Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Week of Rivers 2009

Organized Anarchy

Week of Rivers is a great event organized by the Carolina Canoe Club and it is always held the week of July 4th. It's a week of whitewater kayaking, camping, and beer drinking. Each day usually work like this:
  • Meet in the club's tent at 8:30 am to see what rivers are running and what groups are being organized. At 8:30 they blow a whistle or horn to indicate that the meeting is starting. It's important to know what skill levels are expected for a given river and level and WHO is leading the trips. You quickly learn who the good trip leaders are.
  • Find the group you are interested in, which is hard since people are all milling about and talking. If you don't get up with a group, you WILL be left at the campground.
  • Figure out who is driving and when the group is leaving.
  • Gather up gear, pack a lunch, set shuttles, drive to the river.
  • Run the river.
  • Come back to campground, hang gear to dry. Be sure to put gear AWAY before you go to bed or it will be soaked again from mountain dew.
  • Consume malted beverages.
The club tries to provide some sort of program each evening. One night we listened to a Bluegrass inspired duo from Carrboro Mandolin Orange. Another night we saw a presentation from Endless Rivers, a company that does kayak trips to Costa Rica and Ecuador.

This was my third week of rivers. My first year I only went for a long weekend. I added a couple more days the following year. This year I was staying for an entire week.

Geared Up

Since I was camping for an entire week, I loaded my Honda Civic with a lot of gear. I was planning on doing different types of rivers, so I brought both of my whitewater kayaks: A yellow Liquid Logic Lil Joe (a higher volume river runner) and and a green Jackson All Star (a play boat). The Lil Joe is the SUV in my fleet and is much more stable, so I use it for larger class III- IV rapids and for rivers I have never run before. I use the All Star once I get more comfortable with a river. I also brought along my mountain bike since I planned to take a 'rest' day from kayaking. The Tsali recreation area is nearby and it has some good mountain bike trails.

Most of the Smoky Mountain Meadows campground is taken over by the week of rivers event. I didn't reserve a campsite (you have to do that a year in advance and it costs quite a bit more), so I was out in the field. It's a good deal since it's $8/night and you don't have to reserve the space. Allegedly there would be hot showers available, but I discovered a couple of times that the campground did not have enough hot water capacity. You also have to use strategy as to how close to place your tent from the port a pots. It should be close enough to be convenient, but far enough away.

Since I was in an open field, I also brought along an easy up tent. I couldn't quite figure out how to put up the tent (I haven't used the tent in years). I dug around into the bag, and I found the instructions. An added bonus: the easy up tent made a great clothesline for gear.

Kayak gear drying on easy up tent

The Nanty. Yes we can!

On Saturday I went with a group down the Nantahala River. We needed to do something close by since most of us were in the swift water rescue class that evening, and class started at 5:00 pm. Brian was in our group and he was an instructor for the course. I took my play boat since I have run the Nanty numerous times.

Since it was Saturday, there were a lot of rafts on the river. At one point Stefan was almost run over by a raft. There were also a lot of kayaks, so it was a challenge to get any time on the play spots on the river (places where you can surf on waves, for example).

Time was running short, and Brian was getting worried about getting back in time. I usually try not to bring up politics, but I've known Brian for quite awhile and know that Brian is very anti Obama (and has a sticker on his truck to prove it). So when he asked if we could make it off the river by 3:30, I said "YES, we can". You should have seen the look on his face.

I successfully ran Nantahala Falls in the play boat. This is very nice since I am below 50% on the falls. I generally hit the bottom hole, get flipped, then have to do a combat roll. I know I need to be more to the right and paddle HARD when I get around the top hole on the falls. Knowing and doing are separate things.

At 5:00 we met up for the swift water rescue class. We had the lecture portion of the class and watched a safety video, learned about gear, how to manage a rescue scene, the roles for each rescue participant, and the importance of preventing problems by reducing risky behaviors.

After class, we headed to the local Mexican restaurant in Bryson City: Guayabitos. It's not very good, but it's close and fast. However, I need to read the menu when I ask for the large beer. It was 32 oz! So we called it the "big ass beer". Good thing I wasn't driving.

