Adventure Bus Driving.
Wildwater Bus Driver, Captain John
Of course Wildwater is all about adventure, both on and around the river. It has many facets; Rafting, Ziplining, Hiking and Camping. To participate in the rafting trips, people have to get to the river. In the case of the Chattooga River, this entails a bus ride to the entry point, and from the subsequent landing. The length of the drive depends upon the water level of the river, and the journey can be quite an adventure unto itself. Sometimes a short drive of no more than ten minutes over a smooth main road, more often a more complex mixture of paved and unpaved road and logging trail. Some of these journeys can be an adventure by itself.
The Chattooga river is the ultimate master and has to be obeyed. It is wild and unpredictable in nature, much depending upon rainfall and the amount of water pouring down its channel. On the Chattooga, we operate the section III and section IV rapids, and all the commercial trips are governed and allocated to the various rafting companies by the U.S. Department Fisheries and Wildlife, in the interests of public safety. The timings of these trips are set to a strict timetable and as the speed of the river varies; in order to conform with that timetable, the entry and exit points have to vary accordingly.
Several of the trails to and from the landings present a challenging drive for an “Off Road” vehicle, having a vile surface, steep gradients, sharp corners and impressive ravines (fortunately ameliorated by fairly dense forest coverings). To travel these trails in a modified school bus carrying a number of rafts on a full length roof rack is an interesting experience for the passengers, some of whom have said it was “as exciting as the actual rafting”, particularly when meeting on-coming vehicles on a trail barely wide enough to allow the passage of the bus alone. So often, the other vehicle is carrying kayaks or towing trailers with fishing boats of all sizes, driven by people who are in a hurry to get into or out of the river. Sadly, they are often driving far too fast for the conditions and/or their own ability. Fallen trees blocking the trail also add a little spice to the mixture from time to time.
To the bus drivers, it presents a number of different challenges. Just as the river changes with rainfall, so does the condition of the trail surface, from poor at best, to vile and abominable. Furthermore, he or she has a timetable to which to adhere. After dropping off a group of rafters, he or she then has to proceed to another location to collect an earlier trip at the end of their activity, or back to the Chattooga outpost to re-load for the next excursion. At all times when he has passengers, he must remember that some are faint of heart and could be terrified. Even without passengers, the fact that the bus itself is a very prominent billboard for the company requires that he or she drives the bus on the highway and by-way in a manner that does not upset other drivers and bystanders, whilst obeying the main directive ‘Keep the customer happy’!
Of course these journeys are not without humorous happenings, sightings of wild animals, and the odd encounter with a recalcitrant pick-up driver, seemingly inebriated, refusing to back up and insisting upon his right of way by waving a hand gun at the unfortunate bus driver. All of these perils are ameliorated by the cheery remarks of our wonderful raft guides and the good humour of the passengers themselves. Certainly their journey to and fro is far from boring!
I am glad to report that we drivers get more bouquets than brickbats. That is a very satisfying end result of our wrestling with the controls!
Special Guest Author: Captain John; Wildwater Chattooga Bus Driver, member of the Royal Air Force.