EDITOR’S DESK: A party as huge as Gauley Fest, and a river as epic as the Upper Gauley (or is it a party as epic and river as huge…) cannot be summed up properly by only one voice. There is so much to see and do, and such high levels of fun being had that causes one to forget, that we invited four members of our Staff to participate in capturing this year’s festival in an attempt at not only somewhat accurately portraying our favorite get together here at Dirt Bag Paddlers, but also to inspire you our readers to make the journey to Summersville West Virginia next year to join us in the merry mayhem. Let’s let Michael Potter start off the adventure that IS the World’s Best Whitewater Party: Gauley Fest!
I met DBP Admin Kelly Gladen volunteering for American Whitewater at the gate for Gauley Fest and was directed to the DBP campsite. It was quite easy to find. “Just look for an ambulance with kayaks strapped to the roof,” an interesting river setup in my opinion.
We set camp and socialized amongst ourselves and neighbors, meeting new friends and staff until the early morning hours. DBP Admin Daniel “DJ TerrEnce” Young had the mixing board cranking out some killer dance beats, which drew the attention of many fest goers that just stopped by to chat for awhile.
The next morning plans were already in place to raft the river with longtime Gauley guide Biskitz Deep/DBP Admin Gabe Crawford, along with DBP Admin Alex Wilson and friends of Team Rage Cage. There was congestion at the Summersville Dam put in when we arrived. I helped unload the rafts and headed for the takeout to set shuttle.
Upon reaching the takeout I encountered a park official who was blocking the road. He informed me that the area was closed due to overcrowding. I decided to skip the run at this point and simply wait until the area was reopened to shuttle my crew back. Boring right? Not at all.
When the area reopened I drove in and squeezed my SUV into the best parking spot available. Then I proceeded to move to the river bank and wait for my crew. This was the best decision I could have made. At the river’s edge I was asked by numerous boaters if I had room for another body. Unfortunately I knew that I was already packed with my own crew and space was limited already. I even had to turn DBP Admin Aaron Erdrich away, in which case I felt tremendously bad. I was amazed at the sheer number of boaters on the river, many whom I knew, many that knew me, and the overwhelming hordes of boaters that were there. Missing the run was definitely a downer for me, but knowing the help that I gave to my friends was rewarding to me given the situation. Sometimes you just have to do what is right given adverse situations.
Returning to the fairgrounds was a new experience. Many new vendors were set up displaying all the new toys that whitewater has to offer. I noticed displays from Pyranha, Dagger, LiquidLogic, Exo, and Jackson Kayaks. There were rafts, duckies, and SUP’s on display. Many merchants had set up accessory stands of new and used merchandise.
Daniel and DBP Admin Henry Potter aka DJ Allen Rockhouse had center stage with for the night and provided music for the happy onlookers. It was an enjoyable experience for people to dance in the arena or to listen as they browsed the sale goods. I personally walked the area many times that night, bumping into friends from my area in the Smoky Mountain foothills. I ran into some locals who always bring a smile to my face, such as Ben Carr, Jerry Griffin, Steve Davis, and Mike “Shaggy” Ward who sold me my Squirrel 85 from LiquidLogic. Mike is a representative of Eagle Vision Outfitters in Steel, Alabama. He travels to many events displaying LL demos (free plug here bro!). If there’s an event in the Southeast, it’s a good chance he will be there. Hit him up on the Eagle Vision Outfitters Facebook page.
After midnight, Daniel and Henry moved the music into the DBP campsite and cranked it back up. I stood on top of Daniel’s ambulance and literally watched the crowd migrate into our campsite. DBP is all about welcoming the paddling community. I tremendously enjoyed the opportunity to meet old DBP members like Ryan Waterhouse and his friend Rhino, Tommy & Michelle with their daughter Gigi, and Associate Editor Wes Breitenbach and his wife Jesica. We finally shut down at 3am.
Saturday morning I decided to shuttle the crew again. When we arrived at the dam this time there was a back up all the way from the main road. I realized once again that I had made the right decision. I noticed Pat Keller walking his kayak from the top of the dam, and Ian O’Shaughnnessy with his crew carrying a raft. That’s dedication right there folks!
