FROM THE EDITOR: I was forced to miss out on all of the epic Dirtbaggin’ two weekends ago at Cheat Fest in Albright, WV due to work (stupid responsibilities!). Hosted by the local non profit Friends of the Cheat to benefit the local river community, Cheat Fest is an awesome event, one that we have been pleased to participate in over the past years. My cancellation came the day before I was to depart, so I was unable to deliver our freebees for the charity raffle, and for that I’m truly sorry (DBP hopes to make up for that next year!). We did however line up some great post-game reports from some friends who made it there, Jason Carpenter and Joe Mayer, along with some great photos from Gabe DeWitt.
Without further ado, we present to you this year’s Cheat Fest!
“When I first heard of Cheat Fest, I knew that it was a large festival. But as a new boater with only a couple of years of experience under his belt, I didn’t see Cheat Fest for more than whitewater, live music, and a weekend of camping with good friends.
The rains fell the week before and the water was running high. On Friday the 6th, the Cheat Canyon was pushing near 12000 CFS. As a boater of non death defying waters, I was slowly losing hope that I would even see the Cheat River during this festival, let alone find anything to run in the area. Being from Western New York I knew very little of the creeking in West Virginia.
As boaters and rafters alike woke on Friday to hair-raising levels, talk from all around had moved from Cheat River plans to finding one of the various “runs” to paddle in the area. The news going around was that the famous Cheat River Race would probably be postponed if not cancelled for the weekend. As this news made its way to my ears I had decided to take the day slow and answer the call of whitewater. Unfortunately, later that day while on the upper Big Sandy I had heard the race was still on and had only been moved to the Cheat Narrows. Sadly at this point I had to accept that I would have to wait another year to see the race, and I finished what was an awesome personal first descent of the Big Sandy.
When I arrived back at the campground I couldn’t believe how many people, cars, and boats could be crammed into what looked like such a small campground. Still a day before the official festival, the atmosphere was already thick and heavy with the sounds of people excited about the weekend and whitewater. The smell of campfires and food on the grill. The sounds of laughter and the sight hanging gear. Deciding that I was too tired and too lazy to cook up my own food, I felt that it was time to see what I could buy to eat. To my enjoyment a couple of us found a food truck already set up and seemingly ready to serve. I couldn’t believe my ears when he offered up a plate of barbecue chicken leg and ribs with au gratin potatoes on the side for 10 bucks. Without hesitation I said yes. It must be said that the proprietor of this food truck was a master salesman and very passionate about his food. So believe me when I tell you I could only sit back and laugh when my plate of several charBQ wings, a boneless chunk of pork and french fries came up. As hungry as I was I didn’t care too much. In fact I had some of the best CharBQ wings ever.
I woke on Saturday to find the campgrounds once again a sloppy mud pit. It had rained again the night before, just enough to keep the levels up on smaller creeks and slow the receding waters of the Cheat River. The river was still running about 7000 to 8000 cfs. A small group of us decided to check out Mud Creek, the little stream running along the festival grounds. This is a fun, short run that was a constant technically challenging class 2-3 creek. With water still too big for the majority of our group to run on the Cheat, we decided to take a drive down to the Dry Forks. On our way we drove along the Cheat Narrows and I fortunately got to witness an epic site at Calamity Rock. Two holes that could easily swallow a bus and a rooster tail in between that just might send you into orbit.
When we arrived back at camp, it was time to set aside paddling and enjoy the other side of this amazing event. Food, music, good folks and good culture. I grabbed a couple of beers and a flask of whiskey and headed to the festival grounds. One of the first things I noticed was the amount of vendors and the people checking them out. While walking around I came across a familiar face working at one of the stands. If you ever camped out around Ohiopyle you might be familiar with a wooden drive-thru beer shack. This gentleman by the name of Paul is not just a simple beer clerk but a knowledgeable and skilled squirt boat designer.
As I continued around, I walked by a couple sharing a moment that they will always remember, the engagement of boater Scott “Kunklebird” and the ever beautiful Brittany Chabak, a non boater. Congrats you two! After sharing this moment for several minutes with them I paused and thought about the meaning of Cheat Fest. I’m pretty sure I know what it means to most paddlers. I know what I thought it was about. But I was now becoming curious as to what it meant to the locals.
So somewhere along my unsuccessful attempts at trying to interview locals I found a happily, inebriated young woman who gave me the best advice of the night. “If you want to understand us just immerse yourself in our culture.” And so I did. I found my way to the front of the stage and there for the rest of the night I clapped my hands with the fiddle, stomped my feet along with the banjos, did a little jig during the chorus lines, dosey do’ed with the friendly ladies, and drank moonshine while yelling in each other’s ears. By the end of the night, I was starting to understand the meaning of Cheat Fest.
