Not long, ago I wrote a story about an expedition-style run with Kirk Eddlemon. I was really stoked that Kirk had included me on this trip. It had opened me up to many new things, such as doing a run with little-to-no beta, exploring the Cumberland Plateau, and meeting a new circle of friends. It was a great memory for me.
Lauralyn Chrisley (one of our DBP admins) read the story and sent me a PM discussing the run. She and I are both writers who admire each other’s work (hers is much better than mine). [Pfffff.] We have also talked many times and met once in passing, just below Double Trouble on the Ocoee. We both knew that Kirk was a mutual friend that we cherish tremendously.
During the conversation, I mentioned that she and I should paddle together sometime on the Ocoee. I came up with the idea that maybe we could both take a lesson from Kirk at the same time. She agreed, with the added stipulation, “If we paddle with Kirk, I want a cooler river than the Ocoee.” [See, Potter, it was really more of a suggestion…or maybe – no, you’re right. “Stipulation” is good.] I immediately sent Kirk a screenshot of the conversation, followed by, “Can we make it happen?” Kirk quickly responded, “Of course we can.” We chose a date, and L.C. came up with the idea of writing competing articles. [But she later decided it was more fun to just be obnoxious on yours.]
Fast forward through three weeks of smack talk and fun poking, and I’m at the Wye in Townsend, Tennessee, waiting for a late Kirk and L.C. (Advice Tip No.1: if you are paddling in a scenic national park, leave early. Tourists drive slow!)
I walk down to the edge of the Little River in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to check the water. Today we are running the Sinks to the Wye. The level is 2.96 on the gauge, and it’s crystal clear. I bend down and put my hand in the river. The temperature is equivalent to artic ice melt [suggest you add “on Krypton.”] I remind myself that I have a leaky drysuit. I’m not exactly thrilled, as I reflect on the class lll and lll+ that await me upstream. I know that I’ll be on my head sometime today. I shiver at the thought and walk back to my car. [I knew it was serious when Kirk recommended that I wear my fuzzy, purple bunny suit under. He usually tries to avoid seeing me in that, if at all possible.]
I start to dress for the trip. Knowing that my drysuit has recently become a wetsuit, I add a .5 mm hydroskin under my layers. I hope this will keep my core warm in case of a swim. If I can keep the vitals warm, I can suck up the rest of the discomfort. The happy thought of my new Kokotat Meridian runs through my head. It is scheduled to arrive tomorrow, the day after I paddle the coldest river in the Newfound World.
I grab my boat and throw it on the sidewalk. I lie down beside it and pull my DBP baseball cap over my eyes while I await my fellow paddlers’ arrival. Just as I start to drift into another land beyond the horizon, I hear the familiar voice of a living legend. I pull my cap back and look into the face of an apologizing Kirk. As usual, he is in go go mode, appearing to be jacked up on three energy drinks and two pots of coffee. I honestly think he may be faster than Sonic the Hedgehog. [Really? I get more of this kind of vibe:]
Kirk and L.C. start loading my Flying Squirrel onto L.C.’s Xterra, as I run to my car for extra straps. Upon my return, I cringe at the thought of Kirk standing on top of L.C.’s vehicle. I need to hurry up and finish my van before I destroy my Pathfinder. (Advice Tip No.2: it’s good to have a shuttle vehicle that you are not attached to. Boaters are hard on ALL equipment.)
The boats are loaded. Kirk turns to me and asks, “Did you get everything?” I run through the gauntlet: “Helmet, paddle, pfd, skirt, and boat. Yep, all there.” Kirk asks, “What about a set of testiculars?” I explain, ”I had some until I stuck my hand in the water. I lost them rather quickly. We may be in trouble today.” We jump into the Xterra and arrive at the Sinks in minutes.
