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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Cruising Down the River

















(Craig/Karin) It’s been awhile since we last made a blog entry. Sorry for the wait, but there’s been a lot going on. The 4th of July weekend was huge! The campground was full, but everything turned out well. The store was super busy, until the night of the 4th. Summersville had a fireworks display about 5 miles from here. The campground literally became a ghost town, as the campers went out to watch the show. We didn’t get to see them, but we didn’t mind at all. It was a nice break to a busy weekend.

Craig’s birthday was on the 5th. We had to work, but we did celebrate it a couple of days later. What a huge birthday gift from Karin……a full day raft trip on the New River!! We had a choice to raft the upper New River with class III and IV rapids, or the lower New River with class IV and a couple of class V rapids. Karin had never rafted before, but what a trooper! She chose to take Craig on the lower New River. Nervous seems like such a mild way to put it, as Karin made her way into the truck to begin the journey. We went to the Ultimate Rafting Company in Fayetteville, about 20 miles south of us. As we were all issued our gear for the trip….paddles, personal floatation devices and helmet, we were given a speech about the river. One part was to remind us that there was a lot of poison ivy on the banks of the river. Also, if we were not familiar with poison ivy, then a sample would be passed around so that we may all get to know it better. Ahhh, gotta love the raft guides and their humor. When asked by the main guide “how many of you have never rafted before?”, several people and of course, all of the guides raised their hands. It was going to be an interesting day!

We all boarded the bus and headed down to the “put in” spot at the river. Karin was told that she had a wonderful and tight grip on her paddle….although we were still on the bus. It was someone’s birthday, so we all sang happy birthday. Then, the raft guide said that it was also the bus driver, “Docs” birthday. So we sang it again. We found out later that they sing happy birthday to Doc everyday. As we left the bus, we met our raft guide, Kirk. He reminded us that addressing him as “Captain Kirk” was funny to him until about the 3rd grade. So we got the hint and did not address him that way. As we chose our seats in the raft, Karin turned to Kirk and asked him which was the safest seat to sit in for her, since it was her first raft trip. He looked at her, then pointed to the direction of the bus.

We had two other passengers along with us. Sue and Ron were from Michigan. This was also their first raft trip. Craig thought that the guys would paddle up front and the women would be right behind them. Ron got in the boat and seemed to be satisfied with the second seat, which left Karin to raft for her first time, up at the front of the raft. After getting into the water and doing some practice strokes, Craig knew that Karin would do just fine. The objective is for the two front paddlers to key off of one another to be in rhythm, while the paddlers behind them key off the person in front of them. Kirk told us that we will see how well we are all in rhythm at the second or third rapid.

After going through a couple of class III rapids, we reached our first class IV. By the way, instead of me going through and explaining what the differences are in the classification or “classes” of rapids, just do a google search and take a look. Just as a general idea of the differences, a class I rapid would be a slow moving river passing over some ripples. An example of a class VI rapid (the highest class is class VI) would be the Niagara Falls. Everything else in between is subject to opinion.

Anyway, our first class IV was a small waterfall. An 8 foot drop into a small hole created by the hydraulics of the falling water. Just to the left of that was an even larger hole. Well we went over the waterfall and that was easy. Then we saw that all of the rafts were pulling over to the shore. In Colorado, many kayakers will surf a hole, pointing towards upstream and paddle hard until they reach the hole. You can then surf it and it’s a lot of fun. But now here’s something that they do here in the East…..attempt to surf holes with rafts!! The object is to get in, surf and do what they call a “rodeo”. Try to picture this: everyone in the raft paddles hard and makes it into the hole. The front of the raft is getting swamped by the waterfall as the hydraulics in the hole keep you under it. Then you turn your raft sideways. This is the hard part. When the raft goes sideways and the waterfall is pouring into one side of the raft, if the people in the raft do not get to the high side quickly, then you will flip. The high side is the dry side of the raft. As the water pours onto the raft, everyone scrambles up to the dry side. This keeps you from flipping, but you must be fast! Anyway, if you can understand this, then a rodeo is when you do one complete turn. A complete circle. You’re not spinning fast at all….probably 15-20 seconds in each 90 degree position. One rodeo is an accomplishment. Kirk told us that he’s done two rodeos at one shot in the hole.