This festival is about so much more than whitewater and a party for paddlers. This festival is for the locals. By the locals and about the locals. Cheat Fest is not just a celebration of the Cheat River watershed, but also a fundraiser to continue the rehabilitation, revival, and restoration of a watershed that is vital to the life and well-being of those that live there as well as a place of entertainment and recreation.
As the weekend wrapped up on Sunday, I finally found myself on the Cheat Narrows. At 4500 cfs, it was one hell of a ride that did not provide much opportunity to think back on Saturday. But I did have enough of a chance to realize that I didn’t just attend a whitewater festival, I had myself a life experience. There truly are no adequate words to accurately describe this weekend. My only advice to you is to plan on going next year and do as I did. Immerse yourself in the culture of West Virginia. And so I raise my mason jar and salute the Friends of Cheat for putting on such an epic event.
And it must not be forgotten that the Sunday after the Cheat Festival was Mother’s Day. To all the moms, on behalf of all the paddlers, thanks for understanding that when the water calls, that we as your children must answer.”
Story and accompanying photos by Jay Carpenter aka Moonshine Kayaker.
Jay wrote an icy account of a dangerous winter mission gone right…
DBP Admin Aaron Erdrich made it to West By God in time for the high water, making a few appearances in videos in his black Mini-max.
“IS THAT AE’S BOAT WALLACED IN BIG NASTY?” Yep, I recognize the Watershed drybag…
AE dropping in on the party on the Big Sandy. I think everybody pooped themselves… except AE. He IS the shit!
Operation: Cheat Fest 2016. Photos and story by Joe Mayer
“When the spring rains hit the Appalachians and the rivers start to rise, it signals that it is time again for Cheat Fest. For some boaters it is the beginning of their season, while for others who have been chasing flow through the colder months it is just an excuse to boat and party back in good old West Virginia. This was to be my first Cheat Fest. I had been been trying to work it in for a few years, but it falls dangerously close to Jazz Fest in New Orleans and in my house that fest usually wins out, not that I’m complaining.
However, this year was to be different- my son Jake would be getting his first taste of whitewater festivals and I hadn’t dipped my paddle in West By God since a spring break run up the Beast Coast 20 years ago. With a bit of foresight we had things set so our girls would have a nice Mother’s Day without us and we pointed the grey ghost due east.
The forecast had predicted rain the entire week before and the gauges were reading on the high side. The stoke was high and we knew there would be plenty of juicy action. We were the first of our group to arrive at Teter’s campground and the area I was told to secure was already taken. The campground host set us up with a spot that could handle our group size, which was supposed to be around ten with maybe five cars. It was raining lightly and we began setting up camp. My awesome wife had sent along 5 quarts of homemade gumbo, so as the rest of the crew trickled in they were greeted with steaming hot bowls. With bellies full we happily partied the night away and left planning for the morning. Our group consisted of Rich H., Bob, Judy, Tom, Wayne, Rich J, Greg, Jake, myself and Curtis “Big Cat” Werner. Flows were pushing up too high for some of the classics, which meant that a lot of lesser run gems of the Cheat watershed were up. After a serious planning sesh, it was decided that we would run the Laurel Fork of the Cheat. Rich said he has had his eyes on it for around 20 years, but never was able to catch it with water in it. So off we went, with a lust for water and adventure in our hearts, and the Laurel provided both. The guidebook didn’t offer a whole lot of info about this run other than saying it is one of the most continuous sections of class III whitewater in the state. That turned out to be true. After maybe 1-1/2 miles of steady moving class II boogie water the pitch increased, forming endless class III wave trains with a few smallish pourovers. There was only one named rapid, which was a 14′ drop, called simply Laurel Falls. There were a few lines to take on this drop. The line that looked best was river right and of course it had a huge tree jammed in there, negating it as an option. The next best line was to skirt a guard hole center while moving left of center and boof the 12 feet or so onto what looked like a friendly enough foam pile. However, get pushed too far left and you’d find yourself into the wood that was all jammed up in the left side and in the eddy below also. Most everyone took a quick look and began portaging boats and roping them down the other side. Curtis however is not a kayaker. Curtis paddles a 14′ cataraft that is purple with gold trim that we had dubbed “Crown Royale”. Portaging was not an option for Curtis. I wanted to to see someone run it before I decided, so I asked that my boat be left up top and continued helping at the bottom. Seeing Crown Royale come into view was a magnificent sight. Curtis paddled up to the lip, grabbed his handles and rode Crown Royale to glory. “Alright, I’m running it,” I said as I scurried up the slope. When I got to the top to take one last look at the approach, my guts were nervously churning but the line was clear as day. Things didn’t go bad, just not as good as the visualization. I caught the edge of the guardian hole and got slowed down a bit, blew the boof and penciled the drop. No biggie though, a quick roll and we were on our way, back to hootin’ and hollerin’ down the wave trains.
