Big Eddy, Bigger Thrills: Whitewater Fun for the Family
I don’t like water.
I don’t hate it, but I’m not a huge fan. I can swim just fine so I can’t explain it, really – other than lakes, rivers and oceans seem so massive to me that it’s overwhelming.
So I’ve always passed on opportunities to do the Big Eddy Thrill Ride with Sun Country Tours. The hugely popular whitewater trip takes rafters through a couple of Class 2 and a Class 3 rapids on the Deschutes River. Kids do it. The elderly do it. I think even dogs do it. It’s not – so I’ve been told – a scary proposition.
So with temperatures hovering around 100 degrees recently, and it being the first of Sun Country’s “Raft n’ Brew” charity events, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to overcome my fear and tackle the trip. (Knowing there’s beer at the end was a huge incentive.) And when it’s that hot, falling into the cool waters of the Deschutes wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
After checking in to Sun Country’s Bend offices, just off of 14th Street, we loaded a school bus and headed out for a 10 minute ride to the put-in between Benham Falls and Lava Island Falls. We were given life vests and paddles and – wasting no time at all – were split up into three rafts and got out on the water. Our guide Ross talked a little bit about the water levels on the river (which is regulated for irrigation channels upriver.) The river was flowing at levels higher than he had seen in numerous years despite the drought conditions. What that meant for us – gulp – was the rapids would be especially rapidy.
We floated along for a while in the gentle current, taking in the amazing scenery along the banks. A lava field on one side, a national forest on the other where hikers and mountain bikers passed each other along the Deschutes River Trail. We talked a little bit about paddling and floated some more before Ross started talking to us about what to expect with the rapids.
After a fun little rapids section, we floated to a take-out spot just above Big Eddy. Everyone got out of the boat and hiked about 30 yards on the trail down river to get a better view of the rapids to come. Ross talked to us some more about what to expect and the need for paddling through it. (And threatening to withold our beer at the end if we didn’t paddle.)
Seeing that section before heading into it was really helpful for us/me. Sure, it looked kind of scary but I felt a little better about the situation thanks to everyone’s excitement and Ross assuring us that you’d have to do something really dumb to fall out of the raft.
We hopped back into the raft and took the lead among the group; our heartbeats escalating along with the river currents as we paddled into the swirling waves of water.
Just a few seconds later we were sent into the swells….”Paddle Paddle Paddle!” Ross yelled from the back of the raft as buckets of water dumped upon us…a short break then another round. “Here we go! Paddle!” he yelled again, urging us to guide the raft through the torrent and toward a small, calm cove tucked next to some lava. As quickly as it began, it was over. From there watched the other two rafts go through Big Eddy – their smiles as big as ours.
We paddled through more smaller, rolling rapids before reaching completely calm waters again where some folks decided to jump into the cool river to float a bit on their backs.
After about an hour and a half on the water, we floated to the take-out just above Lava Island Falls where our bus was waiting to take us the short distance back to Sun Country HQ. There, out back on a grassy patio we sampled a few Deschutes Brewery beers, had some snacks and talked about how much fun we just had.
My only complaint is that it was so much fun I wished it had been longer. (Sun Country does offer longer tours including half-day and all-day trips.)
I still don’t like water. But with adventures like Big Eddy right in my own back yard, it’s a new relationship I’m interested in exploring.