Swift Water Rescue - Belly Flops into Current

The first thing we did for class was to practice using throw ropes, how to care for the ropes, and how to pack them.

On Sunday we had class on the Tuck. We put in in Dillsboro and worked on the following:
  • Wading in current using a paddle
  • Wading in current using a partner
  • Wading in current using multiple people
  • Swimming in current, which requires a modified belly flop into the water.
  • Rescuing swimmers by having them on the stern and bow of your boat.
  • Using a T rescue to help a flipped boater get upright
  • Using the "hand of God" to flip over an overturned boater
  • Using ropes to rescue people and gear, especially situations where the victim has a foot trapped.
Using a paddle to wade in the Tuck
The class consisted of people of different ages and boating skill levels, including a couple of teenage girls that were sisters. They would never be quiet. Ignoring them didn't help.

Towards the end of class, the instructors would randomly set up scenarios where we needed to rescue them. One of the teenage girls whined "You pick the most INCONVENIENT spots". Well. Duh. It's a realistic scenario then.

The class was very worthwhile and every kayaker should take it.

Do I hear Banjo Music? The Chattooga Section 3.5

The Chattooga runs between Georgia and South Carolina. Large portions of the movie "Deliverance" were shot on the Chattooga. Section 3 has some class III rapids while section 4 has some class IV and higher. Section 3.5 is the lower half of section 3 and the upper part of section 4, so you get some of each. The level was actually quite low, but still runnable and perfect for my first run.

Some people I know were going on the Ocoee that day, but I declined since some hadn't done it before and they weren't skipping the first couple of rapids. That was a good choice since we heard that there were a lot of Carolina Canoe Club people swimming on the river that day and a lot of gear floating downstream. The club gives out a "hole" award for the person that had the worst experience in a hole and the "lo jack" award for the longest separation between boater and gear. Both were awarded the next day for two of the people in the Ocoee group.

We gathered up our Chattooga group and headed to the river. It turns out the Chattooga is a very clean river and you can see to the bottom. To help keep the river clean, no paved roads are allowed within 1/4 mile of the river (except for the few roads that do cross the river). That meant a 1/4 mile carry of boats and gear down to the river, and back up at the take out. I did the trip twice at the putin since I carried down the shuttle driver's (Joan's) boat while she was setting up shuttle.

We had a huge group that day: 22 boaters. When we got to the big rapids, we broke up into three groups. I was in Chuck's group. Throughout the day we would yell "Chuck's group!". On Friday Chuck thought it was great when I yelled "Chuck's Group" when I saw him on the Nantahala.

We ran fun rapids like Swimmer's Rapid, Eight Ball, and Kick in the Butt. THEN came Bull Sluice. Bull Sluice is categorized as a class IV-V. At the low level, it was more like a III+. In the center of the rapid is "decapitation rock", and you stay FAR away from that. We all got out on river right to scout the rapid. You have two choices for running the rapid: the right side is a double drop with a lot of swirling water, the left side is a single drop, but you have to go over a pour over and boof off of the rock. We all chose to do the single drop. The rapid looked scary, and I was debating whether I should walk it or run it. Hmmm...some kids are running it and some people were running it multiple times. It can't be that bad!
Bull Sluice Rapid, Chattooga River
The single drop requires you to get in an eddy on river left. The current wants to push you into the double drop. At the top of the eddy is a hole, which also wants to push you into the main current that goes over the double drop. I stayed so far left, I avoided the hole and made the eddy. I also was hung up on a rock for a second.

At the top of the rapid, all you see is a horizon line. You cannot see the bottom of the rapid. You have to know where the pour over is and the correct angle for your boat (aim for the guy with the throw rope). I lined up my boat, boofed over the pour over, and landed perfectly in the fluffy white water below. Cool!

Later on we came to a rapid called screaming left turn. Before entering the rapid, we broke up into our smaller groups (Chuck's group meet up!) and reviewed river signals. We were going to follow creeking protocol. You don't just run through the rapid, you eddy hop down. But you have communicate with boaters in front and behind. Those in front will tell you when to approach their eddy, you tell the people behind you when to approach your eddy.

