Monday, April 27, 2009

The Trout Route - or being Ripped by Table Saw

Multi Sport Weekend
A couple of mountain biking friends, Phil and Ron, were entered in a 100 mile mountain bike race (The Cohutta 100) that was being held on April 25th. The race would start and end at the Olympic whitewater center on the Ocoee River. Ron and Phil were renting a cabin for the event and the cabin could easily sleep four or more people. Phil knew that I kayaked and asked if I would like to come up and share the cabin.

There are many good rivers nearby, including the Ocoee. I told Phil the Ocoee is a big step up for me (several class IV rapids with names like "Broken Nose", "Table Saw", "Grumpies", "Diamond Splitter", etc.) and I have not run it before. However, it was a goal of mine to run it in 2009. I needed a guide to show me the easier lines through the rapids and to watch out for me, plus you should never kayak alone. I asked if I could invite a friend along. "Certainly!" Phil said, so I invited Chuck. Chuck has over ten years kayaking experience, is an instructor with the Carolina Canoe Club (CCC), has run the Ocoee many times, and he taught me my kayak roll.

Roughing It
The cabin was just across the Tennessee border in Georgia. The last couple of "roads" to the cabin were single lane, bumpy, rocky, gravel tracks. It was a good thing we took Chuck's Outback (The Chuck Wagon?) since it has high clearance and all wheel drive.

The cabin was amazing. It has a downstairs master bedroom with a queen bed, master bathroom, fully equipped kitchen, living room, dining area. Upstairs there are two twin beds in the loft, plus another full bedroom with a queen bed and bathroom. There is a hot tub, satellite TV, high speed wireless internet access. We were really "roughing it". Normally when we kayak we tent camp.

The cabin is called "Ursa Manor" and it has a bear theme. Every place you looked inside and outside, there is a bear decoration: the pulls on drawers, pulls on lights, lamps, flags, decorations on the walls, towels, sheets, etc. all had bears. Each time you looked around, you would find some new bear themed object.
You could make a game of "name all the bear themed objects inside and outside the cabin". There was even a kayak frame hanging from ceiling.

Behind the cabin was a staircase that wound its way down to a creek. There were an unbelievable number of steps in this staircase. Neither Chuck or I wanted to carry our kayaks down the staircase and back up even if the creek would be fun to play in.Looking up staircase
Looking down staircase

After Ron and Phil finished their race on Saturday, they considered going down to the creek (the water is quite cold) to soak their legs after being on their bikes for over twelve hours. However. they didn't think they could make it back up the stairs.

Run for the Border
The Georgia and Tennessee state line runs through Copperhill Tennessee and McCaysville Georgia. The border goes right through buildings, including the IGA grocery store. The bathrooms in a bar are split: ladies are in Georgia, men in Tennessee. A blue line is painted on street and inside buildings to mark the border.

The Tennessee side of the border was "semi dry". We could order beer at a Mexican restaurant, but not margaritas. On the Georgia side, they didn't even sell beer in the convenience stores.

On Saturday night Chuck and I sat outside at a local pub that's on the main street through town and people watched. We could see all sorts of vehicles go by: Harleys, pickups in various states of disrepair, vehicles with kayaks and/or mountain bikes. It was obviously a local hangout, and there were some colorful and friendly locals there. There were only a few things on the menu: hamburger (with variations), hot dog, bratwurst, pork sandwich. Most importantly, they had good beer on draft (Fat Tire from Ft. Collins, CO).

Friday morning Chuck and I drove an hour back to North Carolina to run the Nantahala. I ran it using my new kayak, a Jackson All Star, which is a play boat. A play boat is very maneuverable, but also is easier to get flipped in.

It was a beautiful day. The air temperature was in the upper 80's, but the water is in the 50's year round. Therefore I wore my Neoprene top and bottom along with a paddle jacket. We virtually had the river to ourselves since we rarely encountered a raft or other kayakers. In the summer time the river is jammed with rafts and kayaks.

We put in at the top, so we started with Patton's Run, a class III rapid. I had no problems getting through that.

