As a child I had absolutely zero interest in going to camp. I’d hear about classmates heading off to remote places for weeks at a time or neighbor kids who would catch fish and sleep in a tent. Yeah – no thanks. I’m older now and know that I probably missed out on some adventures and perhaps even friendships. Thankfully, this Summer I was introduced to a place called Adventures On The Gorge.
The sprawling outdoor adventure property is tucked away in a place you’ve never heard of – Lansing, West Virginia. The focal point of the property is West Virginia’s New River – a north flowing, whitewater river that’s one of the oldest in North America. At AOTG you’ll find zip lines, rafting, camping, rock climbing and dozens of other excuses to wear a helmet.
During my visit I was delighted to hear that I was perhaps the first person to ever do all four of the core “adventures” in a single visit. I completed both zip line courses – a treetop tour and a second course that includes a grand finale zip that drops you a mile and a half in length I also completed an obstacle course of sorts called Timbertrek and managed to brave the heights of Bridge Walk – an 860 feet high walking tour directly underneath the New River Gorge Bridge.
Each of the activities, whether it’s the four that I mentioned or others like paintball or paddle-boarding, are perfect gateways for city folk to get a taste of nature and adventure that you can only find in a place like West Virginia. “We’re a fun factory. Some factories make dog bowls or forks – we produce fun” says co-owner Dave Arnold.
One challenge places like Adventures On The Gorge face – a generation of young Americans that have been born with a computer in their hand and a screen in front of their face – while “the outdoors” is seen as just something that can screw up the Wi-Fi signal on occasion. AOTG CEO David Hartvigsen explains a common scenario: “We get a lot of kids that show up texting and playing games on their phone non-stop and in less than 24 hours – the phone is gone and they’re asking their parents for more time to stay outside and play.” Particularly in Summer, there are programs and camps here for kids from all backgrounds that help get the “connected” generation interested in exploring wilderness and educating them about conservation and team work.
Unlike many places that facilitate outdoor retreats or vacations – the food, both in quality and variety is off the charts fantastic. There are several dining options from a quick and inexpensive slice of pizza to a chef prepared meal that brings locals in for dinner even if they aren’t camping or climbing.
Both in the restaurants and on the adventure courses – the staff is top notch and most employees I visited with really seemed to enjoy working for the company. “We can train you to be a good canopy guide or a server – but we insist that our employees are people that like people. Guests spend a good portion of disposable income with us and it’s imperative that our employees make sure those folks have a good time and a fun experience” says Mr. Arnold.
The main event at Adventures On The Gorge remains whitewater rafting. Until this trip, I’d never braved a white water experience. Along with several other travel writers, I hopped into a big, orange raft with our able and fearless river guide – a man named Shannon. We heard the safety instructions and tips during a 20 minute bus ride to our starting point along the New River and along with 7 or 8 other rafting groups – we hit the water and headed out for what turned out to be the most action packed morning I’ve had in quite some time.
With rainfall in the region well above average – our introductory rafting trip quickly turned into serious business. Rafting is classified between levels 1 through 5. I’ve explained in the weeks since that a level 5 whitewater trip should be left to two types of people: professionals and idiots. Being that it was my first time in the raft – you can figure out for yourself which of the two categories I fell under.
Despite some incredible waves – some as high as 14 feet crashing over our raft – our team of travel writers and bloggers did pretty well. On our third rapid from the end – one giant wave sent our raft toward the sky and knocked out all but two of the passengers inside. As our guide Shannon explained later in a radio interview: “While you’ve probably been in deeper water in a pool, it’s total chaos because you’re not expecting it, you don’t have time to catch a breath and the waves are violently tossing you around”.
For some reason – yours truly was ejected out of the raft and then underneath the raft itself for what seemed like forever. I’ve not had a chance to watch the video (thanks to the US Postal Service destroying the package it was sent in) but no doubt the action only lasted a short while. I bring up this part of the experience for a couple of reasons. First – I can never get quite enough sympathy. Second – the experience and professionalism of the folks that work for Adventures On The Gorge saved my life. The training, preparation, instinct and skills of these guides – even after being tossed out of a raft and sucked under water in one of the most frightening things I’ve ever experienced – still left me with the feeling that these folks not only know what they’re doing but they’re probably the best at what they do. Would I do it again? Of course NOT. But, would I feel safe sending my own kids or someone that I cared about on a whitewater trip with these folks? Absolutely.
There are so many variables that can make a trip to Adventures On The Gorge different every time you visit. Personally, I hope to make it an annual trip. Whether you’re in a tent, cabin or in one of the million dollar homes available for rent – there’s an option for every family to enjoy wild and wonderful West Virginia.
For more information about Adventures On The Gorge you can visit their website: onthegorge.com.