THROWBACK THURSDAY & DBP MAGAZINE ONLINE presents: Spotlight on anOriginal Dirtbag River ~ THE GAULEY.

{Editor’s Note: This month, to celebrate the raddest season in Autumn, the sweetest fest in whitewater, and the biggest Dirtbag party of the year, we present to you our dear readers a collection of stories from the epic GAULEY RIVER in West By God Virginia! Up first, some tales from me, Chicago Mike Toughill.Cheers!}
The Gauley River… To those who have never had the honor and pleasure to run this gem, it’s difficult to use mere written words to describe the power and fury that the words “Gauley” hold in the minds and hearts of Dirtbags in the know. Pictures and even video pale in comparison to the actual running of the thing. A fellow paddler can begin to visualize it from guide books and YouTube clips, but there’s nothing like the real thing, which holds especially true for your virgin run. The 99% of humanity that will never paddle whitewater because of extreme prejudice will NEVER be able to comprehend what it is about this blessed river that enthralls us and calls us back again and again. But I will try…

My first visit to the river was during Gauley Fest 2006. That summer my friends and I had run the New River just a short drive away, and we cleaned it on a blind run, setting our sites on a fall run of the other mega run, thinking “no big deal.” Well it WAS a big deal! We tackled the Lower to get our feet wet, and thought “Damn! This ain’t no Lower New!!” First, the local hardboaters explained that we had to walk our inflated raft down the staircase from up top (instead of driving to the put-in… WALLACE!!). I paddled in the front seat of what felt like a giant 16 footer from our raft company in Wisconsin, and soon we had a ton of people remembering who we were, with that huge custy pig paddled by four Dirtbags (my homies Chris Andrews, Zac Krull, and Jman Schodeberg at the helm) with KOSIRS emblazoned on the sides. We just followed lines and read and run it,  walking that monster back up to rerun Upper Mash (yeah, we were having THAT much fun! “You see the size of that SPIDER??!!??”), and almost missing the takeout at Swiss, where we were the last vehicles out of a very muddy lot. The next day we attempted the Upper blind, and realized as we eddied out above Insignificant that we better REALLY find a good partner on the journey if we wanted to return this raft afterwards. We met a crew of off-duty local dirtbag guides headed by Gator, who fed us (we never brought a river lunch with us before, let alone anything to drink) a kickass lunch on Postage Due (what a show! The thunderous roar at Sweets made the hairs stand on end! Watching Strider Jeff Snyder drop the falls clean was huge for us!!), gave us beer, smoked us fat, and really demonstrated true camaraderie and hospitality. THANKS AGAIN GATOR AND FRIENDS! We smashed the shit out of Inertia in that big ole raft, cleaned the run, and hiked up the old path for what ranks as one of the most brutal climbs out off a river in any of our lives. The party at the Fest was as epic as the river, with mud wrastlin’ and all night partying with Piano Bob Heckler and his crazy crew (a tradition we would continue for many years till AW finally uninvited them for a few years. Good old Wagon Wheel, “Rock me mama any way you feel” again and again, dancing with Orange Crush and Wendy!) So many fun people! We were in Heaven, and vowed to return year after year. 

I proceeded to return for the next few seasons with a revolving band of brothers and sisters, always coming for Gauley Fest weekend. The crowds were amazing to us! I remember bits and pieces through the fog of partying till dawn and paddling till dusk. There were some great friends that I’ll have for life, cemented by the waters of huge Class V rapids. “Uncle Dress Shirt” Mark Mueller and his friend Erin from NASA were fixtures back then. Those first seasons he’d have his scribbled river notes, telling us what lay ahead and how we’d run. One season Mark got a bit confused and we ran Pure Screaming Hell over and over, till we finally got there! He also dumped Zac in Lost Paddle for a swim that almost killed him. That was the first time I saw anyone get The Look after a Wallace. Our friend Boots came out, ran the Lower, and promptly declared after years of boating Piers Gorge back home, that he’d seen enough thanks and he’d settle on eating mushrooms and tending our fire thanks very much. Jman was always the captain on any boat I was gonna ride; I declared myself “in his back pocket” and wouldn’t go with anyone else. Our boss Tony Guarniere came out for a few seasons, which was great because we felt better about losing a boat with him in it… Until we dumped him along with his son Dale (who now makes the journey every year with me) on a Dildo Rock hit. Tony swims deep, pushed along the face of Postage Due, and getting pulled back into another of our boats. Dale however gets diverted into the Poop Chute where he’s fished out by a park ranger with the hook, out of our sight, leaving Tony to scream frantically “Dale! DALE!! You killed Dale!!!” to our everlasting delight. Dirtbags have a LOOOONG memory when it comes to such things. 