Once again I sat in amazement at the takeout out waiting on my crew. I talked with a complete new group of boaters coming off the river, and had a long conversation with Matthew Hickey while he set shuttle for Randy Barfield and Tony Butler of the Paddle Crackers. We watched and took notice as the boats came downriver. What a kaleidoscope of colors littered the river. This is undoubtedly the most boats that I have ever seen on any river in my life. Every color, every design: kayak, raft, creature craft, to downright plain old inner tube. It was a beautiful thing. Many people paddled right up to me and started talking. Most of them were new to me. In my eyes that doesn’t matter at all. There was this one guy who paddled straight to me, called me by name, then said, “You have no idea who I am do you?”
I replied, simply, “Nope. Does it matter?” The funny thing is I delivered a boat to his dad for him, picking it up in Chattanooga and dropping it off in Chicago. I had never met DBP Admin and fellow Staff Writer Joe Mayer, but he said he could recognize me all the way from Sweets Falls. That’s a third of a mile. I didn’t realize that I stood out that much.
Back at the festival it was more music and social events with some shenanigans thrown in for good measure. No, I didn’t raft the Gauley like I had planned but I still had an awesome time at the river and festival. One lady proclaimed me to be a social butterfly. (I must admit that I had to think about that a little bit.) Another fellow made the comment that he had never had so many people come and ask for one person as much as me. I must admit that it makes me proud to know so many within the paddling community. I don’t do it for bragging rights or fame. I do what I do because I genuinely love being around our people.
Gauley Fest was a blast for me and I highly recommend this experience at least once. The closing brought mixed emotion for me; I was ready to go home, but also felt a deep emptiness come on as I said my goodbyes to the family that I had spent the last week with. In sorrow I wondered when I will see them again. Yet in happiness I look forward to that time, knowing it will come next September…
They say with age comes perspective. Not sure if that applies here, but it’s the first thing that comes to mind. My first Gauley Fest experience was in the mid nineties and the only thing I remember about it is that I ran the Lower Gauley. I don’t even remember anything about the lower, I just remember that we ran it. You could say I enjoyed the fest more than the river.
Twenty years later I was determined to do things a little different. I had been invited out to paddle with some Gauley veterans and I wasn’t going to let opportunity pass me by. Huka Bob has been running the Upper Gauley for 25 years and I couldn’t think of anyone I’d rather have show me this river. I knew the reputation of the festival had grown into a party of epic proportions, so I was fine with the plan of camping at Battle Run. I enjoy a wild party scene as much as the next guy, but over the years I have perfected the skill of ghosting out. I was perfectly willing to trade all night parties and hectic mornings for easier logistics. I had heard horror stories about traffic backups at the put in and I deal with enough of that shit during the week. Half of our crew were rowing cat boats and in an attempt to make the mornings even easier, they decided to set shuttle the night before. This made the mornings buttery smooth. The cat guys all drive big ass trucks and my car wasn’t needed at all, so I contributed to the group dynamic by firing off grub for the troops like a derelict short order cook.
I have to admit right now that I was a little scared. Many years had passed since I paddled anything as difficult and big as the Upper Gauley. I knew that skills wise I was prepared, but as the time crept closer for this trip my head swelled with nervousness. I attempted to chill the voices in my head by constantly studying YouTube videos, guidebook descriptions, and rapid diagrams. None of this helped me relax, but the river itself calmed me down once I was in my boat.
Things were going great until (Class V) Insignificant. The guy I was following did a last minute correction to avoid the monstrous hole in the middle. It was too late for me and I proceeded to get chundered. I rolled up twice while calmly trying to surf my way out. Finally I got my stern to grab some downstream current and I began to mentally rejoice, but the hole had one more move. My bow was sucked in and I was spit out in an ender. I rolled up, got right and finished the rapid off with my heart nearly popping through my chest. “So this is how it’s gonna be, huh?”, I thought as we paddled on downstream.
