Saturday, August 07, 2004

New Beginnings

After the Upper Yough rafting trip I decided I needed to actually dust off my creek boat. We did another Lower Yough trip and I took the Java. The LY isn’t exactly good creeking practice but at least I was paddling the boat. With the exception of one weekend at Holtwood, things were pretty dry. The rest of July was mostly spent on the Potomac. Spending more time locally meant we were getting a chance to actually meet some new people. Pete introduced us to his friend Martha one day.

Hanging out at MD chute one night near the end of the week, we were pretty much resigned to another weekend of park-n-play on the Po. “Aren’t you going to the UY release Saturday?” Martha asked. None of us had remembered about it. This of course brightened Josh’s day immediatly. He was ready to go again. I was bummed as I didn’t want to be left behind. “You’re going too!!” he said.

I’m not sure exactly what I was thinking. I knew I wasn’t ready for the Upper Yough but I’d had a crappy week and I wanted nothing more than to just get away. I had just gone to a good friend’s funeral a few days before and definitely needed something to keep my mind off things. I secretly prayed that I wouldn’t be attending my own after this trip…

That night Josh helped me pick out a pile of foam to better outfit my creekboat with. I’d never done much to it, having barely paddled it at all.

Saturday morning Josh, Ian, and now Pete arrived at my house. We were planning on meeting Martha in Friendsville so we all piled in the van and were off. I remember spending most of the 2.5 hour drive being quite nervous. I tried not to think about it too much but ultimately didn’t feel at all prepared for this.

We arrived in Friendsville to find an even larger crowd than the month before. There were boaters everywhere. That weekend also happened to be Friendsville Day or whatever it is. Every summer the town has their pride parade or whatnot oh so conveniently scheduled on the busiest Upper Yough release day. Why they insist on doing this is not clear. On this day you cannot park on the main road. So the hundreds of boaters are forced to park wherever they can find space around town. We were lucky to find room right by the river under the bridge.

We met up with Martha and some of the people she had been meeting and began piling boats on the truck. The pile grew as we stacked them three high. We crammed in and headed to the put in. There was quite a crowd when we arrived. Josh had brought Turnup so we parked the van in the shade so she’d be comfortable. As we took boats down more people began to arrive.

Martha had met Mark on Boatertalk and they’d decided to meet at the UY. He came over and introduced himself. We chatted briefly and began gearing up. It was a beautiful summer day. Someone had brought a big ripe watermelon and was passing out chunks to the crowd. It helped me forget how nervous I was…well a little anyway. Between Martha’s group and ours we had at least ten people. I don’t generally like boating with large groups but seeing as how there were a few hundred others there as well it really didn’t matter. Ian let me borrow his elbow pads since it was my first trip and he figured I’d need them more than he did. We joined the flotilla and began paddling the 2 miles of flatwater. Along the way I chatted with various people and felt rather out of place. Josh and Ian gave words of encouragement. I talked with Mark some more and was quite impressed that he’d only been paddling for eight months and he’d already been on the UY several times and was planning to lead a friend down that day.

When we arrived at Gap Falls it was still unclear who was going to be leading me down. It was only Ian’s second trip and he wasn’t ready to lead. Josh was hand paddling his playboat and wanted to be able to run the fun lines. I was starting to feel somewhat in the way. Luckily, Mark’s friend had decided he wanted to run the hard lines and chose a different guide. So that left him with no one to lead so he stepped up to take me down. I really felt like he was getting stuck with me but seeing as how I had no one else at this point I couldn’t exactly turn down the offer.

After some nervous waiting we were off. I was still pretty tense as we ran Gap and the boogie water that followed. But I was doing pretty well and followed Mark as best as I could. I had very little recollection of the river from our rafting trip the month before so his descriptions of what was coming was all I had to go on.

When we arrived at Bastard Mark explained the line: We were going to catch a big eddy and look on from there. “How big was this eddy, what If I miss it..?” I had a lot of questions. “It’s plenty big” he assured me. So we continued on, both caught the eddy just fine and he explained the line further. Slide down this tongue, start left then go right then do this then that, the explanation was complex (well at the time it sure seemed to be. I wasn’t used to having that much instruction thrown at me at once). I nodded comprehension, though I probably didn’t understand a word. My nervousness was clouding my thinking. After waiting for a few people to go by he pealed out and I followed.

Mark continued down and skillfully boofed into the eddy. Well that’s what I was told he did as I don’t remember any of it. Instead I blew right past him and right into the hole below. I immediately flipped and tried to roll up. As I pushed my paddle out I slammed my hands into a rock. I tried another roll, same thing. I didn’t really feel like I was moving at all, I was momentarily caught on the rock. A few seconds later my boat slid around it and I continued to try to roll. I was getting very tired but was not ready to give up. After a few more attempts and more encounters with rocks I finally made it up. Everyone watching was sure I would swim! I was pretty beat up but I think that this had knocked a good bit of the nervousness out of me. I don’t remember how but I was able to get to the bottom of the rapid without further problems. At the bottom we stopped to rest and I looked at my hands. Several were well scrapped up and there was a dime-sized piece of skin ripped off of one. Someone offered me some duct tape which I took graciously and wrapped my damaged fingers. After a short rest we continued on.

I actually did feel a good bit less tense now. But I was tired from the beating at bastard. I followed Mark through Charlie’s with greater confidence but still rather awkwardly. At some point I flipped again and rolled up to see Martha in front of me screaming for me to go right (or maybe it was left) as she disappeared over the next drop. In any case I followed where she’d gone. The stretch from Charlie’s to National is a blur. Martha led me down the standard line at National (successfully) while Mark went for the boof. I was beaten up pretty good but not entirely discouraged. I knew I still had to make it to the takeout. At National we took the usual break and everyone scattered onto the rocks or to the opposite end of the pool. I got out of my boat to rest. I felt a little alone but Ian came over with more words of encouragement.

Me at National Falls

I don’t recall too much detail about the rest of the run. I did my best to follow Mark’s every move and at one point someone actually commented that we were paddling in unison (I wasn’t about to miss another important move!). I had a few more flips but nothing too serious for the remainder of the run. I got a lot of support and encouragement from everyone and was quite glad to have them all there to help. In the flatwater at the end I chatted more with Mark. I assumed he had to be pretty annoyed with having had to put up with me all day. I didn’t expect to ever see him again.

I was most certainly unprepared for that run. I missed some key moves and had a good bit of carnage, but I made it down feeling encouraged overall (no swims, my clean streak wouldn’t be broken for a few more months). After this trip I felt like I definitely needed more practice and continued to go on more technical runs when possible. It was something of a turning point I suppose and I’m really glad I went that day…for so many reasons.

The Gang

I survived the trip with few overall injuries. My hands took the brunt of it. A good number of knuckles were completely bare of skin. It took well over two months for them to heal completely and the scars remain to this day. After that trip I immediately ordered a pair of creeking gloves!! Even after a dozen runs now, Bastard still makes me nervous!!

Once I got home I got Mark’s email from Martha and thanked him for leading me down. I didn’t expect much of a response. What I got instead was a very thoughtful message full of kindness and encouragement. He told me not to worry about the carnage and was impressed that I stuck it out despite the beating at Bastard. He said he’d be glad to paddle with me again. The rest is history…..

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