The Washington Post

Fear and hesitation on the New River

Boats embark on a run of the New River in Fayettville, W.Va. Adventures on the Gorge runs tours of the New and Gauley rivers in West Virginia.

ALONG THE LOWER NEW RIVER, W.Va. — He was not going. No way. Not after listening to the river guide list all the ways you could be maimed or killed rafting the rapids here — the jagged boulders capable of snagging limbs, the currents strong enough to pull you under, the snakes, the loose oars that might bash out teeth.

Tim Marlow, 31, was moments from pushing out on his first whitewater rafting trip. He already had on his protective blue helmet and orange life jacket, an oar in his hands. A yellow raft lay at his feet. The river was 100 feet away. His wife, Mary Stonecypher Maslow, stood next him. They were talking it over.

The other 18 rafters on the trip milled about pretending not to listen.

The guide’s warning speech — delivered as the rafters barreled down a narrow mountain road in an old bus — had been boilerplate in its details, a check-off on some liability attorney’s wishlist. It rarely spooked anyone bad enough to keep them off the river, the guides said. But they knew better than to coax someone onto the river, just in case it did go badly. Or the jitters turned into a full-scale anxiety attack.

The Marlows were from Winter Park, Fla. Rafting had been Tim Marlow’s idea. They were joined on this trip by his wife’s mother and two young cousins. The family remained ready to go. But Tim Marlow kept picturing his wife getting thrown from the raft in rough water and slamming her head on a rock.

As the couple discussed their options, a guide with Adventures on the Gorge divvied up the other visitors among the rafts, shouting out names from a list. The Marlows were never called. It was assumed they were going home.

Then the bus driver, an old-timer named Colby, sided up to the hesitating couple.

Nothing is going to happen, he said. The New River is beautiful. You’re probably going to have fun.

As the last group of rafters began walking toward the water, holding blue straps on the side of their yellow boat, the Marlows stepped in and shared the load. Something about what Colby told them clicked.

The ride down the lower New River lasted about three hours. No one got hurt. The only time anyone got in the water was when rafters jumped over the side for a quick swim. The rapids were rough and fast, but no one banged a head. It wasn’t even close.

“Did you all have fun today?” someone asked the Marlows on the bus back up the mountain.

They smiled and shouted, “yes.” They were glad they hadn’t bailed on the trip.

Then Mary Marlow turned to her husband.

“I love how the bus driver talked us in to that.”

Todd C. Frankel is a reporter covering people and policy. You can follow him on Twitter: @tcfrankel.



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