Then there was the year that Uncle Mark’s directions kinda got under Jman’s skin, and Jay vowed not to boat with him the following day.  So I climbed into a 12 footer with him and our buddy Jonesy for a badly hungover run down the Upper. This after getting all kinds of lost on a very treacherous muddy Panther Mountain Road (It’s now closed), if you want to call a single lane dirt track through the hills of West Virginia a road (Jonesy’s van slipped partway off the road at one turn, and I refused to let off the accelerator lest I end up in a similar predicament, following Uncle Mark…), which naturally led to us being the last boats to put on, in early afternoon. We had an epic paddle slapping run on Pillow, but by then any rafts to follow were long gone, and Jman wasn’t following Mark… So we are trailing some kayakers in Lost Paddle, and boom! they all eddy out as we swing around before the last pitch. Jman yells out “How’s it look?” to which Jonesy immediately answers, “Looks good!” while I’m all “uhh… NO IT DON’T!” WALLACE! over a pour over way far left of our line, and next thing I know I’ve got Jonesy clinging to me as we are swimming, which earns him a quick punch. I swim back into the current, looking to get away from the Slot to river right. I watch Jonesy kinda give up and drift towards that deadly sieve, feet up on his back, reaching out almost helplessly for Jman’s outstretched paddle (how he managed to stay in we will never know, but lucky for Jonesy he did!), and getting saved in the nick of time! I however looked again downstream to a monster hole waiting patiently to gobble me up. I hit it… WAAAALLLACEEEE…. Down Down Down I go, deeper and darker than I’d ever been, and now I’m out of breathe, thinking I’d see white but I’m seeing BLACK, and the panic takes hold of me as I flail and battle towards who knows what? Death? Finally the River releases me, and I see I’m 40-50 yards downstream. My homies Keller, Steve, and Kyle are a ways off, and I weakly yell out the only thing I can sputter, “KOSIRS!” I used to wear a short length of rope around my waist back then (this was the LAST time I ever did that!) and although it was fastened with a locking biner, I got caught in ANOTHER biner on their chicken line as they pulled me in, and I’m yelling “Cut the rope! Cut the rope!” as they laughed and paddled the giant eddy below the rapid. Like I said, Dirtbags have long memories; that episode still gets brought up! Both Jonesy and I sat on the side of the Gauley for a long minute, wishing we could quit and knowing we couldn’t! I’ll admit I had to push that thought out of my mind over and over again. I somehow kept my shades through that ordeal, only to have at Energizer smack them off a bit later. Jonesy never paddled Class V again, and soon after quit boating all together. That’s the Gauley! 