So we watched as several rafts attempted to do it. After seeing them try and fail, one raft did get in and did a rodeo. Everyone clapped as they exited the hole and got back in line. Then came our turn. We paddled hard to the right side of the hole. This is tough….everyone must be in rhythm!! The power of the water was tough to overcome and we were very out of sync…..so we didn’t make it….not even close. Kirk said that we’d try one more time. So we fell back and got into the raft line again.
On the second try, we hit the paddles hard and in total sync with one another. We moved to the left slowly as we were paddling, getting so close. Then boom………we are in!! Here we are, facing a waterfall, getting drenched in the front…..but surfing, upstream in a hole on the New river. Not a paddle was in the water….it wasn’t necessary now. The hydraulics of the water back flowing into the hole kept us right there. Now it was time for the rodeo. We weren’t ready for the sideways part of the rodeo. The raft tipped to about 45 degrees as we nearly tipped over. We all scrambled to the high dry side! Wow, this was awesome!! Now we were expecting the rest of the turns. Kirk would kick his paddle hard, which would shift us another 90 degrees. Now Kirk is getting drenched as the back of the raft is under the waterfall. We kept every position for about 20 seconds. So on to the final sideways trip of it, and we were done. One complete rodeo. But wait, Kirk isn’t satisfied with just one. He’s been a raft guide here for 20 years, yet just began with this company yesterday. He had something to prove to someone, and I guess we had just involuntarily volunteered to help him prove it! We made it through the second rodeo with ease, all of us moving in rhythm to one side or the other. But this can get tiring rather quickly. A lot of energy was spent getting into the hole. And no time to catch your breath while you’re shifting and holding on for dear life. So as we finished our second rodeo, we were ready for a rest.

But wait.

Like we said, Kirk had something to prove.

Either someone was praying out loud……or screaming out a few curse words at Kirk as he kicked the raft around for an attempt to complete something that he had never done before. A third rodeo in the same shot. Ok, this was a tough one to make it through…..exhaustion had set in. We were able to keep in rhythm enough to make it happen. After finishing the final turn of that third rodeo, Kirk dug his paddle in to kick us out of the hole. As we came out, breathing hard but all smiling……everyone over in the rafts that had observed this were clapping and screaming for us. Every raft guide stood up and applauded. It was a bit euphoric. But when we looked back at Kirk, we realized that this was something special to him. He had his hat off and took a bow. He also held up his paddle to us and we all did a paddle “high five”. He thanked us for staying in sync. He said that he had come close to doing three before, but always flipped or the hole kicked him out. We then headed down the river as Kirk laid back, propped his feet up and said “you guys don’t need me”.

That was an amazing trip. It is very beautiful here. We have included some pictures of us going through the class V rapid called the “Meat Grinder”. The other class V was called the “Double Z”. We had to start that one by going backwards down the first part, so that we could paddle hard to go back up and around a huge boulder. It was a wild ride, as we dropped 28 feet in a distance of about 100 feet. One raft did flip on this rapid, so we helped to pluck out the rafters as they came down it. Nobody hurt, just hauling in people with smiling faces.

As we ended the trip and headed back to the headquarters, we all turned in our gear. Kirk left for his second job before Craig could leave him a tip. So we asked someone at the raft company where he worked then headed out to find him. Once we found him, Craig gave him a tip and Kirk really appreciated that. Kirk then invited Craig to do the upper Gauley river with him. Craig was honored and said he would think about it. The upper Gauley river is the 2nd premier rafting trip in the world, only behind the Grand Canyon. We work at Summersville Lake. The lake gets drained every year, starting right after Labor Day. When the water is released, it goes into the Gauley River. This makes for a 9 mile section of class V++ rapids, beginning just below the Summersville Lake dam. 40 rapids during this stretch where the river drops in elevation by over 300 feet.

This is one rafting trip that Craig will have to think about.

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