The Sinks is a solid class IV rapid. It has a straight lead in, with a seemingly easy boof stroke [I wouldn’t know] at the bottom. It also has consequences that neither L.C. or I is willing to accept today. We start walking while Kirk runs a few Sinks laps. We are over the hill and sitting at the bottom of the first rapid when Kirk shows up. [Hey, remember how we got in trouble for putting on without him? It was YOUR idea.] She tells Kirk, “I need to get a roll in.” Kirk replies, “Not here.”
We drop a few more rapids and eddy out. L.C. repeats that she needs to get a roll. Kirk once again replies, “Not here.” We drop a few more rapids, and L.C. states once again that she needs to get that roll. Kirk says, “Ok, Lauralyn, this is it. Go for it.” L.C. wastes no time. She splats the water like an otter looking for a hole. A very few seconds later she pops back up with the drop-jawed, big-eyed expression that you would expect of someone who just got shocked by a cattle prod. [About those testiculars…yeah.]
There is laughter among us; then Kirk asks, “What about you, Mike?” I reply, “Nope, I’m good.” He grins and says, “So you’re just gonna wait until the catastrophe happens?” Again I look at L.C. and think about my leaking drysuit. “Yep, something like that.” Kirk takes the lead and we drop two more rapids.
Kirk is right in front of me dropping a good solid class lll. I watch his line, so smooth and effortless. I’m trying to mimic his moves, but instead of smooth finesse, I look more like a sprint racer that tripped over the last two hurdles. I move across the river on a diagonal right-to-left line and drop five feet into the hole. The inevitable happens. You guessed it – I’m hole bait! The chilling shock of the first trickle of ice cold water in my not-so-drysuit gives me tremendous motivation. I put my blade on the surface and complete a solid roll, while sucking in half the current. I paddle straight to the river right eddy and try to hack ten gallons of water from my lungs. [I have video of this that can be viewed and/or purchased for a nominal fee. PM me.]
I decide to sit here for a moment and watch L.C. come in hot behind me, screaming like a little kid on a slip-and-slide. I realize that this girl is a screamer! [MP – you may want to rethink this term, as it has some possible connotations. I am 100% positive that you had no intention whatsoever of going there.] She has a great personality, fun-loving nature, and is more entertaining than Walt Disney. This is really going to be a trip to remember. Kirk congratulates my roll with, “If you keep that up, your swimming is over!” I soak this in like a lap dog getting his belly scratched.
Kirk gives me the lead, and we continue down the river. I’m feeling confident in my read-and-run today. The fact that Kirk is letting me do my own thing on rapids of this magnitude is definitely a confidence booster right now. I break down the river, from eddy to eddy, as I watch Kirk dance gracefully with the falling current. Every move is splendid perfection.
Potter’s green boat takes the lead. Kirk critiques.
I silently wish I had a button that would cause obstacles to appear and water to disappear. If only Kirk were on his head, just once! Fake it if need be, but let me see it! [I’m seeing a problem with your request, here – namely, that Kirk could have showed us down the entire length of the Sinks to the Wye on his head and still looked like Mikhail Baryshnikov leading a grand pas de deux (or trois) with couple of drunken Barney Fifes.] L.C. follows behind, screaming over every drop, and letting Kirk take her lead. She’s not quite as graceful as Kirk [nice; you show true mastery of the use of understatement], but she is proving herself to have a solid roll. She’s popping these things out quicker than the Pillsbury Doughboy. [This colorful phrasing invokes a vivid jumble of images, including pop-open canned biscuits, that thing in Ghost Busters, and the photo you recently posted of you in your new drysuit.]
We continue this eddy-hop-and-drop action all the way down to a rapid called Eddy Out. Kirk takes the lead and pulls us to the side. There are trees blocking the right line, and the left line has great beatering, medevac, hospital potential. Kirk puts us on the extreme right line, (the roadside portage). L.C. and I hike the portage, while Kirk once again shows how to gracefully blend with the flow. We pick up a solo ducky paddler by the name of Lou Rudolph. He will run with us until the Elbow rapid.