I got my chance to put that demon to rest the Autumn of 2013. As we rolled into Oak Hill to camp with Uncle Mark, Steve, and the CO kids, the rain fell in torrents and the talk was all about the Gauley running over five grand. By the morning we knew it’d be more… But none of our crew had ever seen the river like we were about to. Next morning every crick in West By God was dumping brown goodness into the river fast as could be. The dam released only around a 1000 cfs, so the going was unique to start, to say the least. The Gauley was so threateningly high that the usual cavalcade of custy rafts were gone, and even most kayakers had begged off. It was just a band of crazy rubber pushers, and the lunatic Chris Baer armed himself with only an old rubber inner tube! Pillow Rock was memorable for how low the water was. The line was far river left, slipping past the mammoth wall of Pillow itself, and Volkswagen loomed large out of the river. As we came to the Meadow, the angry river was dumping 5500 cfs of brown into the still regular colored Gauley, creating massive swirling eddies that threatened to Wallace us (I remember Frank Sade asking Mark as we approached, due to the optical illusion of such big waves coming in from the left around the bend, “does the river go up{stream}??” Mark sneered his reply, with a forceful “Forward Two! STOP!!”) We negotiated Lost Paddle amidst the biggest waves and holes I have ever seen, but then Wallaced hard in Iron Ring. Jason Flannery and I emerged at the bottom somewhat together, but it took some time for us to reunite our entire crew (Amy Van Eerden earning the sobriquet “Backpack” for climbing up onto Frank for a swim to shore during her first ever real whitewater Wallace). I felt I had a strong, confident swim through deadly waters, and this experience served me well, quelling once and for all the lingering doubts in the back of my mind after that big swim years back, and saving my life two days later… Postage Due was completely under water, and we watched for half an hour as a flipped raft got worked in Energizer before it finally was set free by the River. The camaraderie that entire weekend amongst this hardy band of dirtbags was very special; every single boat Wallaced in a major way except the ever smooth Byron Brown and his ladies! 

Two days later I had the Wallace of my life, when we rode the Lower Gauley, still swollen at 6500 cfs or so. No big deal, it’s not the Upper, right? WRONG. We were cruising along, having a grand old time, when Heaven’s Gates flipped us – I was literally higher than I’ve ever been on a flip, looking down from the top of the raft as I was plunged along with everyone else into the maw of the hole. I was sucked underneath the boat, and into the undercut rock which it was perched upon, the full force of the river smashing into my chest, my back to the rock. I had plenty of time to contemplate my situation, but I remained calm, which I attribute to that scare years before in Lost Paddle. It was dark, and I remember thinking “I should be out of air…” but then the river pushed me down and around the rock to the bottom of the river, tumbling me along (again, I recalled a guy we partied with the night before saying something like, “I was crawling along the bottom with the fishes…” to which I now remarked to myself “NOW I’M CRAWLING ALONG THE BOTTOM OF THE RIVER !!!” It’s funny, the things that go through your head…), rolling me through the darkness. As I was just about to be done for, I saw the water getting lighter and lighter and… POOOF! Up I popped into the light of day. Afterwards, we all gathered on shore to collect ourselves. Frank and his friend Jordan both went into the undercuts too, but Frank had got it worst. The look of death on his face spoke volumes, and even on the long ride out from Swiss he was still badly shaken from the experience. I remembered that feeling well. 

THAT is what the Gauley can serve you. The most epic highs and the biggest deathly frights in your life. There is nothing quite like it. The bonds formed in that furnace will never break, try as The River does to test them. This is what brings us Dirtbags back, year after year. The highs, the frights, the ONE LOVE. 

As a postscript, DBP got the following image (seen in our article, but we can’t post it to Facebook!!) in our inbox from my homie Joe M. He’s a longtime dirtbag who made it out to Gauley back in the mid 90’s, with this note: “Thought you might like this, a bit of paddling history. Corran Addison had the community in an uproar over this ad back in the mid 90’s. That woman in the ad was the one who bankrolled Savage Kayaks, Selene Thoms. My Gauley Fest souvenir.” Worth a quick google search… Cheers! 
Selfietron 5000 
By Jay Young 
 
The morning of September 23, 2012 dawned cold and foggy like a lot of other Gauley Season mornings. I packed my warm river wear, prepped my gear and headed to work—not to guide, but to shoot photos. I was on a quest to capture images of Gauley River rafting that nobody had seen before. And I would have done about anything to get those images: climb upon rocks that rarely knew human feet, hang half out of boats in the throes of the whitest water and even swim class-IV and V rapids, to put myself where I thought the action would be, and then hope the action happened. I was rarely disappointed. This is the Gauley River, after all. It’s one of the most intense commercially rafted runs in the world. Action on the Gauley comes cheap and easy, and the stories that follow become legends.  
 
