Monday, July 11, 2011

Week of Rivers 2011 - Part II

Joyce Kilmer Memorial ForestWednesday July 6 - A Walk in the Woods
After four consecutive days in the kayak, it was time to take a break. I decided to go to the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, which is one of the last remaining old growth forests in eastern U.S.

When I arrived at the forest, I was concerned. A large number of the big old trees where sheared off. The stumps had shredded shards of wood on them, so it looked like the trees were twisted off. It looked like a tornado or strong downdraft had brought down a lot of the trees. When I went further into the forest, I finally got into the giant tulip poplar trees. The poplars are up to 100 feet tall and have huge trunks.
Rhododendron Flowers
The hike was nice since you cross a stream and the Rhododendrons were in bloom. It was hot and steamy like a greenhouse however.

I had a picnic lunch and then went for a scenic drive through the mountains.

Before heading back to the campground, I stopped at a grocery store to pick up food for dinner. I was going to cook up the meat in tube form I brought with me and I needed side items.

I kicked back in my lounge camp chair and read for awhile. It was a perfect way to relax and recharge the batteries.

Thursday - Don't Be Expecting Gas Money
On Thursday Rick and Larry were leading a group of first timers on the Ocoee. Usually the "kinder gentler" trip for first timers has people put in below the entrance rapid (to skip Grumpies) and all of the sneaks are taken. I offered to help since I've been on the river many times.

At the morning meeting we determined where and when the group would meet at the campground. To minimize the number of shuttle vehicles, Mark (another kayaker) and I rode with Gilley and David, both open boaters.

We all met at the middle Ocoee put in and saw that the group was FAR too large. Anything larger that seven or eight is hard to manage. We broke into two groups. Several people went with Fast Fred, who is know for doing several Ocoee laps a day like Rick. Fast Fred's group consisted of people who had run the Ocoee before. The other group consisted of the first timers, trip leaders, and safety boaters. Even after the group split, the first timer group had twelve people (or perhaps eleven). This is where we made a mistake. The shuttle drivers and passengers ended up in different groups, and the groups weren't going to finish anywhere near the same time.

The first timers carried their boats down to the put in below Grumpies while Rick, Mark, John, and I went to the main put in. We would meet up with the rest of the group on the river.

Below Grumpies the group merged and we were off.

We took a slightly different line at Gonzo Shoals than I normally take, but it was an easier line.

At Broken Nose, we also took an alternate to the normal sneak line. The normal sneak is actually not that easy. It's easily class III boogie water where you have to dodge holes and rocks and keep working to river left. The line we took was much more river left and it required everyone to go single file down a small drop. This avoided much of the harder stuff and you didn't have to work to get to river left.

When we were getting close to Double Suck, I told Rick that I would prefer to take the boof line and NOT the sneak. He agreed to do that, but only after we shepherded all of the other people through the sneak first. We both hung back to sweep.

Rick headed towards Double Suck. Rick was too far left. He's not going to be close to the boof rock. What are you doing Rick?! Should I follow him or go to where I know the boof line is? The water is pushy and there isn't a lot of time to mull it over. The second hole is very, very bad and you don't want to get in it since it will work you over. Ok, I'll follow Rick. He knows every line on this river. We sailed right through Double Suck, narrowly missing the two holes and narrowly averting disaster. Later Rick said "There's a green line of water right next to the holes. Who knew!".

After Go Forth Creek, Larry had me lead the group for awhile. I was to stop before Table Saw.

We gathered in an eddy above Table Saw and we explained how to run it. Table Saw looks scary, but it's really a big water roller coaster. It's import to not flip in the first wave/hole, stay loose, and keep the paddle in the water. I ran the rapid, then continued on through Diamond Splitter.

I eddied out and then noticed that a kayak was stuck on rocks above Diamond Splitter. It was Terry's, one of our first timers. Apparently she swam in Table Saw. The boat was not in a spot that you could easily get to. John paddled up to the boat and tried to get it off the rocks. It wouldn't budge, but he could turn it a bit. That was enough for the current to pop it loose a couple of minutes later.

Accelerator is a fun rapid towards the end of the run. It really does accelerate you. A lot of people like to run it backwards. The person in front of me was going backwards, I was going forwards. I was talking and wasn't paying attention and was flipped. Not a problem since it was easy to roll back up there.

We got to the take out and carried the gear to the cars. Now where is Fast Fred's group?! Gilley left the passenger door on his pickup unlocked, which really annoyed me since my WALLET was in my short's pocket. However, it also meant that we could change into our dry clothes.

It was getting close to 3:30 and the water would be shut off at 4:00. Rick, Larry, and John took off so that Rick could get another solo run in (he can do a full lap in 45 minutes, so he had barely enough time to ride the bubble of water).

Mark and I sat in the hot sun along the side of the road waiting for Gilley and David to show up. Terry and Tom were also waiting, but they were in a different vehicle. Their car was locked, so they were stuck in their wet gear.

A half hour goes by. Allen then shows up and says that we can load our gear into his truck and he'll take us to the top. Here's where the next shuttle mistake was made. Terry and Tom also loaded gear and rode up with us. As we drove up the highway, we saw Fast Fred's group STILL on the river and Rick had nearly caught up to the on his second lap.

We get to the put in and met up with Larry and John. Now what do we do? Terry and Tom by this point were cold and tired of being in their wet gear. Even though we could spot them money for dinner, they wouldn't want to go to a restaurant dressed in stinky kayak gear. The logical thing for Tom and Terry to do would be to meet back up with their driver. I asked John if he could drive them back to the take out, which he did.

After dropping off Tom and Terry, John picked Mark, two guys from Texas and I up at the put in. Our gear would get back to the campground in Allen's truck. Mark said "Gilley better not be expecting any gas money." I kept saying "I should have driven..."

We went to dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Copperhill. I wanted BBQ at Herb's but was out voted. When we came out of the restaurant, it started to rain really hard. Unfortunately, the rain was very localized, so it didn't help rivers like the Tellico.

We got back to the campground and I claimed my gear from Allen's truck.

Friday - A Grim Situation and the Auto Flip Feature in Rooster Tail
On Friday we decided to head out the Nolichucky again. The level was similar to what it was the previous Saturday or perhaps slightly higher. We wanted to leave before 8:30 am to keep the group small and because it's a long drive.

Larry drove and John, Allen, and I rode with Larry. Casey met us at Uncle Johnny's. Uncle Johnny's is a hostel for Appalachian trail hikers and kayakers and you can hire shuttle drivers at Uncle Johnny's.

Our driver introduced himself as "Grim". He had hiked the entire Applachian Trail, so we assumed that this was his trail name. Grim said that he was from Savannah, but really liked Erwin Tennessee and decided to stay awhile.

On our way to the put in, Grim started his tour guide spiel: "During your entire journey on the Nolichucky, you will be in the Pisgah and Cherokee National Forests. The Pisgah and Cherokee National Forests did not allow alcohol or illicit drugs. If you have alcohol or illicit drugs, give them to me for disposal because I am a recreational substance disposal expert."

When we got close to the Tennessee/North Carolina state line, he says "Tennessee doesn't have a sense of humor. However, North Carolina does." When we crossed into North Carolina, we saw the 55 MPH speed limit sign. "We call this the double nickels of death.". If you even go above 35 mph, you would fly off of the twisting mountain road!

We went though all of the big rapids at the start of the run just fine: Entrance, On the Rocks, Jaws, and Quarter Mile. I still portaged around the entrance to Quarter Mile. Why have a bad day?

We came up to Rooster Tail, the last big rapid on the river. Rooster Tail has a curler wave, and if you are too far right, it WILL flip you. John calls this the "auto flip" feature. Larry goes first and sets up to take video of us running the rapid.

Of course, I go too far right and flipped. I was banged upside down for awhile, but I was waiting a bit for things to calm down before rolling. Now! I blew the roll. I knew another big drop was coming, so I bailed out of the boat. I managed to shove the boat into an eddy, then I swam into an eddy. John asked if I knew what I did. I said "Yes, I was too far right". Later Allen tells me: "Thanks for going that way. I was thinking of doing the same thing and you showed what would happen."

Later Allen swims in an odd place. I thought he did it to make me feel better.

We got to the take out and Larry's truck was waiting for us. We got into dry clothes, loaded up gear, and headed towards Asheville. In Asheville, we stopped at Asiana Grand for dinner. Asiana Grand is a large Chinese buffet frequented by kayakers.

Saturday - The Clown Car and the Drive Home
I planned to drive home Saturday after I got off of the river. I had already packed up everything before the 8:30 a.m. meeting. I couldn't quite decide where I wanted to go. John kept pushing for a couple of creek runs that were allegedly running, but I wasn't up for something new and possibly above my skill level. If I went to the Ocoee, it's an hour drive in the wrong direction, making it a six hour drive home. If I ran the Nantahala, I would have a five hour drive and I would have time to stop at the NOC store. I looked at the group planning to go to the Ocoee. "Hmm...I don't know ANY of those people". Matt and Linda were going down the Nantahala, but planned to take their time play boating. I had to make a decision or I wasn't going to be going anywhere. Nantahala it is. I brought my dry top, so I was set for the cold water.

Matt wanted to have ALL of the cars at the bottom. I liked this idea since it meant I could leave when I wanted to. However, this made the shuttle more complicated since I would have to hitch a ride to the put in. I brought cash with me in case hitching didn't work and I needed to pay to ride an NOC raft bus.

Now where should I stand to get a ride? Do I need to show some leg? I walked along the road and saw another hitch hiker. After about ten minutes, a Honda Odyssey mini van pulls up. We all got in. We had nine people and three kayaks stuffed into that thing. It was a clown car, but I appreciated the ride.

As promised, Matt and Linda played on just about every feature on the river. That was fine since I learned a couple more play spots. Matt is an instructor, so he got into instructor mode a couple of times. He had me practice eddying and to get the maximum number of eddies in one section of the river.

We came to the falls. I eddied out in truck stop eddy, then took off. I wasn't close enough to the top hole, so I was going into the bottom hole. I didn't turn quite fast enough, so I was on my side for several seconds. I was able to right to boat back up by doing a hip snap, which caused cheers from other boaters. My core exercises paid off!

I was parked after the slalom course, so I ran the slalom gates that were set up.

I got off of the river and loaded up the gear. I had a car load of wet camping and paddling gear that had been in the hot sun all day. Whew!

I called Janyne to let her know I would be home at a decent time (I was off the river at 3:30 pm and it is a five hour drive) and I headed onto the highway. The view of the Smoky Mountains was spectacular while I was driving towards Asheville.

I had a great time at Week of Rivers and have wonderful memories. I'm looking forward to Week of Rivers 2012!

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