We put back on directly below Eddy Out and head downstream. Kirk is giving us plenty of freedom. Only on occasion does he paddle up and offer us challenge. L.C. and I both understand that we are not paddling with our instructor; we are paddling with our friend. Kirk is not expecting to be paid. He is just enjoying what he does without the pressure of performance expectation. [It’s good to be a Class III boater with Class X friends, right? I mean, like the author of the Whitewater of the Southern Appalachians guidebooks, and all.]
We enjoy our paddling freedom for a long section of river. We stop for a moment in a nice pool above a class lll rapid. All four of us take a moment for drinks and a break, then we start downstream once more.
Kirk asks what line we are taking. I faintly hear someone say, “right,” but I’m focused on a left line that seems to be the logical choice. Then I hear Kirk say the words “piton rock,” but I’m still not really paying attention. Suddenly a white helmet with an ACE kayaking school sticker blares past me.
Kirk is dropping the right line. He is hugging close to the right wall. I think that obviously my left line choice was the wrong answer. I start down the right line, only a foot or so left of where I just saw Kirk drop it. I grab a good boof stroke off the lip and drop the six-foot ledge. I stop dead upon impact with a force so hard that I think I’ve busted my kayak. (Advice Tip No. 3: when Kirk mentions piton rock, you should probably not assume, but actually take initiative to ask where particular said rock is located.) [Word. Also when he says things like, “You don’t have to catch this eddy… but if you don’t, you’re gonna be hating life.”]
I don’t even blink before I’m feeling my head being drug across the shallow rock surface. I surprisingly hit my first roll attempt and get immediately shoved into the wall. I look up to see Kirk smiling as L.C. plays it smart, taking the smooth left line I had pictured earlier. I ferry across the current into a large eddy. Kirk doesn’t even wait for L.C. to finish the rapid before he is in the eddy with me, patting me on the back, yelling, “You are done with swimming!” (Probably not, but it sounds good coming from Kirk. My tail is wagging again.) [Nice roll!]
We portage the Elbow and Kirk sets us both up with a sweet twenty-foot rock slide/seal launch. L.C. makes a cool short video of my return to the river. She neglects to record her own launch.
At Bottoms Up, I drop the right boof line. Kirk makes L.C. run the middle slot boof. This is a nice creek move, where the water runs up on the side of the rock, curls, and drops into a nice boiling hole seven feet below. If done right there is nice air to be had here. As I look back L.C. is, of course, bottoms up. (If nothing else, the roll is her signature move. I think that she could roll up even if both sides of her boat were anchored.) [I doubt it, but I like the way you’re thinking. And marketing.]
We finish up the run with L.C. fail-boofing [I’m so glad that my efforts resulted in your creating this very apt new descriptive term] every rock that she can find to suck at. Yes, she yells at every one of them. This girl is so much fun! [I approve this statement.] Kirk’s wife Laura and son Alex are waiting for us at the takeout. They ask L.C. and me if we would like to do another Elbow to Wye lap. We both decline, for different reasons. L.C. has a long drive home, and I’m exhausted, at this point. Hopefully I will get the chance to paddle with them another day.
Author’s note; L.C. has made a great video called “Sucking at Boofing.” In this video you can actually hear her screaming louder than the music she has applied to it. [Consider if the word “bellowing” could work better here.] Sucking at Boofing is a must watch. In her video, there is a spot where she is pinned in a class ll rapid. Kirk paddles back upstream for the save. I mention this because I was leading at this point. I was trying to watch out for my crew, as I always do. Kirk and L.C. were seldom out of my sight. Still yet, I was totally unaware of this incident until I saw the video. [I get strangely (for me) quiet when facing imminent demise.] It reminds me that Wallace shows up fast, class ll still kills, and even the strongest among us are still very fragile.
[Sweet. Let’s do it again sometime.]