Oh well. I got to the airport immediately after the close of the convention today in hopes of getting on an earlier flight (and also just in case it was total delay madness in the wake of last night’s storms). I was happy to find it relatively calm, but sadly the earlier flight — which had available seats as of this morning — was totally booked.

So I’ve got a stretch o’ time to spend in Concourse D of the Charlotte Douglas International Airport until my 6:15 p.m. (EDT) flight and so I’m now on my second pint of Carolina Beer Company’s Carolina Blonde microbrew and enjoying the airport’s free wifi, while watching UCLA vs. Memphis in the NCAA final four. Free wifi at an airport… imagine that. Yeah, I’m lookin’ at you LAX, you cheap bastard.

So with such such unfettered access, allow me to regale you with a highlight of the trip, which was a visit with about 1,500 other show attendees Thursday night to to the U.S. National Whitewater Center on the banks of the Catawaba River in Charlotte — site of the Olympic trials in kayaking next week.

We were given the opportunity to sign a waiver absolving the center of any liability in the event of our injury or death and then after a tutorial wetsuit up and raft manmade versions of Class II, III and IV rapids, and so despite the rain, the darkness and the 45-degree air temperatures (not to mention the 50-degree) water, I said Oh hell yeah.

It was a soaking wet and bone-chilling blast. The first of two channels we went down had Class II and III rapids and then they took us down the bad boy, which was Class III and IV. At my seat up on the starboard bow I certainly got wet, and it actually got a little scary after our first pass of the Class IV. Our guide had given us the “all down” signal before hitting it (meaning we all had to pile out of our positions on the outer sides into the bottom of the boat). Nevertheless, we lost one attendee from the middle port side and he actually ended up getting carried by the swift current under the boat for what seemed a good 10 seconds. Eventually  and thankfully he popped up and one of the other attendees was able to grab him and pull him to the side where others manhandled him up out of danger. Whew.

Even worse, the boat behind us, whose guide hadn’t given the “all down” signal, lost all four of her attendees into the drink, but all ended up safe and sound.

Being a glutton for punishment, I agreed somewhat freezingly to tackle the Class IV run again and that time it was a piece of cake.The worst part was trying to warm up afterward after drying off and getting out of the neoprene back into my clothes. I’d made the mistake of keeping my skivvies on under the wetsuit and so had to “go commando” the rest of the night with my Calvins in a wetbag provided by the convention sponsor. TMI? Sorry.

Turned out I must’ve been borderline hypothermic given the rancid conditions because I couldn’t stop shivering while getting something to eat. Even afterward on the bus ride home it was like someone had turned an air conditioner on in my inner core. I was freezing the entire ride home.

Certainly under more idyllic conditions – i.e. with sunshine and warmth — it would have been more fun, but even under such less-than-ideal elements, there was nothing keeping me from such a seldom-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

See for yourself: sh-sh-sh-shortly before leaving I managed to get a videoclip (and hold the camera steady despite my shivering) of other attendees heading around a bend to the Class IV section: