Lifestyle Rivers Wallace


Photos by Curt Wilhoit  

Well, it’s January and time for me to write something interesting for all of you boater beaters to read. Back in December I had the idea that I was going to give you an awesome read on Wilson’s Creek in North Carolina. I had it all set up with my paddling pards Jerry Stevenson and Jeff Vannoy leading me, and Matt Jackson doing some killer photo opps. The weatherman unfortunately missed his mark and the rain moved north, denying me access to Wilson’s Creek. I got dry land Wallaced before I could write an article about a good river Wallace (which I’m sure would’ve happened).

To make up for this lack of wonderfully awesome and exciting material that I was so looking forward to getting, here I am writing on someone else’s idea. That’s right, my illustrious Editor-in-Chief decided that he wants Robinson Crusoe in the #DBFamily edition to start the year off right!

Now of all the ideas that he could have brought to the roundtable, I get family? Ok, I can handle this. Even more than that, I can make it enjoyable to read. Well, at least enjoyable for you to read. I might even use this opportunity to be the adult here and get back at my older and BIGGER brother for being such a jerk when we were kids. (Stay tuned lets see where this goes!) Did you notice that I capitalized that special word on purpose?

I’m going to start back in the childhood years, back when I had no choice but to grow up with this blooming idiot. (Not my choice. Thanks Mom and Dad!) James and I grew up in the Eastern Kentucky mountains. It seems we both had similar interests even from a young age. We had completely different attitudes but enjoyed the same pastimes. As kids we were always big fans of the great outdoors. We roamed the mountains from the time that we could walk.

James was around age 10 when Dad bought him his first shotgun. Hunting quickly became a passion. I was 4 years younger so I tagged along with my trusty little Daisy bb gun thinking that I was king of the woods. Most of the time I was more of a bull in a china shop. I scared off more wild game than James could track down. That would pass with time. Dad bought me my first shotgun 4 years later. Now James and I were both putting food on the table.

James, and I watching as our Dad Everett Potter tests my Taurus Judge 45/410 on Thanksgiving. Photo by Mom (Linda Potter) 

Now don’t go off the deep end on me about gun control just yet. Let me explain that this was not an uncommon practice in our community, although such action would not be deemed acceptable by modern day standards, and I am certainly not insinuating that you should go buy your kid a gun. We were raised rural, and in a different era, in a time when most every kid in the area had a gun by this age. Gun crimes were basically nonexistent in our world. Accidental shootings were unheard of. Even the local school had a gun library and gun safety was taught in the local curriculum. It would be years later before gun control issues would make it into our quaint little section of paradise. When we had disagreements the gun was left hanging on the wall. We might get a black eye or busted nose in the front yard but that gun was off limits!

James and I both still have the first gun Dad bought us, along with many more. Guns are still a staple in our lives. We don’t do much hunting anymore, but we still pull the trigger every chance that we can. Paper targets and clay pigeons are always in danger of extinction if we can get clear sight of them.

(Disclaimer: The paragraphs above are MY thoughts, not to be associated with the DBP community, DBP MAGAZINE ONLINE .COM, or any Facebook page, individual, or organization associated or affiliated with DBP. These facts are simply stated to show the relationship between two particular and individual brothers. The statements are factual history that cannot be changed. DBP is not an advocate nor protester of the 2nd amendment. DBP will not entertain nor comment in any manner for or against gun issues.)

James and I at Pattons Run on the Nantahala River.

We both were also given dirt bikes at early ages. We enjoyed the adrenaline rush of hill climbing, motocross, and trail riding as teenagers. We could ride twenty miles on dirt trails and mountain top removal before ever touching asphalt or seeing another house. Not that we ever stopped at that point but, Oh Well! There were unlimited supplies of off road riding back then. We started out on Yamaha enduro bikes. As we grew, our bikes grew with us until we were both riding the most powerful bikes made at the time, the beloved Honda CR 500’s. James was always a better rider than me, although we both had our fair share of crash and burn antics from these beasts. That was inevitable given that neither one of us weighed more than 135 pounds at that time and rode bikes way too big for us.

