September 28, 2005

Gauley River Marathon Sept. 23, 2005

Watchis called me and offered up a chance to get on a raft on Friday of Gauleyfest, to go on the Marathon run - the entire 26 miles of the Gauley river: Upper, Middle, and Lower. Swimmer from BT (Steve) borrowed an Aire Super Puma for the trip. Along with us was a couple on a Shredder as our back-up/safety boaters. Cay Hill (sp?) guided the Shredder and told us the lines.

As most of you know, the Upper has 5 class IV+/V rapids on it. They are Insignificant, Pillow, Lost Paddle, Iron Ring, and Sweet's Falls. A few years ago a friend of mine, Leslie, was third person on a Shredder (bad idea) and almost drowned on Lost Paddle. She threw up water at the bottom of the rapid and quit kayaking or boating of any kind for a few years after that experience.

I was thrilled to get a "free" tour of the entire Gauley, and I knew that Swimmer was an excellent boater - he and Watchis Shredded the Gauley last season - but I was anxious thinking about the near demise of Leslie. After all, one of the reasons her incident occured was the overweighting of the Shredder they were on; and we were overweighting our raft. Never mind the detail that two of the other women on the raft were also raft guides and kick-ass paddlers - I was nervous. Also our raft looked so little compared to the 10 person monsters the commercial companies use. Anyway -

I will never forget going through Initiation and Insignificant. That was the biggest whitewater I had ever been in prior to that day, period. I watched the kayakers in front of us throw wave-wheels. It was beautiful, graceful, scary...

Coming into Pillow, we were (I think) going to try for the splat, and ended up hitting Taco, then hitting Volkswagon, and flipping the raft. I had dropped my paddle in the midst of all this craziness, so I just grabbed onto the raft. Then when the raft flipped I was still holding onto it spread-eagled. Freaking scary. Wonder if we make it on the NPFF dvd? My swim was in deep water, and thus friendly. We collected ourselves and the raft and headed on.

Lost Paddle - I just recall being told not to swim to either shore, both are full of undercut rocks, but to stay in the current until the bottom. This would have entailed a 1/4 mile Mr. Toad's Wild Ride through big ass holes and waves. But nobody took that swim - we had a great line.

Iron Ring - aced it. One shot drop.

Sweet's - IIRC, we were OK at the top but when Swimmer tried to steer the raft it wouldn't budge. Once our overweighted raft started tracking, that thing wouldn't turn. All of us but one popped out of the raft at the bottom. I had a bit of a deep swim here, but no problems.

After the big 5 my nerves got alot calmer! I knew that we were past whatever had chundered Leslie! And thinking back about it, I realize that this is one of my biggest fears about boating - that some incident or accident will take away my love of paddling. The river is a fickle mistress...

And here's the thing - I don't remember the other rapids after that. Nothing else was as thrilling, though it was gorgeous scenery. Well, I do remember Canyon Doors as being a particularly beautiful place. I remember that we had to stay the hell away from undercut Shipwreck Rock no matter what. And I remember seeing the hole in Pure Screaming Hell and feeling glad we weren't in it.
There were several awesome wavetrains, that tossed our entire raft up and down like a leaf. I love wavetrains!

To my surprise, I wasn't exhausted by the Marathon trip. My right thigh cramped for the entire Lower Gauley, and I was glad it wasn't happening on the Upper, because I found it impossible to brace with my right leg when paddling on the left side of the raft. If that had been the Upper I would have been out of the raft...

Anyway, it was a profound experience for me. Many thanks to Swimmer and the rest of our crew, for putting up with my nervous ass and letting me paddle with y'all.

ALTERNATE TRIP REPORT FROM KIM, one of the raft-guide/paddlin' chicks on the raft.