While I was waiting in the last eddy, a canoe came through the rapid and became stuck on a rock. I saw the canoe fill with water, then the canoeist had to swim to shore. While all this is going on, I repeatedly gave the STOP signal to the people behind me. They were able to eventually pry the canoe off of the rock. The canoe was "oil canned" (it got a dent on the bottom).

After the 1/4 mile carry at the take out (which I did once), we loaded up gear and headed back to camp.

Since I carried her boat to the put it, Joan invited me to their campsite for dinner. Sure! However, they were cooking burgers on charcoal, and didn't light the charcoal until 10 pm. Even though dinner was as 10:45, the burgers were great, especially since I provided the pepper jack cheese.

Tsali - Ow Ow Ow

On Tuesday I took a rest day from kayaking. Not much was running, so it was a good day to try out the mountain bike trails in Tsali. The trails in Tsali are multi use and are shared between horseback riders, hikers, and mountain bikers. Only certain trails are open to mountain bikers on a given day of the week. On Tuesday the Mouse Branch and Thompson Loop trails were open, about 14 miles of trail.

I headed out and started on the Mouse Branch trail. The trails go along the shore of Fontana Lake, and you can get some great views. I'm flying along and am happy that the trail isn't too technical. Then, somehow, I manage to lose control of my bike and go flying over the handle bars and land on my left ribs. Some of the wind is knocked out of me, so I take a break. Nothing seemed to be broken, so I got back on the bike.

Mouse Branch Trail, Tsali Recreation Area
Thompson Loop Trail, Tsali Recreation Area
I rode the last 12 miles. The Thompson loop trail was great since the last three miles or so are all downhill. I then went to the River's End restaurant at the Nantahala Outdoor Center for pizza and beer, then headed back to camp. It turns out the easy up tent is a great place to take a nap under.

I did manage to hurt something in my ribs. Trying to sleep the next two nights was hard since it hurt to lie down and it REALLY hurt if I tried to sleep on that side. Deep breaths hurt and did coughing, sneezing, etc. I took Ibupofen for the swelling/pain and Benadryl to help me sleep. Other people in camp got me worried since they said I could have broken a rib, and if that's the case, it could cause lung capacity problems if it doesn't heal right. But I wasn't going to let it stop me. I had three more days of paddling! I just chose to not do anything too difficult. The left side, of course, is what I used for my onside kayak rolls.

After I got back home I saw the doctor, and it turns out I bruised some cartilage and got it inflamed. Likely nothing broken. My lungs were fine. But my doctor shook his head when I said I rode for 12 more miles and paddled the next three days.

The Pigeon - The Dirty Bird - Part I

Tuesday night brought thunderstorms, and water in my tent. The water came up from the bottom of the tent. The ground cover could be to blame (a part was sticking out). In any case, this is the second case of water in the tent, so we ordered a new tent.

I joined a group that was running the Pigeon River. The Pigeon is a bit more difficult that the Nantahala, but not as hard as the Ocoee. I wanted to learn the put in, take out, and rapids so that I could take people onto the river.

We had a great, fun group that day (Ron, Joe, Mark, Lacy, Grant, Sylvia). It did take a bit to herd the cats to get them moving. Grant thought it was funny since he said, "so you don't like to screw around either". Mark needed to send out work emails before we got to the river, so we decided to meet at the McDonalds in Bryson City since it has free (but SLOW) wifi access. Since we were waiting for the emails to be sent, we decided to get some food. Turns out it's the slowest McDonalds in the world. While in line, a large woman enters the restaurant. She asked if I was in line, and I said yes. Joe then says "and so are we". If looks could kill, Joe would be a burning cinder. The woman stormed out.

