“It was the summer after I graduated from high school when I became a whitewater rafting guide on the Nolichucky River in North Carolina and Tennessee. I just love the outdoors, and though I was young, I was hired as a guide.
“The river is in a deep gorge and contains mostly class III to class IV rapids, usually ranked difficult to very difficult. I’d be in the back of the raft with the big paddle to help steer the boat, and, depending on the time of the year and the depth of the river, four to eight people would be in the raft with me.
“My coolest memory of being a river guide was the night when a bunch of guides went on a midnight run of the canyon. Water and nighttime don’t mix, but we waited for a night when there was a full moon. It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life. The moonlight shining down on the river made all the white on the rapids just pop out, but the water itself is this moving and churning dark mass below you. It made it really thrilling to be on the river.
“The scariest moment on the river came when I was going down the river in a kayak. I went into a class IV rapid, which was shallow with a fast current, and the kayak flipped over with me in it. I immediately bailed out, but as I did, I hit my head on a rock. Thankfully I had a helmet on, but it taught me just how powerful Mother Nature can be. No matter how well you think you know a river, it’s still unpredictable and uncontrollable in many ways.
“You just have to have respect for Mother Nature.”—Jim Williams, visiting professor of history