1979 White water rafting the Cheat River, WV

Parrie Henderson | Cheat River WV

I was 17 and my sister was a year younger. My father woke us at 4:00AM one spring morning to drive like a bat out of hell from Washington DC to West Virginia to raft the Cheat River. It was 30 degrees when we got there and started putting on our wet suits. We got instructions from our raft captain: “whatever you do, do not jump into the middle of the boat! Stay on the side with your foot hooked under your strap.” The river was running very high. The drops over the rapids were higher than the boat was long. For the first time in my life, it occurred to me that there was a real chance I could die. Everytime we hit one of these rapids, a grown woman in the boat would leap in fear into the middle of the raft, and the thought that came to me was that she was letting her fear put her in danger and I was not going to die a coward. My sister and I paddled for all we were worth. When we cleared the rapids we had to float for an hour before we could be picked up. It was now 33 degrees and we were soaking wet and in danger of dieing from a different challenge! My father let us know how proud he was of how tough his girls were, and that river taught me more about myself than I had learned to that point.

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