A similar incident occurred at Pillow Rapid. After a long scout fraught with mental ping pong, I jumped in my boat and charged into the maelstrom. Everything went good until the actual pillow. I braced way too hard into the pillow before realizing there really is no meat to brace off of. The water there is so aerated that my paddle sliced right through it and my momentum carried me over and upside down. A sage bit of advice had been offered before the run by Bob: “If you flip at the pillow, don’t bother trying to roll up,” he said, followed with, “You’re better off riding out the rest upside down and roll up once it’s all clear.” That is exactly what I did. When I rolled up and finally made it to an eddy I muttered, “what the hell man, I’m getting my ass kicked.” It was time to regroup and get my head together.
I’m gonna skip the rest of the play by play, because I did get my shit together and the rest of the weekend went great on the river. I refused to let the earlier beatings get me down. I feel that Mama Gauley was sending me a message to stay sharp and focused. I was happy and proud of myself for keeping my head and riding out these situations while staying in my boat.
As for the Fest, I went both days and enjoyed the vendors, some free beers, giveaways, great bands, and camaraderie with friends. The DBP Dance Party on Friday night was great and DJs TerrEnce Young and Allen Rockhouse were awesome. Those guys kill on stage. Ro sham bo against Pat Keller to win a LiquidLogic boat was very cool as well. It was nice to finally meet DBP Admins and staff writers Jay Carpenter and Michael Potter. I spent some quality time quaffing brews with Dale #danewho Guarniere and Mike Toughill, aka Mike Joseph On Facebook. I regret not meeting more of the core DBP crew, but in time I’m sure we’ll boat together.
A few other highlights of the weekend were watching my friend Curtis run his home built drift boat down the Upper, seeing boaters jump from Pillow Rock onto the top of passing Creature Crafts, and watching Michael Ferraro style boofs and free wheels off the rubber wrapped Dildo Rock. Gauley Fest is a river spectacle that is not to be missed, so I’ll see you there next September.
It’s that time of year when our friends to the north scramble to catch the last bit of running water before old man winter wraps his icy grip around the rivers and creeks that have been the center of adventure, excitement and friendship for the past season. At the same time, we here in the southern part of the country wait out Autumn’s usual dry spell in anticipation of creek season. In the meantime we can all reminisce about the last Gauley Fest. Some will remember more than others, some may not recall much at all, but we can all agree that once you get a taste, you’ll be back for more.
It is something that has brought boaters together from all around the globe for over 30 years, 33 to be exact. And it all began thanks to American Whitewater and their fight to keep rivers flowing free. This is their single biggest fundraiser of the year and every one of you that participates helps to keep their mission strong.
It got me wondering……How does it happen?
For you and me it’s easy, just show up, party, boat and more party, in any order – then repeat. But for the crew putting on one of the biggest whitewater festivals in the world, it takes lots of planning, organization, and volunteers, lots of volunteers. So I tracked down the head honcho of Gauley Fest and pulled back the curtain for a look at the belly of the beast.
Natalie Price is the bad hombre that has been coordinating volunteers for the past 6 years, and for the past 3 she has held the reigns for the whole shebang. I found it amazing that they start planning the festival in mid February and they don’t wrap up the project until late October! She doesn’t do it alone; it’s a web of coordination that spans this great country of ours. Four additional key members of the planning team are Mark Singleton and Kevin Colburn from North Carolina, Carla Miner of Utah, and Laura B. Together they begin the process of securing the sight, rentals, bands, and vendors along with the million other things that may be needed to put this epic party together. There is no shortage of things to do.
One of the most valuable resources they have come to rely on are the volunteers. Natalie told me she has only two main groups that volunteer for the event. One, of course are the fabulous folks you are familiar with, DBP. But the other has been there much longer. For well over ten years a group of college students from Central Michigan University’s high adventure club have come down with 30-40 members to help with parking and other needed tasks. There are many individual volunteers as well that chip in to complete the crew that helps in so many ways.
I actually started the DBP chapter of Gauley Fest volunteers and it grows every year. Collectively we provide much needed filler spots in whatever capacity Natalie needs. We all do our part to help things run as smooth as they can.
