Taunting river guide Jimmer Sites is one thing not to do while taking a rafting trip with him down the Deschutes River.
One daring rafter made such a bold move.
He wanted to ride down the series of Class III rapids while “riding the bull,” which is a rider sitting on the front of the boat with the legs hanging over the raft’s edge and holding onto a rope like a bull rider. Sites was skeptical to let the mouthy rafter do what he wanted.
“The last guide let me do it,” Sites recalled the rafter saying. He told the man that was likely not true because the swim after falling out of the boat “would not be fun.”
The rafter responded to Sites: “He must be a better guide than you.”
That taunt was all it took for Sites to let the young man climb on top of the bull, and paddling toward the Kenmore rapid, which resembles a 6-foot ocean breaker.
“I smashed him into the wave as hard as I’ve ever smashed a paying customer into a wave,” said Sites, a veteran river guide who previously worked for Sun Country Tours for nearly a decade in the early 2000s, said, with a laugh.
His experience was water rushing over his body and up his nose, with the water’s force ripping his sunglasses off his face. “He was really wanting the wild ride.”
Central Oregon is fertile ground — or water — for whitewater rafting on the Deschutes River, and there is not much travel involved for the locals of Bend to find some rapids.
“It is a pretty thrilling section of whitewater,” said Leigh Capozzi, Mt. Bachelor and Sun Country Tours spokeswoman. “The exciting part of the Big Eddy Thriller is that it is only about two hours — you get this thrilling whitewater experience that is only 15 minutes (drive) from Bend. It’s pretty unique and pretty iconic.”
The trip takes roughly two hours, with more than half of the time spent on the water, where the guides go through the safety protocols, paddling techniques and the best practices for dealing with falling out of the boat into rushing water.
“The trip that I was on last week with my two kids,” Capozzi said, recalling the trip she took with her family. “The excitement and the fun the kids had was action-packed on the water. It made our week.”
There are parts of the tour where the water is calm enough for rafters to jump out and swim. But the main attraction is the 5 to 15 minute stretch of whitewater that starts with the Kenmore rapid followed by a series of waves, and rafters get soaked.
No, not every tour ends with a guide trying to humble an overconfident rafter with a wild ride. The trip is appropriate for kids 6 years and older, after all. Some, Sites says, want a wild ride, others want a more scenic or interpretative ride.
“What makes it great, I think, is a guide who knows the river well and still has enough pep and enthusiasm to make it fun for everyone,” Sites said. “You really have to find what people are looking for and match their expectations with their trip.”