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Whitewater Rafting Adventure on Maine's Kennebec River

Traverse the River Rapids in Maine's Kennebec River
by Linda Aksomitis

Magic Falls Rafting Company
The rafting team begins their adventure!
photo courtesy of Magic Falls Rafting Company

Spray washed over the edge of the raft, splattering my wetsuit and cooling me. I dipped the full length of the paddle, feeling the resistance of the water.

I kept my eyes on Lisa, our guide. "Both sides paddle ahead!" she shouted. Then a second later, "Rest!"

Paddle in front of me, feet braced, I rode into Tester - the first rapid on the Kennebec. With a swift, straight motion our boat was up and into it, riding the wave. Elation spread through me. It was incredible!

Another splash and up again.

"Left side paddle back," called Lisa, her voice urgent. My hands were poised, waiting for a right side command. The rush of water filled my senses.

With every wave we crested, adrenalin pumped through my body, taking me higher. It might have taken a minute or two - maybe longer, to raft through Tester. For me, time was suspended.

"Rest," called Lisa, as the raft plunged into calmer waters.

Magic Falls Rafting Company
Lisa, one of the guides of Magic Falls Rafting Company.

I had full confidence in Lisa, my guide at Magic Falls Rafting Company. With three years of experience on the Kennebec waters, she was not only fully accredited, but knew how to create a fun adventure for all of us in the raft. At the beginning I'd had some doubts, especially when teen-aged Heather announced, "I can't do this!"

For a few minutes after we pushed the raft into the swirling water I certainly shared her feelings. What was I getting myself into? And why?

The truth of the matter was I'd always wanted to take a whitewater rafting adventure trip, but circumstances never worked out. I'd thought about going along as a staff member with our high school students, but that was a whole week-and I wasn't prepared for that much adventure with 25 students!

Strictly speaking I've never been a water sports person, since the only water I've spent much time on was frozen lakes, where we competed in professional snowmobile racing events. But, when the opportunity presented itself to head out to Maine for a rafting experience, I grabbed it.

I soon found I was far from a rarity as a single woman on a rafting adventure. Once the domain of thrill seeking young guys, Raft Maine research indicates a full 50% of raft passengers nowadays are women. Female guides at Professional River Runners outnumber the males five to two! Other Maine outfitters estimate between 25-40% of their guides are female. Like many others, Lisa, my guide, was a university student - some guides have complementary jobs like ski instructor to keep them busy in the winter.

I arrived in West Forks the evening before my adventure. Unloading the car, I was soon nestled in my comfortable cabin across from the Marshall Hotel, which is owned by the Magic Falls Rafting Company. While I had everything I needed to cook supper myself, I wandered across the road to the dining room and cozy bar instead.

The river view from the cabin.

As dusk settled over the last true wilderness of the East, I relaxed with a book and the homemade whoopee pies I'd brought back for dessert, on my deck overlooking the Kennebec. Water rushed beneath my feet, past the maple leaves and pine needles. Breathing the pure clean air, I soon settled into my cozy bed, letting the lapping of the water against the rocks lull me to sleep.

The Magic Falls Rafting Company really knows how to put rafters at ease and get everyone into the spirit of adventure! Once I'd wiggled into my neoprene wetsuit Saturday morning, I lined up with other beginners for our first lesson. First rule is, "You don't bring back the paddle, you don't get any lunch!"

The Kennebec River adventure begins at Harris Dam on Indian Pond. The dam releases water daily, so the classification of the rapids can be guaranteed year round by West Forks rafting companies, regardless of heavy rains or drought conditions.

After our rollicking bus-ride to the start-point, Lisa gathered her little group, which consisted of me, Andrea, her friend Bob and her three teenagers, together, to haul our raft down into the water. Bob was the only experienced rafter, so Lisa had a boat-load of newbies on her hands!

Lisa spent the first five minutes, while we floated on relatively calm, clear waters, getting to know her team of rafters. Later, she told me she uses this brief time to assess the skills and abilities of the crew, so she can provide an adventure everyone can enjoy. She is able to minimize requirements in some areas by picking particular spots to cross the rapids, or she can provide more adventurous opportunities like surfing the Jacuzzi.

Launching the rafts.

The churn and roar as the river picked up speed provided my first warning of oncoming rapids. Sailing along like a child's bathtub toy towards water spinning down the drain, I braced my feet and took a deep breath. When the waves of water hit, I was ready.

Riding a wave was a simple matter of becoming one with a force of nature, which couldn't be controlled. It was the up and down of a bucking horse, the rise and fall of a wind-sculptured snowdrift.

As the speed of the river picked up we hurled forward into the Kennebec gorge called the Cathedral. I could almost imagine myself back to 1775, and the bateau of Benedict Arnold as he tried to master the river - and failed. Granite rock walls facing us, we paddled into the next rapid.

We rode Big Mama and the three little sisters, Whitewasher, and the Alleyway. But our greatest challenge waited at the Magic Falls rapids. As we paddled into the foaming fury our raft leapt upwards, throwing us all back on top of Andrea. Water filling my nose, mouth and eyes, I clung to the ropes inside to keep from being washed overboard.

Adventure writer Linda Aksomitis rests for a moment.

From there we floated downriver as the rapids diminished - swimmer's rapids, dead stream rapids, the Jacuzzi, and soon the kids played in the water, drifting along beside us. Stretched out in the raft I sipped a glass of lemonade, and munched an energy bar, wondering if I'd ever have another morning as exciting as my first time down the rapids. Like Andrea, Mom to the three teens, I lost my fear "the first time we had to paddle and I knew we could do it." From there on, it was all adrenalin and adventure.


Magic Falls Rafting Company --

RAFT Maine --