FAYETTEVILLE, W.Va. -- When Meyer "Mike" Melman decided to celebrate his 95th birthday with a waterborne vacation, it wasn't a relaxing Caribbean cruise he had in mind.
Last week, the retired grocer and World War II veteran rang in the start of his 96th year on Earth by riding the adrenalin-producing rapids of the lower New River Gorge on a raft trip with a group of friends and relatives.
"As far as I know, he's the oldest person we've taken down the river so far," said Dave Arnold, managing partner of Adventures on the Gorge, the whitewater outfitter handling Melman's trip on Tuesday.
Melman, who spent most of his life in the Pittsburgh area and now lives in Hampstead, N.C., is no stranger to whitewater, although he didn't take up the sport until relatively recently. "I didn't start doing this until I was 80," he said.
Melman's first trip was a descent of the Nolichucky River along the North Carolina-Tennessee border with his son-in-law in a two-person kayak. He made his first trip on the New River two years ago on another family outing, and loved the experience.
"I think I laughed more on that one trip than my dad did in his whole life," Melman said. "We had quite an assortment of people taking that trip, and we all had a lot of fun."
At Melman's request, he got the same guide -- John Darrow -- for his 2012 trip as he had on his earlier New River experience.
"I liked him and the way he performed his job," Melman said.
Like his father, Melman spent his working life as a grocer, putting in 65 to 70 hours a week until a broken hip forced him to retire on disability at the age of 60.
"That's when I started walking," Melman said. "I started out walking while I was still on crutches, and I kept at it ever since. It's what keeps me going. In summer, I walk in the evenings and in winter I walk at mid-day. I walk five or six times a week, anywhere from one mile to up to five miles a day."