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Don Mankin

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White Water Rafting And Fine Dining On The Rogue River

Posted: 11/14/11 07:35 AM ET

Our raft bounced on the big waves coming at us from all directions as we squeezed through the narrow neck of the canyon. The crest of one wave lifted us while I leaned over and tried to dig my paddle into the water. As we crashed down into the trough between the waves, I stared at the next one poised in front of me like a wall of water several feet high. I shouted in exhilaration as I braced for the deluge, then sputtered as the wave slapped me in the face. I spit out as much of the water as I could and swallowed the rest.

I was on the Rogue River in SW Oregon, one of the first rivers in the US to be run commercially, and one of the original eight rivers named in the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968. I was here at the invitation of Peter Grubb, the owner and founder of ROW Adventures, an adventure travel company offering trips all over the globe since 1979.

The Rogue has something for everyone: Class III and IV white water for adrenaline junkies; scenery from a Winslow Homer water color for the aesthetes; and eagles, ospreys, kingfishers, and other winged creatures for birders. Not to mention history ranging from thousand year old Native American artifacts to early 20th Century pioneer houses.

What makes this trip different than most other rafting trips is that instead of camping in tents on the shore, guests stay in comfortable lodges with hot showers and flush toilets. Both of the lodges we stayed in during this three day, two night trip were beautifully sited - one on the edge of a broad lawn nestled in a valley between two ridges, the other overlooking the river with a great outdoor deck.

But it's the fine dining that really set this trip apart. Most river trips tout good food, usually prepared by skilled guides on cook stoves and grills lugged along on the boats. This trip featured a guest chef, Matt Morse, the former owner of several restaurants in Oregon who has made his living over the years feeding people, not guiding them through white water (though he is also an experienced Rogue River oarsman). In the lodges' fully stocked kitchens Matt and his wife Marcia, his assistant , prepared such tasty and sophisticated fare as risotto with lemon and fresh asparagus, rock sole saltimbocca with prosciutto and sage, and pheasant thighs Cacciatore style with polenta. And unlike the wine-in-a-box found on most river trips, we drank fine, uncommon Italian wines. Since we weren't camping and therefore didn't have to worry about tripping over tent stakes on our way to bed, we drank with abandon.

It was easy to see why most of the guests on this trip were in their 50s and older.

After morning coffee and a hearty breakfast, we were usually in the rafts by 9 ready to roll (or more appropriately, float). We had three choices for how we wanted to travel, choices that offered different mixes and levels of relaxation, activity and adrenaline. In the oar boat, we could lean back and let the oarsman do all of the work; in the paddle boat, we had to paddle (ergo the name); and in the inflatable kayaks, (also called "duckies") we were essentially on our own, getting buffeted by every wave as we bounced through the rapids, paddling like crazy to keep from getting dunked in the cold water.

The inflatables made easy Class II rapids look like challenging Class III, and Class III look like heart-stopping Class IV. Almost everyone on our trip who gave them a try ended up in the river floating downstream until they were pulled out into one of the rafts. It's wild, like the best amusement park ride I've ever been on, except its real and the scenery is better.

And the scenery was beautiful. On the first two days it was more peaceful than dramatic, scenery that soothes and lowers your blood pressure with soft hills covered in evergreens, oaks, and golden grasses. On the third day, the scenery became more dramatic as the river wound through a narrow canyon lined with steep, rocky walls. The rapids also became more intense, with more Class IVs than the previous two days. It was either ignorance or hubris on my part but that was the day I decided to give the duckie a ride. I don't know if it was sheer luck or desperate paddling, but I managed to get through several rapids without going for a swim.

After a hard day on the river, we would pull up to our lodge for the night and check into our rooms or cabins for a hot shower. Mark and Marcia, who had preceded us down the river in their own raft with all of the food, cooking gear, and wine, had wine and hor d'oeuvres waiting for us, followed by dinner. After dinner we sat on the deck overlooking the river, drinking wine, smoking cigars, and laughing at each others' stories. Then we stumbled back to our cabins to be lulled to sleep by the sounds of the river.

This is a perfect trip for senior adventurers and reluctant outdoorsmen/women. I’m planning on doing it again next year with my cousin, whose idea of adventure is flying coach and staying in three-star hotels. He was sold on the idea of sleeping in lodges, eating gourmet meals, and drinking fine wines. I haven’t told him about the duckie yet.

This post has been modified since its original publication.