“Paddle left, left, left, and now right, right, right and hold,” screamed our rafting instructor at the top of her lungs. We were headed right into our first rapid and it looked like a big one. Gripping the bottom of the raft with my toes and paddling as hard and as fast as I could, I was exhausted, terrified and smiling bigger than ever before.

There was something about getting tossed around in a raft that was just plain fun.

About one hour drive from Boise on Highway 55, you arrive at Cascade Raft and Kayak in the Boise National Forest. After checking in and lathering up on sunscreen, you grab a life jacket and wait to load the big school bus towards the raft departure area. This was my first time rafting in a few years and I was looking forward to getting back on the water and feeling the rush and excitement of the rapids bounce me around.

When we arrived at the raft departure zone, known as one of the premier whitewater rafting areas in the country, we were split off into groups of 6 or 8 depending on the size of the raft. Our group had 6 paddlers and a guide, a 20-year-old college student working during her summer break.  Originally from California, she had vacationed in Idaho one summer, fell in love with the scenery and outdoors and has continued to come back each summer since. Even though she was so young, she seemed to know everything about the Payette River and the different areas that people kayaked and rafted.

When we embarked on the 2-hour trip down the river, I was surprised by how many other rafters, kayakers, small boats, SUP and swimmers there were in the river. It was a hot one in Idaho (did you know it can get above 100 degrees in the summer) and it seemed like everyone was flocking the water to retreat the heat.

The rapids were fun and every so often a big bump would flood the raft with freezing cold snow melt, which felt amazing after being in the hot sun for a little while.

When we reached a rapid free zone, we were able to jump out of the raft and swim around on our own. Our guide effortlessly back-flipped into the river. Being much more cautious and well, much less flexible, I just jumped off in a cannon ball type of pose. Way less graceful but it got the job done.  

Letting the life vest keep me afloat and the current of the river push me along, I weightlessly floated down the river in the most relaxed position I had been in in a while. Looking up towards the mountain that hugged the river bend and listening to the sounds of the great outdoors, I felt at one with nature and any daily stresses from my life in LA were long gone. This moment, this was what vacations were all about.

After swim time was over, we were each pulled back into the raft by our life vests and got our paddles in position to go again.

Each time I heard the “paddle left, left, left… and now right, right, right”, I felt like I was expending more energy than any other time in my life. For the life of me I did not want to be the reason why our raft flipped over.

We arrived back at Cascade Raft and Kayak exhausted and ready for lunch. They had outdoor grills and were cooking up some BBQ for adventurers too hungry to find food along the road.

We took a few more photos before heading back to the car, chatting the entire drive to McCall about our impressive rafting skills and incredible moment with nature.