Darrell Huckaby - Whitewater adventure a far cry from 'Deliverance'

The most embarrassing two hours I ever spent in a movie theater was when I went with Kay Jones and her mother to see "Deliverance". Kay was maybe 12 or 13 and I was 20 and I have no idea how old her mother was, but it wasn't like that, so don't bother raising your eyebrows.

But that movie! Burt Reynolds, John Voight, Ronnie Cox and Ned Beatty played the roles of four Atlanta businessmen who decided to go canoeing in the North Georgia Mountains and ran into a whole heap of trouble. I don't remember everything that happened to them, but I do recall that people died and that others were made to squeal like pigs, and neither experience was particularly pleasant.

Perhaps the scars of watching such a movie with a pre-teen and someone old enough to be my mother is the reason that, until last weekend, I had never navigated the white water rivers and streams of the American South. I have rafted a lot of rivers out west, but not here at home.

But last weekend that all changed when a lady named Sandra, who obviously has a bit of a sadistic side, planned an outing for the people at my wife's workplace. Sandra decided that they would all raft the Nantahala River, a frigid, free-flowing body of water near Bryson City, N.C. When I say frigid, I do mean frigid. The river is fed from the bottom of a 150-foot lake, and water tends to get a little cold when it is that far from the warming rays of the sun.

I will freely admit that I preferred spending the weekend at the beach, but my lovely wife, Lisa, who - as I've said before - controls 70 percent of the money and 100 percent of the sex in my life, wanted to go rafting with her friends. So rafting we went.

I decided to make the most of the situation and invited our friends, Clay and Holli, to go along. Misery loves company and all of that, don't you know, and we decided to rent a secluded cabin and make a weekend of it. My theory was that soaking in a hot tub under a full August moon and eating fresh trout, hot off the coals, would make up for whatever maladies might occur on the river.

Friday night was all that I hoped it would be, and we spent a pleasant Saturday morning walking in the woods and picnicking beside the same river that we would risk our lives on later that day. Finally, the moment of truth arrived and we headed to the Nantahala Outdoor Center for our date with destiny.

I felt much better about the whole thing as soon as I met our guide. Yes, we opted for the guided expedition. I wasn't floating through Class 3 rapids alone. Our guide told us that his name was Ben Lawon and I told him that if we heard banjo music he'd better paddle faster. (See "Deliverance" reference above; if you haven't seen the movie, ask somebody.)

Ben assured me that he had spent most of his life in the North Georgia Mountains and had never seen an inbred Albino playing a banjo. I got the idea that he was kind of insulted by that whole hillbilly stereotype.

I'll tell you what he wasn't insulted by though. He wasn't insulted by the Georgia Bulldog T-shirt I chose for what I feared might be my final journey. Turns out that Ben's father had played football at Georgia, for Wally Butts - after he'd finished fighting the Communist Chinese in Korea for two or three years - so Ben was a big Bulldog fan. I knew that he would take good care of us, and he did.

If you haven't rafted the Nantahala, you owe it to yourself to do so. The festive atmosphere and the spectacle of the crowd are worth the three-hour drive to the mountains. There were all manner of people on hand from every walk of life, and they navigated the rapids in a wide assortment of watercraft - rafts, canoes, kayaks. If it would support the weight of a human being and float, folks tried to ride it down the river. Most succeeded, although some got stuck on rocks and others found themselves being dumped rather unceremoniously into the icy water as their rafts capsized. There were no casualties, though - at least not on Saturday, and Ben, the former Marine who was steering our raft, took great care of us, just like he promised he would.

I can't remember when I have had a more pleasant time and can't wait to go back and try it again - or maybe I'll pick one of the more adventurous rivers, like the Chattooga or the Cheoah. But only if Ben Lawson is available to guide me. Burt Reynolds couldn't protect Ned Beatty in "Deliverance," but I'll trust my life to Ben Lawson any time, any where.

Darrell Huckaby is a local author and educator. He can be reached at dHuck08@bellsouth.net.