In our early 20s we began going our separate ways. I left home and moved to Tennessee at the age of 21. I was on my own; all my family was still in Kentucky. From 1996 to 2013 I would only see my family on rare occasions, with the exception of a few months in which I moved back to Kentucky to work in the coal mines again. I was somewhat of a loner type, always busy rambling around but hardly ever finding my way back home. James nor I would rarely make the journey to see one another.

James on the Nolichucky River, Erwin, TN.

This all changed with the downfall of the coal industry. James, without a job, decided to go into long haul trucking, the same as I had done many years prior. He quickly realized that he needed to relocate into an area where freight would be plentiful to get a driver back to where he started out from. This decision would relocate him to Tennessee only miles away from me, where he remains today.

About a year went by with James and I seeing each other occasionally, until I experienced an unwelcome and unwanted change in my life. This sudden transformation in my life left me devastated. I tried many different avenues to clear my mind. Nothing worked. I tried putting my time into rebuilding my 1974 F-100, to no avail. I tried home remodeling and decoration with no mind release there either; I tried roaming through the countryside back roads in my spare time. Nothing! My mind was a whirlwind!

James thought a good camping trip was in order. I agreed to this grand avenue of adventure. We hadn’t been camping together in 20 years. There was discussion of preparations each day during the week prior to the trip. Where? When? Supplies? Meeting time? All the good stuff that goes with a simple camping trip. In the end it basically turns into packing your entire house into your car, transporting it to the nearest State Park, removing said belongings from your car, and positioning the items in an 8×8 foot tent while trying to leave enough space to wiggle your fat butt into some contorted sleeping position. By the time you get finished you either have to draw a police chalk body outline to remember the exact sleeping position, or you can use the alternative method of unzipping the door flap, stand back 20 feet, run and dive on top of everything like Hulk Hogan flying from the top rope! If you choose the second method, be sure to make that weird, big eyed and open mouthed attack mode face that all of the wrestlers do. The move has been proven to work only if you follow proper procedure. If I’m lying, at least your friends have cool stories and possibly pictures. Not that they would ever use them in any embarrassing situation…

      James on the Nantahala

Anyway, the particular park that we had chosen just so happened to be by the French Broad River in Hot Springs, NC. I had recently purchased a used recreational kayak, and I made mention to James that I would like to try it out. We discussed the idea and he thought his little brother was so smart that he also decided to purchase one of those wonderful Walmart beauties, the Sun Dolphin Aruba 10. We both purchased two piece paddles with those awesome holes drilled in them so you can get the exact desired feather degree. These were state of the art! I had mine angled so far that I could paddle on one side of the boat while scratching my back with the other blade. I stopped at Cabela’s in Hammond, IN and picked up two of the newest designed life vests that $15 hard earned cash could buy. To top off the package we had two sweet looking bicycle helmets from the local Walmart sporting goods section. Man were we excited ! This adventure was going to rock!

Finally the time came for our big expedition. We had picked a very nice primitive, secluded camping area with a large fire pit, and totally cool sign that told us all about the rules of feeding the local bears. I didn’t need a sign to tell me this. I have full and complete understanding of what to do when it comes time to feed the bears. I just need to be able to run faster than James.

The next morning we had the best breakfast and decided on a plan of river attack. We would drive up this section of river scouting until we were satisfied that we’d gone far enough or the water was rougher than we could handle. After a few miles we decided that we had gone far enough and chose an easy place to drag our boats down to the river edge. The place we had chosen was approximately 150 ft above a class II rapid. We had flatwater boats, absolutely no experience at all, and the best (wrong) cheap gear. We made Deliverance look good! (Insert dueling banjos here please!)

Finally situated comfortably in our weapons of mass destruction, I let James take the lead. With smiles on our faces, we pushed our battle barges forward in attack mode toward the first rapid, just a few paddle strokes away. James started over the first few feet of rough water as I watched. He made the first two ripples before his green machine started to turn sideways. One quick glance over his shoulder and I saw nothing but big, flat, green, boat booty! James was gone!