I do need to adjust the fitting for the All Star. The All Star uses an inflatable bag to lock in your feet, and this is called "Happy Feet". My left ankle was getting sore/stiff, so my feet were not so happy.

I did do five or six combat rolls on the run, along with one assisted rescue (I used Chuck's bow to roll myself back up), and I did swim once. It was fine since I was learning how to handle the new boat in faster water. I worked on basic skills such as catching eddies, S turns, and ferrying across the river. It was a good warm up before going on the Ocoee.

When we were out of our boats taking a break, a very large man in an inflatable kayak known as a Duckie and his friend in a blue kayak also stopped for a break. Both men were from West Palm Beach Florida and the man in the kayak was a CCC member. He knew Chuck's name from the CCC since Chuck used to be the club's cruise chair. The man the Duckie was having a great time. I told him to not "scream like a little girl!". He replied, laughing, "I already did back there!".

The last rapid on the Nantahala is a class III+ known as Nantahala Falls. Chuck showed me the trick for running the rapid. I made it through the worst part of the rapid, and started yapping about it. While my mouth was going, I got caught in an eddy line and flipped over. I rolled back up, so it was no problem. I was punished for premature celebration!

Middle Ocoee
On Saturday we ran the middle Ocoee, which is very close to the cabin. The middle Ocoee is a much bigger river than the Nantahala. It has numerous class IV rapids, so it is a step up for me. I was going to use my bigger boat, my Liquid Logic Lil Joe, which is a river runner. The Lil Joe is bigger and more forgiving.

We stopped at the put in for the middle Ocoee, which is right below a dam. The upper Ocoee was not running, so it was virtually a dry river bed. At the put in, we ran into the guys from Florida. Apparently they made it though the falls just fine on Friday.

I didn't realize that Chuck was just showing me the put in and we were NOT starting there. For my first time down, Chuck was taking me on the "kinder gentler" route to avoid some of the nasty stuff at the beginning. He was showing me how nasty it is and that I need very solid boat handling skills to do it. The water just pours over from the dam and is moving really fast. Right from the gate while avoiding the constant line of rafts, you HAVE to make a couple of ferries to eddies (must make moves), or you end up in a nasty hole known as "Grumpies" (you will be very grumpy if you get caught in it). Chuck was explaining that "You MUST make that ferry THERE..THEN you MUST make that one over there..or you end up in Grumpies..a very bad place to be". I was nodding my head thinking the day may start out very bad. We went back to the car and I started unloading gear. Chuck asked what I was doing since we weren't starting HERE. Whew, what a relief!

We drove down the highway the hugs the Ocoee and unloaded gear by a rapid known as "Double Trouble". Chuck drove the car down to the take out. Guess who gave him a ride back? The guys from Florida!

It was another beautiful day in the upper 80's. The Ocoee is a bit warmer than the Nantahala, but I still wore Neoprene in case I ended up taking a swim.

I flipped and rolled at a class III rapid called "Flipper".

The first class IV for the day was "Table Saw". It is a very fast moving and long rapid that goes through a narrow channel and immediately after it is another class IV called "Diamond Splitter". It has a big wave in the center and many reactionary waves that come off the rock sides. Chuck went first and of course made it through fine. I come out into the current and when I see HOW big the wave is, my eyes go wide. Chuck could see this at the bottom when he was looking up. I flipped in the wave, then I went for a rough ride. I went through the rest of the rapid upside down, which I dubbed the "trout route" since I was apparently looking for fish. It was the longest 10 -15 seconds I've experienced. I was holding onto my paddle for dear life. My nose plugs were ripped off in the fast current. I was shaken, rattled, and moved up and down in the waves and had the roar of the current in my ears. I KNEW I had to stay in the boat and to hold onto the paddle. When it calmed down somewhat, I rolled back up and started paddling. I heard Chuck yelling "RIGHT! RIGHT! RIGHT!" I immediately went into the eddy that was on river right. Chuck was happy that I held on and waited before trying to roll. He said that you should try to roll when you feel that you are going up in a wave. That gives you a better chance of rolling and staying up.

