Try Rolling Down a Man-Made River

If the last river you saw was on the National Geographic channel, you might need to give this a try. Synthetic products are usually a bad idea. Just think of government cheese or the new basketball being used in the NBA. A good rule would be to stay away from anything containing that notorious “S” word. But the United States National Whitewater Center, located just outside of Charlotte, N.C., is out to change that perception.

The USNWC boasts the world’s largest self-circulating river and the only multi-channel recirculating river in the world. It contains 3,750 feet of synthetic river broken into four sections, with each one incrementally more difficult. Pumps with 680 horsepower flow enough water to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool in about eight seconds. The USNMC can accommodate 50 rafts or 250 single kayaks at the same time. The layout is fairly simple: two pools, one high and one low, are surrounded by channels of water. So you start in the top pool and end up in the bottom. Once you reach the end, a 120-foot conveyor belt will ride you back up to the top.

It’s your call whether to start over again or call it a day. Of course, whitewater rafting in an actual river is a dangerous thing, but the sport’s popularity has been on the rise. More and more people are interested, yet scared because of the unpredictability of a natural river. The USNWC marries the popularity of the sport with the safety that so many curious adventurers crave. According to the International scale of river difficulty, the USNWC will be rated a continuous Class III or IV, depending on what level you choose.

So enough with the syntax, what does that actually mean? Well, if you can hold on a minute I’ll tell you. It means that the rapids are intense and powerful, but also predictable. And if worst comes to worst, the river can be turned off in the event of an emergency. Try telling that to the Colorado River. It’s the adrenaline that drives us to do these extreme sports. Sure, you can burn just as many calories playing flag football in the backyard. But that cannot compete with the thrill of being thrown around by a merciless body of water, only to come back for more.

I work in an office all night, so I could use something to get me going besides Mountain Dew or the occasional Red Bull. This is what drives us to run to the park and risk life and limb. Heading to the gym can become dull. Wrestling with a river will never become mundane. And if what you’re seeking is the middle ground between office work and death-defying exercise, you can find it at the USNWC. What if you don’t want to whitewater raft? Maybe you spent all morning doing your hair and the last thing you want is for it to get wet. Sadly, I know people who would use that very excuse. But that is a long story and we don’t have time for it this week. Right. Now back to your regularly scheduled program.

In addition to kayaking and rafting, the USNWC offers other types of sports and recreation. They also offer the largest outdoor climbing facility in the United States. The climbing center consists of nearly 5,700 square feet of synthetic granite and over 40 different routes to scale. 11 miles of trail along the Catawba River can be used to mountain bike, hike, or jog. When the day is done and it’s time to relax, the USNWC also offers a restaurant and bar, so you can avoid canceling out your workout by scarfing down a Big Mac on the way home. The restaurant offers high-energy foods and favorite adult beverages and overlooks the beautiful scenery of the park. This may be the best part because you can sit back and laugh at those running through the woods as you sip a Mai Tai.

I’m definitely planning a stop at this innovative park sometime next year. The USNWC opened in August, but is still expanding. Right now, the entire park covers about 230 acres, with the whitewater center holding about 50 acres. The whitewater portion was designated an official training site of kayakers by the United States Olympic Committee. I’d much rather ride a rapid than sit here and surf the web.

Eddie Phillips
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