Fun fact: American Whitewater only has use of the property until 2 pm Sunday. The entire grounds must be picked up and cleaned by that time or they could face fines. That is where some of you may have seen me. I am the guy walking the grounds all Sunday morning combing the festival grounds for trash. Every little bit. From bottle caps and cigarette butts to busted chairs and lost panties, it all has to go! I even found a human under a pile of garbage this year. Luckily he was alive. I’m not sure how well, but he did walk away. I spent about 6+ hours picking up every little bit of everything I can but that’s nothing compared to the 16+ hours Natalie and her team spends every day of that week leading up to Fest weekend, prepping everything from vendor spaces and electricity to signage and barriers. When I say you have no idea how much work goes into these few days, I seriously mean it. This crew works tirelessly so you can party your ass off in a safe, friendly environment.
Speaking of safe and friendly, I learned that Gauley Fest was proud to report nothing happened! Absolutely zero arrests this year! This is great for the festival and its supporters. See, the thing is there are a lot of locals that don’t like all these out of town folks rolling up into their home and taking it over. Sure, some see the economic benefit, but others see a bunch of odd looking/acting weirdos and they don’t take kindly to it. Over the years there have been a few things go down but all in all it is wonderful event, and continues to show the community that the festival is a good thing for the town and its residents.
Over all I wanted to give you a glimpse into what it takes to get this show off the ground. It takes many hundreds of hours of dedication and hard work to pull it off and without the help of many it couldn’t happen. When you go to Gauley Fest next September, remember to sign up to volunteer on their website in advance and mention you are with DBP! We need all the help we can get, even if for just a few hours. And if you can’t, make a point to say thank you to Natalie and her staff for the amazing work that they, along with AW, do. She is easy to find, just look for the crazy girl on the golf cart and you got her! If it’s not her, it’s someone important!
A look at this year:
Every record was broken. From the attendance numbers to the amount of vendors and no arrests! The weekend was a success to say the least. Also the most volunteers this year! DBP!
A look at the future:
Natalie told me that she was excited to have music on Friday night and may expand that to Thursday night due to the ever growing crowd that arrives earlier each year. For the past 2 years Daniel and his brother Henry have brought their unique style of DJ dance party music to the Friday night stage, and if Natalie has a choice, which she does, that will become the new tradition. Along with a few secrets in the works, next year seems to be shaping up to be another great one… Now let’s let the team rest for a few months before they begin the process all over again.
~ F Wes Breitenbach
I’ve been paddlin’ and partyin’ here for years, nine if I’m counting right. I’ve gone from an outsider with wide eyes and no clue what’s around the next bend in the river, to an old school insider showing the new kids the ropes, with friends at every turn. And yet for me the magic of Gauley Fest never diminishes, from the first step onto the fairgrounds to the final ring of the damn bell.
I get to have such a great time at the festival, and I try to share that with as many people as possible. Dale #danewho Guarniere saved hundreds of random beers from a summer’s worth of afterparties at Kosir’s Rapid Rafts in Wisconsin, the original DBP HQ, that we distributed to all the volunteers who signed up under our banner. (Speaking of the banner, early on in the weekend Natalie P. returned the old DBP banner that we had lost, and Wes had replaced, at last year’s festival. We lost it again before the weekend was out. Thanks goodness Wes is a talented seamstress!) It was a pleasure to finally meet in person and crack open a few with longtime supporter Jim Shrewsbury. Over fifty Admins from around the country, and DBP Admin Ollie El-Gamel of New Zealand even, slurped down the remainder! Our group camp is first up and last down. Everyone is welcome, and we share our food and our music and our good vibes with everyone who dares to step up and say hello. “Welcome To Wallaceville” the sign reads, and so it is. It was hilarious to see so many of us running around wild-eyed in our NO ONE GIVES A SHIT YOU’RE A DBP ADMIN shirts, and again: so it is.
I got the chance to party and dance up on the stage all Friday night long during our DJ Dance Party. I remember the good old days when the festival grounds were fairly dead on Friday night. We’ve ruined that sleepy tradition for ever! Hanging with Jay Carpenter, beats pulsing, watching my many friends dance, the crowds out and about checking out the various vendors from high above through the fog clouds, was very magical indeed.