Getting on and off of the Pigeon is really easy. The put in is the first exit in Tennessee (exit 451) on I-40, and the take out is the next exit (exit 447). The take out is just before the second bridge you encounter on the river, and is gravel. No mud, muck, or poison ivy to go through. There are a lot of rafts on the Pigeon, and kayakers can pay the raft buses if they need a shuttle. Mark saw one kayaker who didn't have money for the shuttle pay with a bag of weed!

My only combat roll that day was at double reactionary rapid. I had no problems with accelerator or lost guide. It's funny how those rapids seemed so BIG last year. But I have put in quite a bit of time in the kayak since then.

Joe is a very good boater, and he was doing all sorts of rodeo moves in all of the play spots. Ron is the editor of the club's newsletter. Mark is a graphic designer, and he designed the CBC bike jerseys, which is funny since my wife is on the CBC cycling team.

On the way back we stopped at a pub restaurant in Sylva, O'Malleys. Nothing great, but we could buy beer in pitchers and we were hungry.

The Dirty Bird - Part Deux

Since the Pigeon has an odd release schedule, I decided to do it again. They were running a "first timer" Ocoee trip on Thursday, but they weren't skipping the first two rapids and I didn't want to push it since my ribs were still hurting. The Ocoee will still be there for another time.

It was a very different group dynamic than the previous day. In our shuttle vehicle, we had Steve (driver and from Mt. Airy), Bob (66 years old and from near Charlotte), Mary, and myself. Mark was the trip leader. Trish was running sweep.

After we were all on the river, we were waiting around forever. For what, I don't know. Trish and I talked, and we decided that I can run the first rapid and wait in an eddy below it. I managed to do a combat roll in the big wave trains, which was fine except for the fact that didn't have my nose plugs on.

At the bottom, Mark comes over and yells: "Mr. Kizer. Do you plan on leading this group?" After that I stayed in the middle of the pack. The funny thing is, the next morning I ran into Mark, and he thanked me over and over for my help, said we had such a good group, that it was a great trip, etc.

We stopped at Lost Guide for lunch. You could play on the hole at the bottom of the rapid or watch carnage.
Steve at Lost Guide Rapid, Pigeon River

Kayaker being flipped at Lost Guide Rapid, Pigeon River

At double reactionary I did an "unintendo". I flipped and rolled in the first reactionary wave. Then I hit the second wave head on. I went end of end in my boat, rolled, and went on my way. Other boaters cheered and thought I did it on purpose, that it was a planned rodeo move.

We headed straight back to camp, and I made my own plans for dinner. Sprint doesn't have coverage where I was at, so I needed to get to Dillsboro if I wanted to use the cell phone. I had BBQ in Dillsboro, then went to the Sylva (which is next door). EVERYTHING closed by 6 pm! The bakery closed at 5! I called Janyne to check in and to let her know when I planned to be back home Friday.

The SIX Essential Items

On Friday we got a group together to run the Nantahala and I planned to head home immediately afterwards. We had Joan (she was on the Chattooga trip), Mark and Lacy (from first Pigeon trip), Bill, Greg, and Nancy, and me.

Lacy was selling massage services at the campground and wanted to make an announcement at the 8:30 meeting. Joan wanted to leave at 8:30 so that we could get on the river as early as possible.

The problem is, we left Mark and Lacy at the campground! In kayaking, there are five essential gear items:
  1. boat
  2. paddle
  3. PFD
  4. Spray skirt
  5. helmet
So we are adding a sixth essential item: boater.

When we were setting up shuttle, I was sure that I saw Mark drive by. He must have figured it out since he dropped off Lacy at the put in and met us at the take out.

It took quite awhile to get things moving, but we were finally on our way.

We all worked on kayaking skills such as ferries, catching eddies, creeking protocol, etc. I caught a couple of additional eddies above Nantahala Falls.

There was a lot of traffic on the river. Several of us were sitting in eddies by a rapid called root canal. A canoe came in a nearly sideswiped all of us.

I managed to hit the bottom hole on the falls, so I had to do a combat roll.

I made sure that the rest of the group saw that I was ok and got off the river. I loaded up the gear, changed into dry clothes, and hit the highway. It was a great week of rivers and hopefully next year I can be there the full week again.

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