MY FIRST WALLACE happened in Entrance Rapid on the Lower Yough, as a customer of White Water Adventurers in Ohiopyle, PA. I had heard the safety talk only a few minutes before. Before I could even get my feet up and onto my back, my friend and consequent longtime boating partner Chris Andrews had me back in the raft. Yep, I was hooked. For Life.
I HAD A FEW MORE Wallaces on that river, one of my favorite all-time stretches of whitewater. I introduced my cousin Mike Christopher to rafting there, taking a rented shredder down only after assuring our family everything would be just fine. I wasn’t as good as I thought, and as we approached Dimple Rock, one of the most famous deadly rapids in the East, I realized we were too far left, which would surely flip our boat. I was riding on the left by the way. So, as we made contact, I jumped over my poor unsuspecting cousin and into the main current, leaving Mike to be Wallaced by the boat directly at the undercut. Thankfully he lived. I swam all the way around the bend, through Swimmers Rapid. I lost my paddle, emerged from the depths, and found myself with two paddles! The new one, a purple and orange WV stick, hadn’t started out with us. I still have that paddle today.
COUSIN MIKE ONLY boated with me only one more time, the following summer. This time he shredded with a college buddy. I took an inflatable kayak (out East dirtbags call them duckies; we call them funyaks where I’m from) that I had brought from my new job on the Peshtigo River back in Wisconsin. The Yough was a juicy 3.1 on the scale. I led the way into Entrance Rapid, going over the big pourover in the middle at the top of the lengthy rapid, and getting Wallaced hard. I ended up at the bottom pool, my boat happily surfing for a few minutes. Mike and his buddy had continued on while I was Wallacing; they never slowed down let alone stop. After a bit a friendly stranger brought my boat down to me. I hiked it up Cucumber Falls and hitchhiked back to Ohiopyle, to wait for their run down to Bruner’s. I nursed a beer at the Pub, wondering if this sport was for me. It could have been the end. But I got back out there the next day, and my journey continues…
SPEAKING OF FUNYAKS, it was my second season of boating that I first paddled one, at Kosir’s Rapid Rafts on the Peshtigo, where I would one day become river manager and a true dirtbag. I showed up with Chris Andrews, and we asked to rent a shredder. Paula at the front desk just laughed and talked us into paddling solo. I hesitated only for a moment before signing on. I had never paddled anything by myself before. The Pesh was flowing at a solid +6 on the bridge gauge. I ran the first rapid, First Drop, cleanly, and filled with elation pulled over like everyone else to give it a re-run. Wallace! I have since swam that rapid, the most Wallacing rapid in Wisconsin, hundreds if not thousands of times. For years the approach would give me butterflies, the surest sign of true love…
THAT FIRST FUNYAK TRIP also saw the hardest Wallace of Horserace Rapid in my life, the most challenging rapid on the Peshtigo. I flipped in the very top hydraulic, swimming the length of it, which means big nasty dunkings in the beginning and end, and shallow nastiness in the middle. Somewhere along the way I smashed my big toe, which proceeded to bother me all summer long as I dirtbagged with abandon. I learned to swim whitewater that summer, not by choice but because I was hooked. In all these years I have never Wallaced the length of Horserace again, though! Respect will do that…
MY HEAVIEST WALLACE was on a very high water day in Spring, a day where the snow was knee deep in the banks of the Peshtigo, running +28. I was guiding a 16 footer packed to the gills with heavies; I calculated we were pushing 3500 lbs of Wisconsin ass downstream. When we hit Joey’s Hole, the biggest stopper on the river at that level, well you can say Joey hit back. The upward Wallace was epic, and forever seared in my memory. All that ass dumping back directly onto me! I came up with the oh shit handle and swam my boat, along with about half my crew, to the river right eddy… And watched the rest of them, blissfully ignorant of the ropes tossed to them and the commands of “roll over and swim right” being yelled, feet up and on their backs tumbling over Five Foot Falls fifty yards downstream. In particular I spied a larger lady who had specifically requested me to be her guide after I had delivered the safety talk to the group of 100 customers. “I want to go with you. You’ll be safest,” she said. Even then, I was wondering how these very large people would get through Joey’s. Too bad she didn’t remember the part about swimming aggressively back to the raft or to the guide, or anything other than “feet up.” What can a river guide do but chuckle at the sight? “Wallace!”
