On 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.
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.
Behind 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.