By Michael Potter
Sunday morning: 2/11/18. I wake up to a phone call. It’s a little past 7am. My screen says Kirk Eddlemon.
Me: Hey man, what’s up?
Kirk: Hey Michael. Get your boat and gear and meet me at (mumble, mumble, blah, blah, blah).
Me: Ok man, let me grab my stuff.
Kirk: Oh and Michael? Umm…I know this is a little unusual, but bring a handsaw.
Kirk: I’m serious. Bring a handsaw that we can fit in a boat. Stop by the store and buy one if you need to. I’ll pay you back.
Me: OK. I’ll bring one. See you in a bit.
I meet Kirk at the location of instruction and followed him to a small parking area beside an insanely flooded river. There are a few other cars already there, with kayaks on the ground.
Kirk introduces me to several other paddlers, then explains what we were doing here. Kirk has been waiting for two years for the flood waters to get to the proper level so he can open up the run that we are about to do. It has only been run twice, by a friend, years before. Today the water levels are right, and this place is about to get plowed like a Midwest cornfield.
We load the boats onto the back of a Nissan truck and head toward the put in. At the first bridge Kirk points to a small gravel drive just big enough for one vehicle. The crew takes only a few minutes to quietly and efficiently unload, and then our shuttle disappears down the road.
The tiny creek in front of us is probably 15 feet wide and only 3 or 4 feet deep. It’s clipping at a pretty fast pace though. It looks like class l boogie water. The whole roadside is littered with no trespassing signs on every other tree, explaining the efficiency of our crew and shuttle. We need to get out of sight before we end up with a Trespassing Wallace.
We get in our boats and disappear from view in a matter of minutes. Almost as soon as the road is out of view, the stream opens up into fast class lll microcreeking. The eddies are small and usually can only fit one boat at a time, two boats at most.
Two solid paddlers take the point and are out of my vision most of the time. I only catch a glimpse of them here and there. Kirk holds me back and plays eddie hopping games with me. He leads me into an eddie, then makes sure I have a visual before he bounces to the next. I follow in close pursuit of the famous white helmet.
Soon he stops and motions me into an eddie close to him. “The next rapid is a long class lll slide,” he explains. “I’m going to get into an eddie at the top and make sure it’s clear. When it is, I’ll give you a thumbs up.”
Kirk gives me the thumbs up. I peel out downstream and don’t even try to stop as I blast by him. I barrel full speed right on past Kirk and over the edge into the slide. This thing is steep and super fast, with thick rhododendron brush covering both sides.
I’m about a third of way into the slide when I get hit by a curler wave coming off the right side that immediately shoves me out of line. My kayak goes full bore to the left of the slide and I see a log sticking out from the bank. Realizing that I’m going into the strainer, I immediately raise my left arm so that I can take the impact to my ribs, and still have function of my hands. This might not have been the correct course of action to take at this particular moment of my life!
Rhododendron has a curious nature. It likes to collect little trophies upon occasion. In this instance the trophy just happens to be a Werner Sherpa. My Werner Sherpa! Stolen Paddle Wallace!
This is great! Not only could I not get away from the strainer even if I had a paddle, Mother Nature decided I didn’t even need that paddle!
One second later, with my arm still raised, I took the impact of the log in my armpit. I expect to be stopped like a car hitting a phone pole. Instead the log didn’t even slow me down. It spun off of the bank and landed on the back of my flying squirrel, lodging itself between my lower back and the deck of my boat. Now I’m Dead Tree Wallacing!
At this point I’m running breakneck speed, dodging rhododendron limbs, and barehand paddling, all while packing a 10 foot pole on the back of my deck! I can hear Kirk coming down the slide behind me screaming: “I got ya! I’m right here!” Sorry Kirk, I’m not turning around at this point!
I can’t get the boat straight without my paddle, or just the power in my little puppy paws, but I’m giving it all that I have in me. Surprisingly I’m still upright all the way down. The log on my deck won’t let me turn my kayak. I enter the bottom hole sideways. I feel that I’m getting ready to go under just as I catch the familiar orange Liquid Logic out of the corner of my eye. I reach out and grab the bow and push myself up before my head even gets wet. Honestly, it’s all happening so fast that I don’t even have time to panic. I’m purely running off of reaction and adrenaline.
I hand paddle to some rhododendron limbs on the left and hang on to them until I catch my breath. Kirk brings me my paddle and we ferry to a better spot on river right, where one of the other kayakers is waiting. The two men congratulate me, we share some laughs, and begin our journey on down the creek.