Laurel Fork was a really great run and I would highly recommend it not only to intermediate boaters, but to the more advanced also. It is very continuous and when I mentioned that it reminded me of the Crystal River Narrows in Colorado, a few others that have been on the Crystal said they had been thinking the same thing.
After another night of rain, it was nice to wake up Saturday to semi clear skies. Three people in our group opted to not paddle Saturday and just hung out and partied. Tom and Wayne were to spend their day on the Big Sandy with an ACA instructor to work on getting their instructor level up certification. Although I had wanted to get on the Sandy myself, the canyon was still a little too high for some in our crew and the Sandy is not somewhere I wanted to deal with any problems. So, Bob, Rich J., Jake, Curtis and I decided to hit up the Cheat Narrows. The narrows were pumping at a pretty high volume and proved to be the right call. The sun came out and we had a couple of super fun laps just surfing big waves and bopping our way down through wave trains to the takeout with big stupid smiles. I like scaring the shit out of myself and pushing limits, but big stupid smiles with the sun glinting off your boat is just as good or maybe better. Plus it was not far from the festival grounds and logistics were simple, so then it was right back to the fest to get busy.
Cheat Fest met all of my expectations exactly as I’d imagined it. I pretty much knew it would be medium sized and laid back, a great time without being overly wild, a perfect first whitewater fest for my 16 year old son Jake to attend. The Friends of the Cheat organization began putting on the fest in 1995 to raise awareness of water quality issues damaging the watershed. The festival grounds are connected to Teter’s campground, so it was a convenient short walk from our campsite. Jake and I wandered around checking out all the vendor tents, listening to great bluegrass from the main stage, enjoying the local artist tents, people watching and generally just enjoying the vibe of the whole event. I really liked seeing the kids tent and the boat where the kids were allowed to climb around and paint freely whatever they liked. For a moment I felt a weird pang and wished my own kids to be small again and see that type of enjoyment on their faces. That feeling passed quickly as I drank my way through it, but it didn’t change the fact that I really dig a family friendly environment like that. Oh yeah, there also appeared to be some pretty large hula hoop and slackline clinic type things happening. However, I stayed focused on my mission of quaffing down beers as if I were being paid to do so. Shoutout to Greenbrier Galley Brewing for concocting one of my new favorites, Mothman Black IPA. A few other noteworthy mentions:
Finally getting to try the famous pepperoni rolls from Water Street Cafe, those things are pretty damn awesome.
Hanging out with the folks from Cheat Canyon Adventures. Great people who put out a free recreation guide for the area.
Hanging out with the rep, I think his name was Justin, from Watershed Dry Bags and checking out his one wheel, although he insinuated I was too drunk to try it out which wasn’t true.
The music at Cheat Fest was top notch.
More rain in the night and I awoke wet and could hear someone teeing off on the campers across the way, it turned out to be Curtis. This was at 5:00 a.m. and they were still up loudly singing and playing whatever instruments they had. A while later when I finally drug myself out to make coffee one of the girls was packing up while yelling at another girl that she didn’t come out here to be yelled at by strangers. She yelled a while longer before jumping in a car and cruising out of the camp never to be seen again. Cheat Canyon was down to a manageable level, and I had hopes of running it. However, due to some severe cases of the brown bottle flu, it was decided that we should just hit the Lower Yough loop on our long ride back to the Midwest. How could i argue with that? So we shot over to Ohiopyle, PA and prepared to run the Lower. The only problem was that when asked how long his cataraft was Curtis answered 14’ and was promptly informed that at this level, which was 4’, any private rafts of this type need to be 15’ or greater. The ranger was super nice, but rules are rules. He hadn’t anticipated how relentless a bunch of fast talking kayakers and one West By God rafter can be. We broke him down with a lot of nice talk and some creative tape measuring. Boom permits were issued and we were on our way. As usual, the loop provided just what we needed, which was one last taste before heading home.
For me this trip was a super success. The water was there, the weather cooperated for the most part and the fest met all expectations. In some ways I would have liked to hit up those classic more difficult runs. However, I prefer the idea of teaching my son the ethic that it’s better to paddle with good style and have fun (Soul Boating) and work your way up to those harder runs, than push too hard for difficulty (ego boating) only to look panicky and perform like a beater. So until next time, keep your head above water and safety in your minds.”
Joe wrote about paddling with the Wisconsin Dirt Bags and shot the November 2015 cover photo for the Mag-
GABE DEWITT is a local artist, engineer,and adventurer, a photographer with a knack for capturing intimate moments and bringing whitewater action alive. He took some great photos of the fun had at Cheat Fest, including the first photo in this article. You have to make plans to attend next year!
A link to the full album-
Gabe’s page- http://www.1gabe.com
Gabe covered last year’s Top Yough Race for DBP MAGAZINE ONLINE in words and photos-