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Whitewater Rafting at 80 years!!

Rafting the fast lane -- at 80 Defying stereotypes, Rockport woman takes whitewater trips

By Gail McCarthy

 A few weeks ago, just in advance of her 80th birthday, Margaet Eddie zoomed down Africa's Zambezi River in a whitewater adventure, caping off her latetst intrepid travel escapade. "I've always been an outdoor person," says Eddie, who lives in Rockport and worked nearly 30 years in the Gloucester public schools.

 "I was lobstering summers here for a while when I came here to teach around 1959. I made my own traps." Eddie defies the stereotypes of most octogenarians. For one thing, she appears much younger than her years, having celebrated her latest birthday quietly on Veterans Day this week. But her tranquil birthday couldn't have been more different than the crazy times she spent over the past decade whitewater rafting on other continents. Earlier this year, she also rafted the challenging Futaleufu River in Chile.

Eddie taught music in Rockport for a year and spent the next 27 years as the music supervisor in the Gloucester school system. She retired in 1984. Born to Scottish parents who settled in Wyandotte, Mich,, Eddie dreamed of living in Rockport since she was a young girl. She came to Cape Ann with her father, an engineer with Great Lakes Steel, because he wanted to take summer art lessons with Anthony Thieme (1888-1954), one of the founders of the Rockport Art Association. "He studied painting with Anthony Thieme and he brought the whole family out," recalled Eddie. "I thought this is the most beautiful place. I always decided if I ever had a choice this is where I want to live.

 So when the time was right, I wrote to Rockport schools and they just happened to need a teacher that year." She taught elementary instrumental, including trumpet, saxophone, clarinet, flute and drums. In Gloucester, her job included working with drama teacher Nan Webber to provide the live music in the high school theater productions. Eddie has always travelled the world, beginning with cycling through Europe in the 1950s.

That came after spending a year living with relatives in Australia where she worked selling flowers on the street and worked in a ladies frock shop. She went to England where she met her grandparents, aunts and uncles living there for the first time. "I always travelled by day and, after supper I was in for the night. I was never frightened but always cautious," she recalled.

In retirement, she had the time to delve into more elaborate trips. Her first experience on whitewater took place on the Shotover River on the South Island in New Zealand about 10 years ago. "I got on and said I'll never do this again — I was scared to death," she recalled. "It was a really rough river. Then the feeling kind of crept back that I thought I'd like to try it again."

 About five years ago, she rafted in Tibet on the upper Yangtze River. Her other whitewater trips include Canada and the United States, including the Rogue River in Oregon and the Salmon River in Idaho.

 On her most recent African trip, she first paddled on a two-day 19-mile canoe safari as a preview to a 75-mile white rafting trip on the grade 5 river, which means most difficult. Grade 6 means "unrunnable." They began their journey descending into the gorge below Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, in southern Africa. "In the beginning, it was like an 'Oh my God,' because it was just one wild ride after another," said Eddie. "One thing I learned how to do well was hang on. Two people popped out of the front of my raft and another raft went way up in the air and turned upside down backward and everyone fell out. But we were taught what to do, like always keep your legs pulled up so you get don't get sucked down." Wearing helmets and a life jacket, she zipped down some of the largest rapids in the world. In the places where the water is not running fast, the river is home to both crocodiles and hippopotamus. At two points in the trip through the Batoka Gorge, there are two impassable waterfalls, with one that requires lowering the rafts over a 30-foot vertical cliff into an eddy-pool below.

This year, Eddie decided to take on two demanding rivers in the same year because she was going to turn 80. "Who knows what's going to happen next year," she said. "The body doesn't get any better. "I thought, I can still hike and do all these different things so now is the time. There aren't too many more major rivers." She doesn't have any trips planned right now. "I'm thrilled to be home, and I've run out of money but I'm quite sure I'll still travel," she said.

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