Monday, August 23, 2010

Pigeon and Noli - Liquid Sunshine and Rooster Tails

The Loft
In August I was invited to go paddling with Len and Barbara and stay at Barb's mountain house near Waynesville, North Carolina. Barb's family has large vacation house that everyone in her family uses. Normally I sleep in a guest bedroom downstairs, but for the first time I was assigned to the loft bedroom. The loft is very nice because above the bed there is a large picture window with a view of the mountains and the private bathroom has a chandelier! Barb and Len's friend Steve was in the downstairs guest bedroom because he had to get up early for a cycling event, the Blue Ridge Breakaway.

I enjoy staying at Barb's place because I don't have to camp. It takes a lot less time to load and unload for a trip since I don't have to deal with all of the camping gear. I always make sure to bring a hostess gift with me and Janyne will often bake goodies like banana bread to share.

Barb and Len also invited other friends to stay including: paddling friends Ron, Joan, and Joan's two teenage children.

Liquid Sunshine
Saturday morning Barn, Len, and I took a walk. There are a lot of horses in the area, and they all know Barb because she likes to feed them carrots. We had plenty of time since the Pigeon doesn't run until 12:00.
Pouring Rain on the Pigeon RiverWe loaded up all of the paddling gear and headed to the Pigeon. It had started to pour down rain, which is really only a problem when you load and unload gear. I waited at the putin while the shuttle vehicles were positioned. I tried to stay out of the pouring rain as much as possible.

The rain didn't stop until we were at Lost Guide rapid. It doesn't matter if it rains while you are on the river, but it wasn't so good for the people on the bike ride. We found out later that the park service had to close the Blue Ridge Parkway due to the rain and the fog. One of Janyne's cycling friends got hypothermia while going fast in a descent and spent some time in the hospital. The rain wasn't in the forecast, so very few of the cyclists brought rain gear.

Before Double Reactionary rapid on the Pigeon, we encountered a young lady standing IN the river. Apparently she was part of a university rafting group and she fell out of the raft. Lee had her grab onto the back of his kayak and he tried to take her to shore. She must have let go because she ended up swimming through the rapid and was really bounced around. After the rapid, Len had her grab his boat and got her to shore. She was really upset and didn't want to go though the next, and last rapid, accelerator. The problem is, there's not a good way to walk around it, so you have to be in a boat.

We stopped at Pigeon Gorge take out for lunch where Barb met up with us. Barb joined us to run the lower Pigeon. At the end of the run, Barb said that it seemed "easier". We told her that her paddling has improved and is more experienced, so it should seem easier.

After running the Ocoee quite a few times over the summer, the Pigeon seemed so much easier. Of course, any river can be made more difficult by using a play boat, playing more in features, practicing more difficult moves, etc.

We headed back to Barb's place where we later had a great grilled salmon dinner.

Getting the Bird from Roostertail

On Sunday Lee, Len, Bob, and I ran the Nolichucky River. This was my Nolichucky PFD (personal first descent). The Nolichucky is a class III-IV river and is generally considered more difficult than the Ocoee. On our run, the river was running between 1600 - 1700 cfs, which isn't a bad level for a first timer.
Nolichucky GorgeLen and I drove to Bob's house near Asheville and loaded up Bob's big Suburban. The Suburban is really old and beaten up, but it can hold a lot of gear and people. The air conditioning went out years ago, but we didn't need it.

We met Lee at the Nolichucky Gorge Campground. The campground manager, whom I've written about before, was on us before we even crossed the bridge. "$3 a head" he barked. Bob answered with "Well, we have three heads". The fee is worth it though since the campground manager arranged for a shuttle driver, the campground is the take out for the Nolichucky gorge, and we could use the campground's bathrooms and showers. The Nolichucky shuttle is very long and difficult, so it is worth the $20 to hire a driver to bring the car back to the take out.

The Nolichucky Gorge is beautiful because the river winds between the mountains. The run is remote and quite long. The more difficult rapids are in the first third or so of the run. The water was turbid with a lot of silt, but that was due to the recent heavy rains. It was a beautiful, sunny day, but it wasn't too hot.

My first combat roll was in the rapid "On the Rocks". I flipped and did a combat roll right away. Later Bob said that while he was watching me run the rapid and saw me flip he said "NOW would be a good time for a roll...".

We then came to the roostertail rapid. You can't see much of the rapid until you are almost on top of it. You have to go from right to left between rocks and have the proper boat angle. I wasn't quite on the right line. I flipped in the first drop and was banged against the bottom. I rolled up, caught my breath, then was flipped all the way over to the other side. I was banged on bottom again. I rolled up and I thought I was up for good! yea! But then I was pinned against the rock I was warned about (don't get pinned THERE), which then flipped me. After being banged against the bottom a bit more, I had enough and bailed out. That may not have been the best choice because I was banged against the rocks in the swim. I lost some skin on hands and knees, but I DID have my carbon paddle in hand. Lee had me grab the back of his boat and towed me to shore.