Table Saw Rapid

After a breather, we went through "Diamond Splitter", another class IV. That one didn't pose any problems for me.

We went down to a rapid known as "Hell Hole". We could easily avoid it and got out of our boats to take a breather. We watched guys in their play boats doing stunts in "Hell Hole". They would surf, side surf, flip, and do all sorts of other crazy moves.

For the run I only had three or four rolls, no assisted rescues, and no swims. All of the weeks of roll practice in the pool paid off! However, I did wear out Chuck. It takes a lot of extra energy to always be watching out for someone else and to be ready to help out.

"Whitewater" Center
The whitewater center was built for 1996 Olympics and all of the Olympic whitewater events were held there. It was an expensive facility to build and it is on federal land. However, most of the time there is no water, so the course is nearly a dry river bed. Another federal agency, the TVA, refuses to consistently release water. This makes it impossible for the center to plan events to use the facility.
Water released into the Ocoee is considered "wasted" water. Normally water is diverted from the river to generate electricity in a hydroelectric plant downstream. Water released for recreational use cannot be used to generate power. This is a truly bizarre situation.

After running the Ocoee Chuck and I headed to the "whitewater" center. I got my Ocoee souvenir T shirt and we kicked back in rocking chairs for awhile.

We then headed over to the finish line for the mountain bike race. We ran into Marcee from the Cycling Spoken Here bike shop in Cary, which is where we buy our bikes and have them serviced. Marcee competed in the 65 mile route, beat her personal goals, and won second place. By the time we showed up she was already cleaned up and didn't look like she had just completed a race.

Nantahala Redux
On our way back home Sunday, Chuck and I ran the Nantahala again. We wanted to get home at a reasonable time, so we put in further downstream at Ferebee Park. I decided to have less drama and stick with my bigger boat. We tried to get Phil to rent a Duckie and join us, but he needed to get home earlier in the day.

After running the Ocoee, the Nantahala doesn't look so big!

It was another beautiful day in the upper 80's. However, at times there were many, many, many kayaks on the water We ran into a group that was a kayaking class. Since there were many more people, we had to wait in play spots and in the good practice spots.

Again I worked on basic skills and Chuck gave me a free clinic. I worked on catching eddies, ferrying across the river, S turns, boat control. I thanked Chuck for the class, and he said he wants people he goes boating with to have the necessary skills. I don't want to be on his "no go" list!

Part of the clinic involved a "creeking" exercise. In a section with some current, I had to find an eddy, go to it, find the next eddy, signal that I was leaving, move to the eddy I selected, then the next person follows. Repeat. During the clinics, a score of five eddies is good. I hit nine.

Chuck went through Nantahala Falls ahead of me and set himself up to take pictures with my camera. I made my way cleanly through the falls with no flips. This time I caught an additional eddy before going over the falls. Chuck said that another indicator that you are ready for bigger water is to consistently catch MORE of the eddies above the falls.

I did have three or four combat rolls on the entire run. One roll was at Surfer's Wave when I was trying to surf. Being able to consistently ferry across Surfer's Wave is another sign that you are ready to putin at the beginning of the middle Ocoee.

Wrap up
Chuck and I had a late lunch at the Natahala Outdoor Center (NOC) at a restaurant that overlooks the river. At the NOC, we ran into kayakers we knew. One person was already very familiar with the trout route through Table Saw.

After lunch, it was time for the long, dull drive home (5 hours), most of which is on I-40.

It was a great weekend. I did all right since Chuck invited me to join upcoming trips. He said that I was doing great on the last day and was showing a lot of improvement in my boat handling skills. So I need more practice, practice, practice. Hopefully my next run through Table Saw will be upright.

Here's a link to all of the pictures I took that weekend: Nantahala and Ocoee Pictures.


  1. Wow! Your post made me tired! But it sounds like you had a great weekend and I LOVE the pictures!

  2. Thanks! It was a blast. Here's a link to all of the pictures: