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Gauley Fest "Back of the Hand"

Wednesday-Monday Sep 21-26, 2005
Kayak: Cheryl "River Honey", Lisa "Smurf", Jim "Laid back Lenny", Rowan "Teddy", Jon "Godfather", Ian "Mr Nice", Kendall "River Godess"
Organizer: Jon
Difficulty: advanced WW
Level: medium
Author: Cheryl

The anticipation grew with every hour of driving...that's a lot when it's 14hours worth.

The van bulging with kayak gear and beer, mudslides and wine (we decided it was safer to leave the Vodka at home). No tents, camping gear or food we spent the weekend in Luxury, hotels and restaurants. (Totally out of character for us kayakers). Do you know how good it feels to sleep on a real bed after a hard days kayaking??

7 kayakers set out on weekend that was about to become one the best paddling experiences each of us had ever had....I sit here a week later saddened by the fact I am here writing about it and not still in West Virginia paddling 

The last few times the crew has gotten together I have seriously influenced them with my Team America sayings "J.T.F.C" and "B.F.L" but this weekend was different we needed something new...and so I introduced an old favorite "The back of the Hand" said with the chosen hand slightly raised and flat with the back pointing at the person receiving it.

"The back of the hand" would be given to anyone who was cheeky, disobedient, not listening, taking bad lines or hole beatings, bad driving and not drinking enough. So you guessed it, it was used frequently...we even got Lisa a pacifist to raise the hand...yeehaa!!

A plan was hatched. Friday Lower Gauley, Saturday Upper Gualey for Jim & Jon, The rest Lower Gauley. Sun Upper Gauley and the New....perfect.

Saturday Morning. We awoke early to a bag of nerves. My stomach churned my hands were sweating and I hadn't even left the hotel room...where Lisa sat nervously quiet refusing to leave the bed.

To get to the put in wasn't exactly easy...but we opted on recommendation by locals for an easy route. We watched as our boats catapulted at 100 MPH through the trees knocking Jim down in the process and somersaulted on the road below (Jon honest that dent in the end of your new boat wasn't from this, it was already there (sweet smile))...I just hoped my boat would forgive me on the river.

I had read a basic description of the river; I knew the first and major last rapid would be the hardest.

We stood on shore and looked downstream at the first rapid...we couldn't see it, we could see the huge rock that we already knew was DANGEROUS and UNDERCUT (like every other huge rock on the Gauley). We watched as the little duckies and lemmings of kayakers followed one by one into the unknown.

No Matter how much we tried, the hour long shuttle, the huge walk to the put in, taking our time putting our gear on...we could no longer hold off putting on the river. It was TIME.

Only Jim and Jon showed any signs of being relaxed...but then Jim is always relaxed and laid back. I am glad he knew the river and was leading us down, he also was the only one in a creek boat. He didn't need to worry about anything.

We approached the first rapid and I watched how everybody headed right towards the big rock...I didn't fancy any of that side and picked my own route down the center. I caught the eddy at the bottom and realized the crew was on the other side. I thought for a minute, if this was one of the hardest rapids it was going to be a fun day. I joined the line for the play hole and unsuccessfully made two attempts to get in...I gave up embarrassed at my defeat...But I did make up for it on the second play spot.

The rest of the river was made up of a variety of rapids ranging from ledgey slot drops to long rapids full of big wave trains. The odd rapid was made excited by catching eddies on the fly...Okay guys yes I really did mean to catch that eddy below the slot drop...Honest!! or going down the "unusual lines" as discovered later we had taken some unconventional lines down some of the rapids.

Remember this PSH...standing for Pure Screaming Hell...the single most dangerous rapid on the lower Gauley...remember this has you will be tested later...or at least a couple of people were!!

Jim navigated us through this difficult rapid like it was a class 2 (shame I couldn't remember that line the next day).

The paddle ended with lots and lots of flat and a huge disappointment when we discovered we were at the wrong take out and would have to paddle a further mile down stream. At the days we were pleased with our paddle and celebrated in our usual style with copious amounts of alcohol.

Day 2 "bye Jim, Jon hope you have a great day on the upper!!"

The rest of us hit the lower again. No nerves today, we knew what expect, we knew each it should have been easy. Well it was for most of us...poor Kendall, poor Kendall.

The first rapid has a beautiful 5 boat play hole at the bottom. The day before I had failed to get in. Today I took one attempt and quickly retreated. The water was lower making it humongously stickier. I watched amazed when Kendall surfed out in to the pit and began to rip it up like a pro....what a cool boater chick she looked. The guys whooped and cheered...until a look of terror came across her face, her cry for "I can't get out". Was met with lots of helpful half laughing hints of "surf to the left"...she just couldn't bring it round...1 minute passes..she still surfing and window shading, 2 minutes pass a hero tries to bump her out flipping them both she loses her paddle...but she is still side surfing hands thrown in the air in disbelief...the hero washes down stream. 3 minutes pass and she window shades for the last time pulling her deck and flushing down stream....You rocked Kendall.

Lisa and I take turns to lead the river. Everything is going perfect, Sun is shining, the water is warm and except for Kendall's one incident (which doesn't count because she was playing) every one was having a great run. Ian and I even opted to run the infamous Cliff drop...a narrow chute that curls and pillows next to another undercut rock forming a huge hole. The kayakers were making it look easy. Catch the eddy on the left, surf back out on the reactionary turning down stream to miss the hole....easy...yep it was that easy. We both cleaned it...except my one little roll at the end.

This day was proving to be better then the first we hoped Jon and Jim were having just as much fun.

PSH test you remember?? Well I didn't and I was leading. I remembered the two holes...but couldn't remember the line from the day before. I decided to run and read. I opted to skim the right side of the top hole use the corner of it to spin me to face upstream which would allow me to use the slack water behind to paddle hard and ferry above PSHH (pure screaming hell hole...which for the record is not only HUGE, but next to an undercut rock" the guide book states here a swim could be fatal) and in to the big eddy on the left. I made it...I didn't think it was difficult. But I watched in horror how quickly things can go wrong and how timing is critical. Kendall was following closely behind, behind her was Rowan. Kendall followed my line but went slightly left taking her straight in to the top hole causing her to immediately violently window shade continuously. Rowan followed; but the change in the hole caused by Kendall in there allowed him to get straight through unscathed. I rummaged through my pockets quickly pulling my whistle out. I blew hard to warn paddlers and rafters to stop...they kept coming and coming. Over the roar apparently they didn't hear me.

Kendall swam and thank the River Gods she made it safely in to the left eddy avoiding the PSHH. After some (lots of) coaching and asking everyone in kayaks to leave the eddy to give us some space. We managed to get her safely down the rest of rapid by PSHH. I felt immensely guilty at the situation. I had many after thoughts I should have done this and that. There was a safer easier left line which would have completely avoided the holes...I should of taken it being the leader...but I saw the hero line and wanted it with no regards for the paddlers following me.

With another hole beating, Kendall had certainly been our offering to the river gods that day. Shaken, but thankfully unhurt, a bootie short and boat minus outfitting. Kendall amazingly put back on the river to finish it...Wow you go girl.

I did get about five "back of the hands" from Kendall for that.

We arrive back at the hotel and we waited patiently for Jim and Jon to tell us their adventures. I was so eager to paddle the upper on Sunday so much that I couldn't bear it if they had a bad day.

Jim walked through the door smiling..."I swam honey and walked" "excuse me rewind say again" It turned out many offerings had been given to the Rivers Gods on the upper gauley.

Jim repeated "I swam on the second rapid, flipped a bunch so decided to get off"

I replied "stop joking Jim, tell the truth"

Jim: "that is the truth, I just wasn't feeling it so walked".

Our jaws dropped, if Jim walked or should I say climbed and dragged himself out, it wasn't good. The plans for the upper were shelved ...or at least till next time.

Jon however despite a few incidents (offerings), managed to tag along with some strangers. Who oblivious to him were two world class play boaters. Who had run the river many times...They took an unawares Jon down all the difficult lines...boofing this boofing that. Poor guy no wonder he was so tired (or is that an ageing thing??)

Festival beer unless you scrounged it from the stands...but about 8000 paddlers had gathered. I had never seen a festival like it. Any gear you wanted you could get there...we walked out empty handed (they had sold out of the Gauley shirts we wanted) and returned to the hotel looking for more alcohol to numb and ease our aching bodies.

Sunday, the plan was to get up early run the New, then for those who had energy left paddle the lower Gauley again (why was it only me that wanted this and why did I get the back of the hand every time I mentioned it). It was funny how conveniently long it took us to put on the New....was there a conspiracy going on behind my back??

The New was extremely low and the drops were more creeky than the Gauley although much easier. We decided I would run most of the drops first so I could take pictures of everyone else.

At the second drop I cautiously paddled out to where I thought I could see enough of the drop. I had watched the kayakers in front run it hard left, but I saw a clear chute down the centre. I paddled hard, dropped of the ledge through a small hole then to my surprise I was hurtling (sliding) across a flat rock at top speed them plopped elegantly of it. To the surprise of about 20 kayakers in the eddy wondering where the hell I had come from. I quickly reviewed the rapid and decide the left line would be the best for everyone else. I set up camera and snapped away...still to the amazement of the kayakers still staring at me. One asked if I had run this before. I replied "nope this is my first time on the river" he shook his head in disbelief and started laughing "did I usually run things like this?", I laughed back and said " not usually, but today I am the probe"

The New river was beautiful and the perfect last paddle for the weekend (although if had my way we would have done the lower, I am not being resentful at all... "back of the hand" to the rest of the crew for that)

Sunday evening we had the best meal all weekend if you ever down there go to Fayetteville and go to Sonoma grill...fantastic food. Our bellies full our eyes sleepy, we headed back to the hotel...pretty much ready for bed. But that would have been too easy and boring, nope we decided to finish the beers (so we didn't have to carry them back) and read stories...yes it was like children's reading time, each of us taking turns to read stories, ranging from Pig Shit, Raft shit and best of all Paddle shit.

Regardless of the noise, laughter and jumping, sleeping beauty slept through it all...but then she slept pretty much anywhere at anytime.

West Virginia, the place where kayakers can live the dream...yeah right, if only we didn't have to work to pay for the toys and trips.

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