His boat was capsized, sideways, pinned up against a rock, and in my line of travel. I was headed on a direct line of impact, when my brother exploded out of the water like a scene from Rambo: First Blood! He stared me in the eye, realizing I had no boat control, and yelled, “Hit me! Just hit me!” Well, he asked for it, so I obliged. That’s right, I mowed him down like a dead flower under a lawn mower. The one thing that I did wrong was to lean away from him on impact. It’s just natural instinct. Who knew that leaning a kayak sideways would make it flip. Great! Now we are both swimming.

We finally collected all of our yardsale and got resituated after our first 200 feet of adventure. We paddled several flat pools with small boogie water in between until we came to a long class 2 rapid. We navigated the rapid with no issues. I was giving James plenty of space now. In my ignorance there was one piece of gear that I had not bought. When I sank at the end of the rapid while still paddling it became evident that something was not right. (“A skirt? Whats that? I ain’t no girl.”)

Casey Fields, Curt Wilhoit, James Potter, and Michael Potter at Pattons Run on the Nantahala River, Bryson City, NC.

With that Wallace finally under control, we set out once again down the river. After a mile or so I noticed that the water had cut out a small island on the right side of the river. Being the explorer that I am, I decided to run that channel to see what is there. James stayed to the main current, knowing that we would meet again on the other side of the island. Approximately 200 feet into the channel and just out of sight from the main part of the river I came to a fallen beech tree across the channel. One side of the tree was closing the right side of the channel, but the left side was about 3 feet out of the water. Seeing as how I had already proven my genius and killer paddling skills, I of course opted to simply duck my head and paddle under the tree.

Twenty seconds later as I passed through the hole my boat suddenly got sucked sideways into the tree. The current quickly pulled the boat under the right side toward the limbs under the water. As the boat went under I reached out and grabbed the biggest limb to pull myself up to my armpits for leverage. I hung there awhile trying to get the boat back to the surface with my legs inside the cockpit. Finally I realized it wasno use, the current was too much for me to fight. It was starting to wear me down and pull me under. I wiggle my way free of the kayak and climbed on top of the beech tree. After several minutes of tugging the boat finally came free. I dragged it up and over some of the limbs and through the mangled brush that has accumulated there. (My first trip, my first strainer.) We finished the run without a death in the family and repeated it several times after that.

I paddle with James every chance that I can. I paddle a lot more than he does and have gained some skills that he doesn’t have yet, but we still enjoy the river. Both of us have moved on to whitewater kayaking now with the advice of people we have met along the way.(Actually there is a big thanks to Curt Wilhoit and Shawn Mullins here. They were the first two whitewater paddlers we met. They introduced us to the scene and lots of other paddlers.)

Occasionally we still do flatwater paddles with our parents when we get the chance. We will paddle whitewater as long as we can.

James at USA Raft’s Nolifest.

I have written about events in the past (Nolifest and GAF weekend) where James and I paddled together. I am also looking forward to the Nantahala Icebreaker event this year. James will be attending for the first time, it’s my 1 year anniversary of writing for DBP, and I will be writing on the event again. (EDITOR: We will see about that… WALLACE!!)

I have noticed that boating has a way of bringing family together. I have paddled with many families over the last year such as Micki Fields and her daughter Casey, DBP Admin Nate Cline and his brother Wayne, and of course the HERO Jeff Vannoy and his son Nate. If you have a family member who likes to kayak, raft, canoe, SUP, or even float a tube, find a reason to get them to the river. The memories and stories will flow. These times will some of your greatest days.

James hucking the dam on the Doe River in Elizabethton, TN.

Now if I can just get james to go skydiving with me… He has no understanding of how awesome it feels to jump through a cloud. I do, and I’d like to share that with him someday.




By Chicago Mike

Editor-in-Chief "Chicago" Mike Toughill is co-founder of Dirt Bag Paddlers and former Peshtigo River Manager at Kosir's Rapid Rafts in Wisconsin. He's been Wallacing since 2003.

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