That day I was shooting in a raft with a GoPro on the end of an 12-foot painter’s pole, a contraption of my own devising that I affectionately refer to as the Selfietron 5000. I recruited Nick Parsons to guide and since we were planning to go big all day carrying our own hazard in the boat (Selfietron), I also tagged a few other guides to play guests. 

I shot some fun photos that day, including an unplanned Room of Doom collision with Pillow Rock that spun the boat and surfed us out on the Pillow, and scored a terrific bird’s-eye pic of us hitting the meat of Sweet’s Falls with our shadow from a low sun extended onto the foam in front of the boat.  
 
But the real gold rained down upon my lens in the carnage epicenter of the Universe called the Box Canyon just below Sweet’s Falls. Sweet’s is a little like the Roman Coliseum. Crowds line the banks, some having driven in, others having boated there, and all of them want to see one thing—you… get eaten by lions.  
 
We were good little gladiators that day. What happened there was typical of Box Canyon moments; our little episode of carnage really can’t be described as all that unusual. But it could not have been choreographed better, and the Selfietron 5000 shot all of it in glorious detail from 12 feet directly above the raft at rate of one pic every half second. I dare say that, before Selfietron’s adventure, nobody had ever seen the Box like this.  
 

I used to say there are three commercial raft lines to every Gauley rapid: the standard line, the non-standard line and whatever the Hell Nick Parsons is running. Nick was pioneering lines that gave river managers the willies—and styling them left and right. 
His preferred line at the Box Canyon was to crash headlong into the rock and ricochet into the Box. We careened into the Box and hit the Pyramid sideways. Then, shocker, the upstream tube took a dive.

Deeper and deeper went the tube. Once this happens, a boat’s fate is typically sealed.  
 
The swim at the Box Canyon isn’t so bad. You’re past all the truly dangerous stuff. But as we went over, I was acutely aware that I was holding a camera atop 
a 12′ pole… in a 6-foot wide slot… that was already packed full of rubber and people. Nick committed to a dry flip, which is where you climb over the skyward tube of the raft and land on the bottom of the boat just as it turns upside down. 
The crowd on Postage Due, the rock that guards both the entrance and exit of the Box, began to realize that something interesting was happening. They gathered like vultures. 
 

I was more than a little worried about the camera. Poles are cheap, but the camera was mine, not work’s, and I couldn’t really afford to replace the housing if 
it tagged the rock—or worse, sunk to the bottom. Did I mention that Selfietron 5000 doesn’t float? 
 

Out of the blue, a solution to my camera dilemma presented itself in the form of Moose Robbins. Running on pure spontaneity, he ran forward and reached for the pole. 
 
In the final instant before I went under, I saw him coming, and tried to hold the pole steady for as long as possible before letting go. I never actually saw the grab, though, and as I released the pole and sank, I still wasn’t 100% certain he had it.  

He got it! And Nick nailed the dry flip.  
 
I was deep in Davy Jones’ Locker while Moose celebrated his Hall of Fame catch.  
 
I surfaced a few meters downstream with Nick jerking his paddle off behind me. My first thought was: “Where’s my camera?!” My second thought was: “He got it!” My third thought was: “How the Hell am I going to get it back?” As I watched helplessly, Moose handed it off to some guy, whose name I still don’t know.  
As I drifted farther and farther downstream, that guy raced to the bottom corner of the rock… 
 
And heaved Selfietron 5000 javelin style into the river. When the camera captured this picture… It was alone… in the air.  
 

 My fourth thought was: “Oh shit,” because as previously stated, Selfietron 5000 does not float. But I probably don’t need to tell that. You can see it plainly in the look on my face. I knew if I didn’t catch Selfietron 5000, it was gone forever. But the toss was made. 
We were all committed… most of all Selfietron 5000.  
 
 

The entire event from pinned boat to catch unfolded in about ten seconds. Though the excitement on my face is plain, I can assure you… it was nothing compared to my jaw hitting the floor when I first uploaded and saw these photos. Unfortunately, a year later I lost this very camera… in a similar episode… also at the Box Canyon.  
 
