences rafting around the world, and cracked jokes as we told our own stories of our adventures together over the past year. While the rapids themselves were a blast, you can’t underestimate the laughs you’ll have floating down the calm stretches of the water either.
By the time lunch rolled around we were all starving, and we certainly did not expect to find a feast waiting on us in one of the most desolate stretches of the river. From a wide range of smoked meats, to delicious sides, it was clear that every detail of the trip was well-planned and designed to give you a taste of what West Virginia hospitality is all about! The rest of the afternoon was a blast, from taking on Class V rapids, to jumping out of our raft and swimming through some of the calmer stretches, we were ready to continue going all day. Once we reached our take-out point we were greeted with a cooler of cold beer and amazing photographers who were ready to show us the videos and pictures they had been capturing all day. Laughing alongside new friends and taking in the highlights of the trip was the best way to end such a unique and exhilarating adventure!
While whitewater rafting was certainly a highlight of the trip, we also had time to pack even more adventures in. We did several hikes in the area, looking for the best views of the New River Gorge Bridge, and even abandoned coal mines! We ate at several local restaurants and embraced the unique WV craft beer atmosphere. We harnessed ourselves in and took a daring stroll on the catwalk underneath one of the world’s tallest vehicular bridges. Staring down at the New River 876 feet below certainly gives you a new perspective on the national park! We even had time to squeeze in a game day experience in Morgantown, West Virginia watching the Mountaineers upset Virginia Tech in what was a truly unique and authentic West Virginia adventure.
To anyone thinking of exploring the country’s newest national park and the surrounding areas, our group could not recommend it more. There are so many experiences Adventures on the Gorge offers that we unfortunately did not have time to do. From fishing to zip lining and kayaking, there is truly something for everyone. For our group, we got to check several activities off of our bucket lists, while growing closer together in one of the most beautiful areas of the country. There is no better time to visit West Virginia and the New River Gorge than the fall, so get your family and friends together and start planning the adventure of a lifetime!
Written by: DJ Lacy, a Charleston native Adventure guest currently attending Havard.