We all then had lunch since roostertail marks the end of the more difficult rapids. While talking at lunch, I discovered I was the youngest person in the group. I said how old I was and Bob said "42? I thought you said 32. If you were 32, I'd have you run Roostertail AGAIN."

At lunch Len gave me a great compliment. He said that he saw a huge improvement in my paddling skills, especially reading water and boat control. I wasn't thrilled to have swum, but everyone swims at some point.

The rest of the river is mostly read and run. Lee was in the lead and for some reason was moving really fast when we were in rock garden rapid. Rock garden is a fairly long rapid where you have to dodge rocks and holes. I tried to follow Lee's line, except for when I saw him go into holes I wanted to avoid. After the rapid, Lee admitted that he didn't have a very clean line.

When we were loading up gear, Bob mentioned that he saw me do a couple of "practice" rolls late in the run. I flipped on a couple of minor things and rolled up. I said "Oh, you weren't supposed to see those...".

After loading up the gear and changing into dry clothes, we headed back to Bob's place. The drive along I-26 in Tennessee and North Carolina is gorgeous. There are a lot of large mountains and it is mostly undeveloped.

I had a great time on the river. Lee was a great guide since he knew the river well and always explained each rapid. Bob and Len also knew the river. It will take me several more runs to become comfortable with the river and to know the lines.

Friday, August 20, 2010

WOO2! Weekend of Ocoee 2 - Table Saw's Revenge

Kevin at double trouble rapid, Ocoee River TennesseeOn the Road Again
I had such a good time paddling the Ocoee in July with my kayaking friend John, I wanted to go one more time before John's fall college football work schedule consumed all of his weekends.

Friday evening John was working the Redskins game in Washington D.C. He planned to drive back to Durham Saturday morning and we would leave for the Ocoee from his place. It took him several hours just to get to Fredericksburg Virginia! As a result, we didn't get on the road until 6 pm.

The drive to the Ocoee is nearly 6.5 hours. On our previous trip we ended up at the Chilhowee Campground because there were no campsites at the Thunder Rock campground. Chilhowee Campground requires you to drive further down the highway, then 7.5 miles on a switch back unmarked road up a mountain, something we didn't want to do in the middle of the night. We decided to camp at Smoky Mountain Meadows campground in Bryson City. We called ahead, they told us where to set up, and we'd pay in the morning.

Thunder Rock Campground
The Thunder Rock Campground is across the Ocoee river from the highway. Unfortunately that meant I heard truck traffic all night. I need to pack ear plugs! However, you can't beat the campground's location because you can be at the put in in under five minutes.
Kevin's tent at Thunder Rock Campground, Tennessee
For this trip I upgraded my camping gear. I replaced the Thermarest with a twin sized Eddie Bauer inflatable mattress (which has the battery pump built in). I also brought along a battery powered fan since it was SO hot on the previous trip. When you car camp, you don't have to worry as much about weight.
TVA information for the Ocoee damsBehind our site ran the water that comes out the hydro plant power house. TVA was generating power when we arrived, so the water was flowing quickly. In the middle of the night I heard a noise, and I could tell that the water wasn't flowing any more. In the morning the level had dropped way down and it looked like there was no current at all.

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Ocoee
It's not usually a problem to have only one car when paddling the Ocoee. There are so many paddlers around, you can hitch a ride back to the put in.

After I parked my car at the take out for our first run on Sunday, I asked a group if they were setting shuttle and if could have a ride. I got a story about how they "normally" would let people ride with them, but were full and had no room. Hmm...there's PLENTY of room in the cab of the truck AND in the back (and I don't take up much space). A simple "Sorry, but no" would have been more polite. Not a good way to earn river karma points!

It was still fairly early in the morning on Sunday, so there wasn't much traffic on the highway. I waited for awhile, only bothering to put out my thumb for vehicles with some sort of kayak, raft, or open boat (everyone else gives you a funny look and zooms by). Another paddler came over to the side of the road to hitch a ride. I introduced myself. Finally a small car from Memphis with kayaks on top pulled over. Two of us needed to share a single seat, so it was good that I already introduced myself!

For the second run on Sunday, I ended up getting a ride in the back of a pickup truck. I rode in the back with a bunch of kids and another kayaker. Overhead was a raft, which was dripping water. That was fine since I was already wet, it was warm out, and it sure beat walking. After we were a ways down the road, the driver yells out "Don't TRUST the tailgate". So we slid away from the tailgate.

