“No Regrets 2018” – All Boys Road Trip from Chicago to Ohiopyle State Park

Why Ohiopyle State Park?
This was 2018 edition of our yearly guys trip entitled as ‘NO REGRETS‘. We wanted a spot full of adventurous activities and we zeroed in on Ohiopyle because what it offered all we needed – Rafting, Zip-lining, Hiking, Biking, Waterfalls and Camping.

How to Plan your visit?

  1. Travel – Just get behind the wheel and drive. Or you could take a flight to Pittsburgh.
  2. Stay – Camp/Cottage/Cabin – all options available. We camped at the Yough-Lake campground.
  3. Make the rafting reservation – we did the Lower Yough from Laurel Highlands which has Class III-IV rapids on the Yough (short for the jawbreaker Youghiogheny) river.
  4. Choose your Biking trails- Ohiopyle State Park has more than 30 miles of biking. You can check the trails here. Depending on your appetite, you can also tap into GAP (Great Allegheny Passage) – the 150 mile crushed limestone biking path alongside the Yough river.
  5. Choose your waterfalls – we did Cucumber Falls but there’s a bunch of other options too – here’s the list.

Our Trip from Naperville

Dates
June 15 – 17, 2018

Road Trip
Naperville to Ohiopyle, PA.
We were a group of 8 guys, partitioned in Ford Explorer and Dodge Durango R/T
550 miles, Google ETA: 9 hours. Actual ETA: 11 hours with few breaks.

Stay
Youghlake Campground by Laurel Highlands

Itinerary

Day 0
Started from Naperville late in the evening and stayed at a hotel near Ohio amd Pennsylvania border.

Day 1
Did breakfast at the hotel and reached rafting rendezvous point for 11-4 PM rafting appointment – yes, it takes 4-6 hours typically. Pitched up the tent afterwards at our campsite and enjoyed the evening.

Day 2
Hiked on the Great George Trail in the morning.

Later, went to Zip-line Adventure Park and after many heart in the mouth moments, headed to Ohiopyle House Cafe to gulp down the Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR) draft beer to cool down the throats and pacify the hearts.

Visited Cucumber falls in the evening.

Day 3
Did breakfast, packed up and got behind the wheel. Reached Naperville in the evening.

Travelogue

Rafting

This was THE most memorable and adventurous part of the trip. I have done rafting a few times at Rishikesh, India but this experience was light years beyond my imagination. After we registered at the base camp, we were all herded into a tour bus and taken to the river bank where our rafts were kept. The raft master pulled on a “Navy Seals” on us by non-nonchalantly mentioning during his pre-tour briefing – “Lissstennn – the waters are choppy today and I am quite sure some of you will take a dip, EMBRACE IT”. All of us looked at each other with an expression – “did he just say that there are high chances of us FALLING OFF THE RAFT?”. That’s a thing I would least expect someone to softly slide, in fact, it should be rather opposite – there should be a giant billboard saying that in BOLD and RED. Our raft master boringly but swiftly went through all the other details, but his rest of the speech kind off went blurry for me after the initial bombshell. The only security we had was that we had the raft master and two other rather ripped escorts in their kayaks accompanying our faction of about 10 rafts.

We were apportioned into 2 rafts – four of us in a shared raft with another American couple and the other four in a separate raft by ourselves. I was in the later, unfortunately. Imagine this, none of us in this hapless raft had actually managed to paddle a raft or a canoe or a kayak by ourselves and had zero sense of direction, apparently. I had zero swimming skills and other than one rather plucky guy in the quartet, the others were scared shitless. All the rafting experience I had from before was with a guide in the raft giving the directions. This was an uncharted territory for all of us.

So, they gave us few minutes to practice our paddling skills around the riverbank. All I remember of that session – is all four of us paddling with no coordination and the raft going in circles, like it is revolting against us. Before we could get a grip on anything, our rafting escort signaled the end of practice and the start of the real gig, much to our dismay.

We began paddling our raft towards the starting point. After a huge joint effort (read commotion) from all of us, amidst several blaring calls and stern looks from our raft master, we were able to make our stubborn raft nudge downstream and kick-start the next leg of our adventure.

High on adrenaline, we paddled like our lives depended on it. Our raft was springing even at slightest ripples in the water, like it was trying to shake off its riders. Around a minute into our downstream journey, the raft went all wobbly on us and started doing the circles again and a few moments later, amidst random paddling, all I see is that the boat goes full tilt before it all went dark and gloomy for few seconds. The raft had finally got rid of its inept passengers and all of us “took a dip”. The rafting adventure suddenly went south for us.