We drop a few more small rapids and Kirk pulls me to the side. He gets out of the boat and explains that we are starting into the class lV gorge. We need to scout this rapid before we go any further.
I pull my boat to bank, get out, and walk around the corner. As the top of the rapid comes into view I look at Kirk and nonchalantly say: “This is a NO rapid.”
Kirk says: “Hold on. Let’s talk about this.” Then he tells me I’m good enough to handle this drop. I still decide to walk this rapid, and a few more due to lack of a safe spot to get back in my boat.
Why did I decide to walk something when my instructor (that I trust) is telling me that I can do it? Here’s why:
1. This is my first time microcreeking, so I’m out of my element.
2. I have not (successfully) dropped any rapid of this magnitude before. However I have Wallaced a few.
3. It’s not fair to this crew to chase a beater’s boat through uncharted territory, possibly putting them at risk.
4. I’ve not been in my boat enough lately to be comfortable on a step up rapid.
5. There was no recovery time if I Wallaced.
6. Most importantly, I was not in the correct mental state to be pushing my limits.
Kirk once told me: “At the end of the day, there’s only two classes of rapids. Class yes rapids and class no rapids.” Today this rapid is regrettably a class no for me.
My choice to walk is the right move to make, at the right time, not only for the reasons above, but because this also is where the majority of the work starts. I notice lots of dead strainers in the current. This stuff has to be cleared out before we go any further.
I hike my boat through the low lying brush and drop it at the last strainer I see. I walk to the next rapid upstream and help Kirk remove a strainer that spans the whole creek. I’m watching the crew remove other debris from the flow. I’m tremendously impressed at how careful they are to preserve the natural beauty of this majestic place. They remove only the strainers and leave all obstacles intact.
I return to my boat and try to remove the last strainer. It gives a little but is still stuck in the flow. Kirk drops the two rapids above me and comes to help me finish pulling the log across the creek. He looks up at me and says, “Look at these guys,” pointing to each of them. “These are my best friends. When I was trying to get my books published, these guys were willing to support me all the way.” He gives me the details, and I understand why this crew is so important to him.
I already knew that these were solid kayakers, but at this moment I realize that I am in the midst of greatness. These are the type of people who are happy to stay in the shadows on social media. They are the type of paddlers that drop the gnarliest gnar, but never seek the attention of the public eye.
We hop into our boats and run the rest of the creek, portaging one huge fallen tree that is immovable.
Paddling out of our quaint tributary, entering the massive main river flooded to 50,000 CFS, Kirk says, “We need to grab an eddie.” I turn to look upstream to see a fully grown pine tree with limbs intact, turned sideways and rolling straight for us. We move to river right and watch the rolling death trap tumble safely by. We continue a few moments further to the takeout, where I meet Mike and Sarah Arvidson.
Sarah’s father Mike makes the next lap with another crew. Upon his return, we all convince Sarah that she should take the next lap. While she makes her run Mike manages to change into dry clothes and lock his keys in the car. I may or may not have been a contributing factor to this Key Lock Wallace. I plead the 5th! After 2 hours of trying to pry the door apart from the body of the truck to grab the keys with a clothes hanger, Kirk realizes that the support strip on a Werner Powerhouse blade makes an awesome wedge. One of the guys manages to snag the keys and the day is done!
I’d like to give a special thanks to Kirk for taking me on this once in a lifetime journey. I doubt very many paddlers ever get the chance to do an exploratory style run of this type, and open new frontier for everyone to enjoy.
A few minutes after returning home, Kirk made a post about his weekend, dropping a true first decent at Honey Creek Falls, and the run that you just read about. He tagged me in the post. Ten minutes later I found out that he had stolen the first descent from our own DBP Admin Albie Binkley, DBP Admin Sam Davis, and Matt Jackson. Not sure if that’s a Butt Hurt Wallace, or just a Stolen First Decent Wallace. Either way congratulations to Kirk Eddlemon for handing out awards.
I was a beater surrounded by excellent paddlers on this trip. I received not one single complaint from the crew. Afterwards most of them came to offer me support or advise. It was nice to meet big water boaters without big water egotistical attitudes. Kirk’s friends know how its done.
We should all take note and check ourselves every now and then, even me.
EDITOR’S DESK- We ran a full review of Mr. Eddlemon’s classic Whitewater of the Southern Appalachians by Lee Turner, that includes a link where you can purchase it. It’s an SE DB Must!