Saturday night I again got up on stage, this time with Dale #danewho, Daniel Young, and our good friend (and Daniel and Dale’s sponsor) Allen Griesemer of Casper Kayaks, to pull the names of the winners of the Dirtbag Kayak raffle. Rick Klade of Wisconsin was drawn by Allen to win a brand new EXO playboat, and stickers, hats, and other gear from DBP and Cascade River Gear was also given away. Thanks to all of our friends who helped make this happen! We raised $270 that went directly to Natalie and AW that night. We yielded the stage to our homie, the talented Corrington Lancto with River Funk, for a night of great music and endless moonshine thanks to DBP Admin Rachel Elise and the fine folks at Sugarlands Shine! Thanks for the memories – or lack thereof!!
This year was the first year that I didn’t either borrow a boat from a friend, hitch a ride, or steal a raft from Kosir’s. DBP Admin Renee Zettle from Cascade River Gear, who treats us so well, hooked me up with a 14ft Maravia Spider (“Limey”) for our trip out to West By God to run Class V in style. And it was so stylie! We rolled with Sugarlands moonshine margaritas and shared lunch (especially a huge bunch of grapes) with everyone below Sweets Falls. I had the pleasure of running clean lines on the Upper all weekend with the likes of DBP Admins Taz Riggs and Gabe Crawford (BDR!), and that raft handled like a dream. (Taz captained a full load of dirtbags on Friday, only to have his first Gauley Wallace in YEARS on Saturday when he left my boat to paddle with Wes, Michelle, and Tommy… Hahah!) (DBP Admin Grink Ashman also got the biggest Wallace of his life at the bottom of Third Drop in Lost Paddle. I’ll never forget the look in his eyes as he was surfing for his life while getting worked in the hole as we passed by a mere foot away, or even more so when he resurfaced after finally wet exiting… And he won’t ever forget the look on MY face either!!) On Monday we decided to race Limey in the Upper Gauley Animal Race with Gabe at the helm, beer in hand… but that’s a story for another day. My only paddling regret was that Michael Potter aka Mr. Clean didn’t make it onto the river with us… He describes it above as a noble choice. I think he got Wallaced.
A memory that will forever be seared into my memory and the collective memories of everyone who ran the Upper Gauley is the Noah’s Ark raft pasted like a blue condom on Dildo Rock. I don’t think we will ever see anything like that again! Even more hilarious was the two guys running around the festival Saturday night with the thwart that popped loose. Somewhere there’s a picture of me holding it like a loved one. And when we sat down Sunday night at the bar over at Adventures On The Gorge with DBP Admin Linc Stallings and the day’s movie came on, we could hardly believe our eyes! There on camera was yet ANOTHER Noah’s Ark raft, solidly pinned in Lost Paddle! Two rafts, worth thousands each, stuck in two of the biggest Class V rapids of the Gauley River, on two consecutive days! And all captured by the one and only Peyton Love, West By God’s (and arguably the World’s) best video boater. What Would Jesus Do?
I helped a bit on Sunday as the heavens opened and rain fell in sheets on the festival grounds, always a welcome sight to a true Dirtbag. But it was really awesome to watch my homie Wes clean up for hours, virtually by himself. He’s a top rank individual, and deserves a shout out from all of us who spread goodwill and debauchery all weekend long in equal measures.
Last but not least… Wes sited above that there were no arrests. But I sure did come close to ruining the record late late Friday night, or I guess it was early early Saturday morning. Contrary to the rumors I heard run rampant later on, I was NOT wearing any shiny bracelets at any time. Shout out to Ollie for saying something SO ridiculous that we all were told to “GO FIND A TENT!” which we who were still awake promptly did without a further word. Potter puts the time at 3am. I’ll take that. Wallace!!!
So that, my friends, was Gauley Fest 2016, that and much much more. These memories, although incomplete, might just inspire you to join us next year on the third weekend of September for what surely must be the wildest and wettest time in support of a great cause that a bunch of rowdy dirtbags can have. See you then!
~ Mike Toughill