Travel/Tennessee: Gifford man making a splash at 90

Travel/Tennessee: Gifford man making a splash at 90


As a 90-year-old World War II and Korean War veteran, Ray Buck of Gifford is used to adversity. So taking on new adventures is something that he looks forward to as of late.

In 2016, he took to the skies in a hot-air balloon over Danville, puddle jumping along the way. One may ask, "What can top that?" Whitewater rafting on the Pigeon River in Tennessee, of course.

When daughter Cecelia (Buck) Vermillion of Gifford learned of his desire to take to the river, she reserved a spacious and secluded cabin in August in Dandridge, Tenn., along Douglas Lake about 30 miles east of Knoxville. Rocky Top could be seen from the front porch. The cabin was only 30 minutes away from Big Creek Expeditions (the rafting company used).

The most shocking detail about the excursion was that Ray is fearful of water. At age 16, he nearly drowned and has not truly enjoyed swimming since.

Ray was joined on the vacation by his wife of 57 years, Joan (Decker) Buck, four daughters, three sons-in-law, one granddaughter, three grandsons and one other guest.

Upon arriving, the group was briefed by a river guide, "Jedi Mike," for about 30 minutes about how not to drown if you fall in the water. Basic rowing instructions were also given. The nickname was bestowed upon the guide because of his affinity for "Star Wars" and his vast experience. He had been navigating the rivers of Tennessee for more than 30 years.

After the orientation, one member of the group commented, "I'm scared. Not excited scared, scared scared."

That was pretty much the consensus, but no one backed out at the last minute.

At certain times during the 5.5-mile, 1½-hour trip, the raft would glide down steep rapids and even turned sideways a couple of times.

The scenic landscape along the river was something to behold.

Tourism in the area was down by 40 percent so far in 2017 because of the misconception that wildfires about a year ago destroyed the area. This region was not affected, and the damaged wildlife in other areas is recovering nicely.

After the vacation, Ray commented, "I enjoyed the whitewater rafting. I'm glad I did it, but I wouldn't do it again."

What will be the next adventure the Buck family will conquer? The saga continues.

Denise (Buck) Griffith, a daughter of Ray Buck, lives in Villa Grove.

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