HIGHLIGHTS AND LOWLIGHTS FROM THE TENNESSEE VALLEY CANOE CLUB WHITEWATER SCHOOL
A young woman sitting in an eddy (with about 100 other boaters) waved to me and said something like “you’re the guy from Whitewater Kayaking 101.” (I say “something like” because it was very noisy in the eddy.) I said “yeah” and she said (again something like) “I recognized your helmet (or boat).” Anyway, it was nice to be recognized and, given the number of people on the river, a bit surprising.
I was the only one in our group (except the volunteers) who decided to run Grumpy. Either I was brave or idiotic, or both, considering I had never run it before. Here is what American Whitewater has to say about that rapid.
Launching from the put-in at the base of the dam, you immediately begin the first major rapid on the Ocoee, Grumpy. Grumpy is a long and pushy Class III that offers no chance for a warm-up. Eddies abound on both sides of the river, and paddlers will want to pick their way down the rapid using the eddies on river left. About one hundred yards down from the put-in is an obvious ledge with a large hole behind it. Whether you paddle hard over it or take the tongue on river left to avoid it, keep your guard up for the fast-moving Class III that continues on below.
I read that if you swim in this rapid there are many shallow rocks that can make a swim a bit unpleasant.
So, I made it through the hard part. Then I violated WW kayaking rule #1: never stop paddling. See above for “keep your guard up.” I did not. This leads to:
I was patting myself on the back and got flipped. I tried to roll up but kept hitting rocks. I pulled my skirt and swam about 100 yards, continuing to hit rocks. I had to swim hard to shore because I DID NOT want to keep going down river which, I’m sure, I would have had I not made it into an eddy. I was exhausted and the day had just started.
Well, kind of a highlight. This happened on the Broken Nose rapid. American Whitewater says “Broken Nose consists of three drops, with a powerful hole at the bottom.” Well, I flipped in the powerful hole and – drum roll, please – rolled up. A bunch of young playboaters all gave me some “woo-hoos.” For me, having some guys anywhere from ¼ to ½ my age cheer me on is satisfying.
After rolling up in the hole I was patting myself on the back again and, you guessed it, flipped and had to roll up in very shallow water. Back to rule #1, right? However, a bit later, our team leader, Sonya, said to me – when I saw you flip in the rapid, I thought – this is going to be bad. When you rolled up, I thought, this is going to be good. Then she added – you have a good roll. So, her comments made the lowlight a bit less than it would have been. However, I would have preferred not to roll. Flipping in a hole is not exactly fun.
I saw one of the people in our class get pinned against a rock. She was facing right-to-left (essentially the way you would want to go around the rock), so I positioned myself left-to-right, drifted into her and pulled her out. But, you know what they say – no good deed goes unpunished.
So, of course, after her boat got away from the rock, I got pinned against the rock for quite a while. I leaned into it, leaned into it, leaned into it, all the time looking over my shoulder. Eventually I slid off the rock and went down a rapid backwards for a while. I guess that was 50-50 highlight/lowlight.
Highlight # 5
While we were at the takeout, some people came off the river in a PhatCat, the exact same one that we have, and they had an oar rig on it. One of them was this little boy who talked to Donna and me. He told us that his father was surfing a wave, but that his dad had gotten flipped off the back of the raft. He added that he had to take over the oars for a bit and that he had a GoPro video of it. He tried to show us the video, but could not find it. Donna and I were impressed at how, despite being very young, he could have an adult conversation with us.
Two weeks ago, I got two cortisone shots in my right shoulder. On the second day of the school, I was helping lift a boat into a truck and got a shooting pain in my shoulder. It was bad, the kind of pain that sends a wave of nausea through your body. I decided that I wasn’t going to paddle, but then thought I’d give it a try. No good. I had to get off the river immediately. Fortunately, one of our group gave me the keys to her truck and I was able to drive to the take out and wait for everyone. Had I not tried, I probably would have been thinking – I could have done this. Yeah, right.
Highlight # 6
I had to hang out at the take out for a while, so, using my good arm, I helped people tandem their kayaks to their vehicles. I had to do something to kill the boredom. Then, the PhatCat I mentioned earlier came off the river. The little kid got off and came straight to me. He said – I found the video. I mean, he remembered the conversation we had from the day before. I can barely remember what I had for breakfast. He also told me that he kayaked a bit and that he was six years old. This kid is going to be a great paddler one day, and a great adult.
Here is a photo of him I “borrowed” from the Ocoee photos.
Lowlight # 4 and Highlight # 7
Donna told me that she went head on into a rock, flipped, and lost her paddle. Fortunately, one of the support group had a breakdown paddle so she was able to continue. Later, they found her paddle down river. Someone had found it and put it high up on a bank so it was visible. That’s what kayakers do!
Kudos to Sonya Korabelnikova, our team leader, and Johnathon, Gary and Alex, our support group for both days (I don’t know their last names). The day might have been a disaster without them. Sonya was a great leader because she really took charge. She would ask, “What are we going to do today?” After ten seconds of hemming and hawing by the group, she’d say, “Okay. Here’s the plan.”
Also, thanks to Gary for getting my boat out of the river. It was not an easy climb up the bank, even without a kayak in tow.
More photos below.
Greg in Double Trouble
Donna in Double Trouble
Donna celebrating getting through Double Trouble