Gauley Season 2015 is here, folks. I think we all know it’s one of the most storied river runs on Earth. So… go make some stories.   
{Our next offering tells the tale of how some of the biggest rapids got named, by the boater historian Chris Preperato. Enjoy!}
ON PERMANENCE AND LOST PADDLES. by Chris Preperato
Naming a rapid is an act of defiance. 
It assigns permanence to an impermanent thing; an errant attempt to conquer something that continually proves unconquerable. Even the simplest names, like Railroad or Triple Drop, take for granted that the railroad will linger, or that the rapid will always contain three drops. As adventurers who chart the rise and fall of water, and who note every subtle change to the riverbed, we should think the attempt at permanence a fool’s errand.
The best rapid names, of course, are homages to the daredevils, fools, and whoever lay between when they crossed the horizon line. They can cement a legacy, capture horrific failure, and even foretell their creator’s future. The best names seem to stand out like beacons, conjuring dreams and drawing boaters from far and wide to test their waters. Some fall short of their declaration; others rise from the current like sirens, dashing boaters upon their rocks.
As Jim Stuart and crew entered the river below the Summersville Dam on the Gauley River in October of 1969, they set out to name as many of the river’s rapids as they could. They didn’t believe they were conquering the river that day. In fact, it is hard to imagine they knew the names they created would even stick generations into the future. Instead, their task was more monumental. They were hoping that something as simple as a rapid name was enough to prevent the permanent destruction of the river.
The group at the Summersville Dam, preparing to head downstream.
INSIGNIFICANT
Jim was the only one who had run the river before.
It was on his first trip, a year prior, that he learned of the plans for the Swiss dam. Appalled at the idea of flooding such a pristine valley, he embarked on a plan to popularize and commercialize the river. The Gauley needed to be in every guidebook, and on the menu of every rafting company, and only names and descriptions could expedite that process.
At the dam, Bill Friend, Al Jenkins, Ed Richmond, Barbara Brown, Peter Brown and Gorman Young joined Jim. Their skill sets were a mix, a fact that would become integral to what they would encounter downstream. More integral was the water level; the crew estimates the river was running 2200cfs, nearly double the ~1200cfs Jim had encountered on his run the prior year. At those flows, the Gauley is two entirely different rivers, one a dangerous and technical run with long pools, the other a powerful, dynamic run with long, pushy rapids. Not everyone in the group was adept at handling big water, and after the first few miles, Peter Brown was worried.
As the river made a sharp bend to the right, and the canyon walls rose sharply from the shores, he asked Jim what lay ahead. Jim nonchalantly replied “something insignificant,” as his mind lay downstream on the rapid that really worried him, Pillow Rock. But as the waves grew larger, Jim knew something was off. Cresting a wave partway down the rapid, he could see a large hole in the center of the river. He deftly surfed his way left to avoid the hole, then back right to avoid a second hole. He quickly caught an eddy halfway down the rapid and turned back upstream. It was from there that he surveyed the carnage.
“Three or four upside-down boats with brightly colored helmeted swimmers” were bobbing their way down the rapid. The rest of the group was following closely behind Jim, and not everyone had time to make the hard turns to avoid the offset holes. Peter Brown, one of the few still in his boat, came paddling by, and with an irritated tone in his voice said, “insignificant huh?” Jim pulled the wax pencil from his lifejacket and jotted down the name. Then he headed down to collect the swimmers.
Jim Stuart (left), Bill Friend (center), and Peter Brown (right) running Pillow Rock Rapid, October 1969. Photos by Gorman Young.
 