WORKING AT KOSIR’S taught me a lot about Wallace. I started rafting the Menominee that year, and guiding it the next season. One day I brought up a friend, and to impress her I rode the bull through Piers Gorge. After our run, she asked if she could ride it too. We don’t normally allow that, but I talked everyone into it. “I’ll paddle up front in case anything goes wrong.” Brilliant. Well, I’ve never seen anyone lose grip anywhere but at the very base of Mishicot Falls (a steep 10 foot drop that starts the descent) or at the subsequent smash into Volkswagen Rock 100 yards downstream, and then the person only tumbles backwards into the bottom of the front of the 16 footer. But not my friend. She falls FORWARD out of the raft and into the drink, as we are pounding through the massive waves above VW. And proceeds to hang on to the rope instead of letting go like she had been told. She’s about to get battered against the rock by the full weight of the boat and crew rocketing full steam! I jump into action, grabbing her just inches before the rock, which we hit dead on. I’ve got her with both hands, and she’s out of the impact zone but still outside the raft, and I’m leaned over the tube, WHAM! We both tumble out as the raft wrenches to the side from the impact, she landing on her back, me still grasping her life jacket and heading face first straight down… WHACK! into the rock. I’m knocked silly. I come to a few moments later, in the river with my silly friend, who has no idea of the peril she’s in or the massive Wallacing awaiting downstream. We are now 25 yards from the boat, and I have a decision to make- swim to the rope that’s been thrown to me, or stay with her and help her. She’s laughing and floating down the river likes it’s a Disney ride, not even looking to see what’s coming. I stay. “Hey! HEY! Turn around! You’re about to…” and we go under for some down time. This is repeated through the next 200 yards of Class IV whitewater, when finally the raft gets to us and pulls us in. I’m exhausted as I’m hauled up and tossed into the floor of the boat. Everyone is staring at me wide eyed, going “oh man, that’s bad, are you ok?” I’m like, “what’s the matter?” “Dude! You need to go to the hospital!” It’s then that I realize I’ve bashed my chin to pulp on the rock. For the next few weeks it felt like I had broken it, but I only got a short term case of TMJ. I didn’t even go to the hospital; instead my good friend and fellow guide Sheryl cleaned it up and butterflied it shut with superglue while we all drank around the campfire that night. My “friend” didn’t even put out! I got a nasty scar to show off though! I was back on the raft the following weekend.
THE DEEPEST DOWNWARD WALLACE occurred on the Upper Gauley in West By God Virginia, one of my favorite rivers. I wrote in detail about swimming Lost Paddle, one of the main Class V rapids, in an article about this awesome whitewater stretch.
Suffice to say, I’ve never gone deeper into the dark than that day in Tumblehome, the very last hole of the ⅛ mile rapid. It scared the hell out of me! That panic almost drowned me, and taught me to chill out and accept my Wallace. It was a scary lesson though. I’ll never forget heading straight into the maw of the hole, how that wall of frothing fury reared up a good four feet above my head just peeking out of the water as I entered, and beat me DOWN. That’s the nature of the beast.
I GOT A PAINFUL Wallace on Postage Due Rock, located just downstream of Sweet’s Falls on the Gauley a few seasons back. I was paddling and partying in proper dirtbag fashion with a number of the top Admins from around the country, enjoying the Wallace show on the Class V drop, and getting pretty Wallaced myself… We’d been going at it hard for the better part of an hour, and it was time to rally. Jason Flannery, my boating partner, had jumped off the rock and tipped over a passing Creature Craft in the Poop Chute, wearing the long webbing that we were going to lower the raft off the rock with. So, I go to use my little short waist strap, hanging on to the ‘biner to get a few extra inches. The boat is stretching me as far as I can reach, and I say to my other boat partner, Kelly Gladen, “just jump in.” She goes for it, kind of slipping as she starts, and BAM! the force of the landing dislocates my middle finger! Like, it’s two inches SHORTER than my other fingers! WALLACE! Oh man did that hurt, and no one could manage to get it back in place to the point that I was sure it was broke. That was one long ride down the rest of the river and through the winding roads of the mountains of West By God back to Gauley Fest.
OFF THE RIVER, my best Wallace was on a road trip with my homie Nick Guarniere, who first formed Dirt Bag Paddlers along with Flan and I back in the summer of 2013. We were on a true dirtbag road trip, and we’d just learned the art of the Wallace a few days before. Nick had never had Starbuck’s cappuccino before (really, right?!?) and he ordered a venti at a roadside travel plaza. He comes strolling out, just about to raise the cup of deliciousness to his lips… “WALLACE!!” I declared, slapping it off his feet everywhere, in front of like twenty seniors who were coming out to load up on their bingo bus. The looks of shock on their faces were trumped only by the look on his, and Flan’s laughter topped it all. Hey, I AM a dirtbag, after all.
I KNEW WALLACE had gone main stream when Nick’s brother Dale called me from the cabin at Kosir’s last Spring during the NBA playoffs. “Dude, you’ll never guess what I just heard! The color man said ‘Wallace!’ after a blocked shot! I thought I heard him wrong, then he said it again a few minutes later. ‘Like Ben Wallace,’ he clarified. Can you believe it?” I guess we’ve changed the world, hahah, I answered. For better or worse, WALLACE is officially a thing.
AND FOR MY most recent Wallace… While driving across the country a few days ago, I saw the exit sign ahead on Route 90 in Idaho- WALLACE. I pulled over to get a few pics (of course!) Wallace, ID is a small oldschool western mining town deep in the mountains, with quaint little pawn shops and a rapid filled creek running through town. I missed my turn, and pulled a U-ee… Rubbing my passenger front tire off the curb, and ripping a big hole in the sidewalk. WALLACED in WALLACE!!! Go figure.