I saw some light finally and felt relieved to see our raft master with his rescue raft zooming towards me. I was closest to him and was picked up first, that didn’t stop me from flailing wildly not realizing that I have life jacket on me. For a non-swimmer, being in more than chest high water is a torture by itself. As I got pulled through and sat in the rescue raft, I saw our overturned raft rushing downstream, she was perhaps happy to be liberated from us. Our oars followed her in tow. In the meanwhile, one of my friends in the water was flowing downstream rapidly and our raft master realized that we cannot rescue him before he hits the next rapid. So, he yells – “Floatttt on yourrr backkk” and quickly adds, “Legggss Togetherrr”. The significance of the “Legs Together” phrase sunk in later on – there is a famous raft master phrase called “Romancing the stone”, which happens when you are floating downstream on your back and don’t close your legs while hitting the stones beneath the hydraulic, as you can’t possibly perform romance with any other partner for the next few days. Anyway, my friend was able to resist the temptation of “romancing the stone” and braved past the rapid, paving the way for his rescue.

As him and I sat in the rescue raft, we didn’t say as much as a word. All the other rafters were giving us a sympathetic gaze, but all we did was to sit and bury our face in our hands. Amidst all this, there was still no sign of our other two friends. The thrill of rafting had long gone and it was now looking more like a bad dream. Few minutes went by and resultantly, me and my friend, along with the people in all other rafts, started getting uneasy. Then suddenly, we saw our friends arriving in the rescue raft with their smiling faces, which led to a huge cheer among all of us.

Our friends had a story to tell as well. They both got separated and while one of them (the plucky one, remember?) swam safely to the riverbank doing one hand doggy paddles, the other glued himself to a big rock and just kept on shouting “HELLLPPP”. It’s rather awkward when you shout and ask for help, in your non-native language but I guess we were well past the boundaries of chivalry here. Anyway, when no one could coerce my friend to swim ashore, they threw a rope to him. The rope landed couple of inches away and my friend still wasn’t ready to let go of the rock. To nix the standoff, they swam and dragged him ashore.

So, all four of us were re-united with our runaway raft pretty soon and after a few laughs, I asked our raft master – “that was a big rapid man, glad it is over”. He looked at me amusingly and said – “No, sir. That was just a riffle (term used to describe a tiny rapid)”. We exchanged a look which was a mix of embarrassment and fear of what’s coming next.

Before we realized, our raft master swiftly went downstream without saying a word, leaving us four in our ill-fated raft, as if nothing happened. I panicked and yelled – “Stevvvee, I don’t thinnkkk it’s a gooodd iddeaa” but my voice was suppressed by the gushing waters around us. I continued yelling before my friend tapped on my shoulder and quipped, “I don’t think his name is Steve”, which I realized was true. Fear can cause you to do things which you would never agree later on that you did; I still vehemently deny I called him Steve. But… anyway, I looked at my friends and our insidious raft. We had a long way to go, still.

We pulled ourselves together and resumed our journey downstream. As we hit the next rapid, one of our friends fell in the water again and although we freaked out initially, we were quickly able to pull him up and continue our misadventure. It felt like deja-vu as we hit next rapid and the same friend fell in the water, AGAIN. This time, one of us just called him loud and pulled him up like nothing happened. We were acting like the pros now. Although there was still a lot of squealing and cussing whenever we got close to the rapid. We stuttered and stooped but survived the ordeal. 

Lower - P12 - 31473 (1)
Depicting our state of mind and body, accurately.

Strongly Recommend – Please view this hysterical Kevin Hart stand-up special which I can very well relate our situation to.

While all this hullabaloo was happening on our raft, our friends raft, which was composed of four of my friends and an American couple, was not devoid of drama and action either.

Before I give you the details, have a look at their raft setup –

Rafting-2

So, the American couple in the back were commandeering the raft with little to no padding but a lot of yelling. The pair of my friends in the front row either kept slipping in the same raft or were paddling in thin air, very likely spooked by our own afflictions in the other raft. And the pair in the middle were left to do all dirty work. You can judge the situation from the above picture, I am not here to take sides. No wonder the middle pair decided to switch sides when we took a halt.

Cucumber Falls

Not many waterfalls boast of an easy access behind the falls. Add to it, a good platform to stand right underneath the falls and check the ‘stand under the waterfall’ item off your bucket list.

This is not the one to be skipped, in my opinion.

20448423264_b9e15b16ba_cCourtesy: Nicolas Raymond under Creative Commons License

Zip-line Adventure Park by Laurel Highlands

A series of obstacles at a 30 ft height followed by a 200 ft zip-line is a sure-short way of challenging the adventure enthusiasts. Here’s a video of it and the reservation link.

zipline
Courtesy: Laurel Highlands 

Great George Trail

Ohiopyle’s flora was on full display on this moderate hike.

IMG_20180616_111021

We relished the walk in the woods, after all the adrenaline rush inducing activities.

IMG_20180616_093956

Ohiopyle Natural Slide

Ohiopyle is a true adventurist dream – as if the hiking, biking ,waterfalls, white water rafting were not enough, we even have the natural slides in Ohiopyle!

6227551580_a9f738c834_k
Courtesy: Britt Reints under Creative Commons License

Beware of the injuries though – one of our friends went for it and came out with several bruises and difficulty in sitting for many days. Here’s how the live action looks.

That’s it.


Please share your thoughts on this post or your own Adventure Trip ideas via the comments section.

 

 

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