LOST PADDLE
“Rolling wasn’t usual.”
As Barb Brown remembers, not everyone in the group had a solid roll. Paddling the Gauley without a roll seems like a sin today, but the 1960’s came with a different mindset. The homemade gear and boat designs, and outfitting that was prone to failure, made rolling a luxury reserved for the best boaters. And if you found yourself out of your boat, it wasn’t a guarantee your paddle would float.
On an earlier trip down Section IV of the Chattooga, Barb had gotten herself in trouble in one of the rapids and swam. After finding her way to the shore, she discovered her paddle had disappeared. A heavy aluminum shaft and thick blades turned the paddle into an anchor. Jimmy Holcombe waded out and examined the riverbed with his feet, eventually finding the buried paddle.
Passing the mouth of the Meadow River, the group was about to encounter their biggest challenge. Four distinct moves, separated only briefly by fast moving pools, combine to create a rapid that remains the most difficult on the river. As Barb made her way down the second drop, over the wave that is known today as “Hawaii 5–0,” she found herself aimed at a mid-river rock. Upon contact, her boat came to a screeching halt. Jim remembers seeing her helmet “fly forward over her face, and her paddle leap magnificently into the air”. Hovering, half-pinned on the rock for a few seconds, she eventually flipped and swam, finding the shore on river left. An hour-long search for her paddle proved fruitless, and with the late afternoon light fading, the group decided to call it a day. Barb swam across to river right, and the search for a path upstream began.
Barb and Pete had to return to DC, so they made the difficult trek uphill to Carnifex Ferry, boats and gear in tow. The rest of the group followed, making plans to tackle the rest of the river the next day. Jim was perhaps the only member left convinced it was still a good idea. Barb would return a year later, after extensive roll practice, and along with Carrie Ashton become the first women to complete the full Gauley Run. 
Several years later, a raft guide found Barb’s paddle. The shaft had wear marks in the aluminum, the river still slowly leaving its mark in memory of that day.
[left] Jim Stuart (red boat), Jack Wright (white Boat) Kent Taylor, and Peter Brown (red boat, white helmet), November 1970, photo by Barbara Brown; [right] Barbara Brown at River’s End on the Lower Youghiogheny, using the “lost paddle”. Photo 1986
DEFEATING A DAM
Lost Paddle and Insignificant are just two of the many rapids that got named that weekend. They got sent, along with descriptions, to Paul Davidson for inclusion in Wildwater West Virginia. A year later, Jim Stuart spearheaded the first commercial rafting trip with help from the Dragan brothers. In 1973, a mere five years after the first descent, and just four years after Jim’s wax pencil jotted the names down, dozens of boaters gathered in a prelude to what would later become Gauley Fest. In the following decade they defeated the proposed High Swiss dam. The decade after that they saw the river become a National Recreation Area. Today, thousands of people pass through those same rapids, an experience etched in their mind, connected with a name from that October day.
Because in the end, it’s the personal connection that allows a rapid name to linger long after the river has changed its physical shape. The power behind that connection has the ability to crumble concrete walls, and preserve, forever, the places that we come to call home. Each run is marked by the joy and agony found at each new precipice. The original act of defiance becomes a definition, then an outright declaration of the place. What seemed a fool’s errand proves to be wisdom; legacies and failures cemented, with only the future stories left to tell.

{Now we wrap up our endeavor with some thoughts on the River and the Festival held each September in It’s honor, by the one and only Taz! With photos from this year’s festival shot by Steven Wells!}
GAULEY FEST. by Taz Riggs
The first descent of the Gauley River was accomplished in 1964, by an intrepid group of six paddlers. Before that time the Gauley was virtually unknown to the then sparse community of whitewater enthusiasts. Since that trip, the number of people challenging this stretch of imposing water has increased every year since. The reservoir was installed to control anticipated high flows and to have that water to  augment downstream flows during periods of low water in summer to aid industrial traffic downstream as far as the Gulf of Mexico. The Corp of Engineers in fall would draw down the lake to facilitate these goals. By the 1980’s, the potential for hydro-electric power threatened one of North America’s premier runs.
Efforts to answer this threat and provide recreational releases brought about the first West Virginia Whitewater Festival in 1983. This was the embryo for the first Gauley Fest, which occurred the following year. Vagabond river guides, commercial interests such as rafting companies, and all forms of businesses that would benefit from tourism surrounding the sport, joined hands to make it happen. At first this may have seemed like an unlikely marriage, but all, no matter which direction they came from, had one thing in common: a passion for what the river could provide for all. The “win-win” voice of reason was heard by all. Gauley season was born.
People now flock to the river from all over the country, and even the world, to celebrate. Not just for the Gauley, but for rivers everywhere. The summer season has ended with Labor Day weekend and you might assume that it’s time to think about winter sports. Instead, tens of thousands are packing and traveling for West Virginia to take in the fall colors and to try their skills. Most take a bite out of the river and are sure to return for more, some have been bitten and return to settle the score. Some may never return, having been treated a little too rough, Yet, even those people tend to attract more newcomers in spite of, if not because of, their warnings.
 
Almost as soon as I got into the sport in the early eighties, I learned of the reputation of the river. I was aware of my limitations and made the Gauley a mark to aspire toward. My first run down the river I nearly had my pride handed to me, bent, broken and dripping wet. I look back now and recognize that run as one of the biggest plateau busters in my career. I feared that the people I was paddling with would find pleasure in watching the river eat me. I would not depend on those people. The battle with the water became a partnership instead. When it pushed, I pushed back. The river and I made a pact; we would combine our forces to put the boat where it needed to go. 
Having been a paddler for several years, it seemed logical to me that I would become a raft guide in order to make river running a lifestyle choice. The Gauley returned to a new list of rivers to be mastered in a different craft. It took 10 years to scratch it off the list. I continued to return every year in a C-1; even though I had already been guiding for several years on comparable water, the relationship with the river was personal. I wasn’t sure that I would find taking responsibility for passengers as rewarding. Working for six of seven years on the Bio-Bio River in Chile, it was finally dammed in 1996. Where could I find that rush to round out my annual addiction to big water? 
Peers that I had known and encouraged me to come guide the Gauley finally got through to me. I had been on the Chattooga River for most of my career at that point. They compared the two rivers for me, “Know how, when you’re six inches off line on the Chattooga, you pay the price hard and fast? If you’re six feet off line on the Gauley, there is still time to save your run.” Though it might seem cavalier, I understood. Somehow my reputation proceeded me. No one seemed to question my ability, and there I stood with an Avon Pro and a crew of nine, staring at those tubes blasting two horizontal columns of roaring water, a surging eddy with current as strong as any other place on the river. I knew the name of five rapids and exhausted every joke and bit of small talk I could manage to fill in the spaces in between. The only mistake I remember making on that trip was running Sweet’s Falls perfectly backwards… perfectly. Someone in the crew asked after the trip if it was my first as a guide. I humbly admitted that it was. “Good job! Learn the name of some of the small rapids, cut out about half of the jokes and don’t run Sweet’s backward, you’ll be a great guide here.” I took that as a compliment and have only missed three of the last twenty-one years.
As a river guide, the festival was something foreign to me. I usually worked the earliest trips on the water. I did go a couple times in my early years, but I just couldn’t justify partying late and not being on my game in the morning. I must admit that I was not then a philanthropist, still not. (Thrills and spills a raft guide’s got. Money, not so much) The causes that AW represents are worth the gate fee, and the savings on gear would be hard to beat any other time of year. Still, I would always be staring at winter. Frugality, generosity and party time just don’t mix. The last two Gauley seasons have seen me at the festival from start to finish. For the pleasure of it and for the pure joy in running the river for the fun again. The gate fee is now justifiable, since I don’t have to pay for camping elsewhere. I still have no money to spend on bargain priced gear, but I feel sure AW will use my fee for causes I support. I think though, that most important to me, is the opportunity to see hundreds of people I’ve met over the years that share the same passion for river running. 

Kayakers, canoers, raft guides, people in tubes, on river boards, SUPS. Doctors, lawyers, engineers. Mechanics, carpenters, waitresses. I don’t care where all of you came from. I don’t care how you got here. I look forward to seeing all again next year. So that we can celebrate all that we have in common; a love of rivers and the unique community of people that surround it.

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