Setting shuttle Monday was little trickier. There was little traffic on the highway and no rafting companies had started yet since the water had just turned on (and Monday would be a light day anyhow). My car was the only car in the take out parking lot. Oh, this could be awhile. Luckily a pickup loaded with kayaks in the back stopped. I rode in the back on top of the kayaks, clinging to the bottom of the open window at the back of the cab (I didn't want to get flung off on a curve). From my perch I could see the nearly empty river and saw that the water bubble had reached double suck rapid.

Buzzed By Table Saw
Prior to this weekend, I had run table saw rapid multiple times (several runs at higher water levels) with no problems. On Saturday, table saw decided to teach me a little humility.

On the first run Saturday, I flipped in the hole at the top of the rapid. I ran the entire rapid upside down and was bounced up and down through the big waves. The rapid sent my kayak into an eddy on river right, where I rolled up and caught my breath. John tapped the top of his helmet to ask if I was ok, and I responded that I was.

On the second run Saturday, I made it past the hole at the top. However, I was flipped in one of the waves lower in the rapid. I rolled and went on my way.

Sunday I ran the rapid cleanly. Apparently the lesson was over!

At one point John made the comment that he "Liked my style", referring to the fact that if I blow my first roll attempt, I will try several more times. He was happy that he didn't need to practice rescue techniques.

Not Kevin's Eddy
Flipper rapid is done in two steps. You go over the first drop on river right, eddy out river left, then go over the second drop again on the right. You do NOT go barreling down the center since there's a big drop that will likely flip you (hence, flipper).

John was getting annoyed that I wouldn't eddy out. I would zoom on by and finish the rapid, sometimes on river left for the second drop (which isn't the preferred line). He was going to call the eddy "not Kevin's Eddy". On the second run Saturday, I flipped, rolled, and again went down the left. John said "You SURE don't want to go into that eddy! You'll do ANYTHING to not do it.". He explained how I needed to ride the curler of water, which would do most of the work of putting you in the eddy.

On Sunday's run, I DID eddy out, so I suggested that we call it "Sometimes Kevin's eddy" or "usually not Kevin's eddy".

Did You Know That There's a Hole BELOW Double Trouble?
During week of rivers, I managed to get flipped in a hole that is BELOW double trouble on river left. I wanted to avoid that hole this weekend.

After running double trouble with no problems, I eddied out river left above the hole. I did a bad job of peeling out into the current, went right into the hole, flipped, rolled, and went on my way. John laughed. On subsequent runs I eddied out river RIGHT.

On one run though double trouble, I almost T boned another kayaker that was playing in one of the waves. The rule is simple: the boat in the current has the right of way. If you are playing in the wave, you yield to whoever is coming downstream. This play boater waited until the very last second to peel out, so I missed him by inches. I didn't want to change my boat angle or speed since that would cause me to flip.

Captain of the Swim Team - First Ocoee Swim
Have I mentioned that there's a hole in the center of power house rapid?

I flipped in Hell Hole, which is just before power house rapid. I then took too long to set up for my roll. I rolled up on my first attempt, but went right into the center of power house rapid. I made it through the first part of the rapid, but I flipped in the bottom hole. I was chundered upside down for quite awhile. I couldn't get a good roll, so I bailed out. I picked a PERFECT spot for my first Ocoee swim since it was after the last rapid and in flat water. Perhaps I should have held out for ten more seconds and tried to roll once I was ejected out of the hole. The hole will chunder you for awhile, but it doesn't keep you.

On Monday I also managed to get flipped in power house rapid, but but at least I WAS to the right of the center hole. I was getting tired, so it did take a couple of roll attempts to get up. But I was determined. I was NOT going to swim again.

Monday - Having the River to Ourselves
Monday was a regular Ocoee release, but there wasn't a raft in sight. We wanted to get on the road as soon as possible, so we arrived at the put in before the water came on. When we started, we were the first kayakers on the river.

John suggested I take a video of the river filling with water. I used my new video camera and stood on the ramp holding the same shot. Click here for the video, which is sped up to 4X actual speed.

It was a really fast run. We didn't really play anywhere, there were no rafts in our way, and smaller groups go faster. We were off the water by 11:30 am and on the road by 12 pm.

We stopped at Endless Rivers Adventures on our way back so that John could visit with the owners and buy a river knife. I picked up a nice pair of earrings for Janyne that were made by a local artist.

We had decided to stop at Asiana Grand Chinese buffet for lunch/supper (lupper?). Kayakers rave about the restaurant, but I had never been there. They had a huge selection of items and it was worth the stop (even though the scale may not agree with that).

After that it was time to get home and hang up the gear to dry for the next paddling trip.