It’s been a long, hot summer- at least for my boating. I got some free time on my hands, nevermind why, so I figure I oughta share some goodies with ya, right? Let’s reach back, way back, to the first weekend in April of 2011: Webester Wildwater Weekend! Yeah, I am going to post about Class II boating- and Class V partying!
My homie Brenton, being the sick-ass dude he is, was sick of studying. He was sick of work. He had a couple days free, and, of course, decided to convince me that we needed to get our boats wet!! Thankfully, the second thaw of the year had just hit WV the week prior, and we high-tailed it to the Blackwater River to catch what flow we could. I made a few phone calls to my Tucker County friends, but it looked like it was just gonna be us catching a low flow on the B for Brenton’s much-anticipated first run on one of the most CLASSIC of WV’s runs. We knew we had to move fast, as another storm was moving in:
The river was running about 200cfs- an undoutably low level, but beggars can’t be choosers. We needed our whitewater! By the time we were halfway down, we had not just whitewater but white-air, too; the snow was coming down!
Fat flakes were falling as we banged our way down- a lot of people shy away at low levels, but when it’s the dead of winter or the middle of summer, I don’t see any reason to not take what you can get! I need my whitewater; soon enough, not only was the water white, but the air, too.
We hiked out, got some food, and hit the road for Webster Springs to meet up with some of our friends. The drive was harrowing, with 4″ of slush covering SR219 as we dropped off the mountain. At one point I turned the wheel only to get no purchase…I slid helplessly across both lanes and off the berm on the other side of the road. Luckily for me, the next vehicle to come along was a truck carrying 3 generations of good ol’ boys. Did they have a chain? HELL YEAH THEY HAD A CHAIN! The youngin and me were on our bellies in the snow lickity split, wrapping that chain around my frame and they dropped the truck into 4-low and gave it a mighty yankin’- out I came. Hands shook, appreciation given; people talk shit on the folk in WV, but I wouldn’t trade ‘em for no one else. I was back on the road just before Johnny Law rounded the corner, no doubt seeing my tracks and smashing his hat like Roscoe P. Coltrane in his frustration to miss out on catchin’ me on a reckless driving charge. We got to Weston and dropped Brenton’s not-so-trusty CRV at the Super8 motel I practically lived out of the winter before and proceeded forthwith to the beating heart of West Virginia. We arrived, after some discussion with the local constabulary about the velocity of my vehicle (thankfully not the odor coming from Brenton’s breath or the color of my eyes), late in the evening- just in time for Brenton to tie one on with our friends Brian Bridgewater and John Quigley- great pals, solid dudes, and partners in other adventures. These guys were champs, stepping up the next morning for the annual downriver race on the Elk River. The Elk is a friendly class II run that can be had in the spring- we were hoping to ignore the race and catch some of the better class III whitewater in the area, which I have never done- classics like the Cherry, the Cranberry, and the Back Fork of the Elk. Unfortunately, despite the snow we had in Tucker falling as cold rain and sleet in Webester County, the rivers hadn’t risen- yet. I decided, of course, that I was going to race, too. I signed up for the sub-3m boat class and headed upstream to shiver at the starting line. I jogged back and forth about a half mile at the put-in, did some stretching to warm up, and put on. A true mass start, everyone bunched up on the opposite shore- I thought this was the starting line. NO! We had a rolling start under the bridge. I was starting from the back of the pack! No matter- a few elbows in the faces of the club boaters from Indiana and a few strokes off the chests of the folks falling behind me and I was in the lead group…but with a guy in a longboat closing in behind me. Eventually he overtook me, but I kept stroking….and stroking..a few miles later and we were at the biggest rapid of the run, PX Falls, and I could see the singular wildwater boater and the 3 leading longboats out in front of me. Caving to temptation, a glance over my shoulder revealed the other shortboats lagging almost out of sight behind me, victory in my class locked up.
Once we were done, Brenton and I headed back to camp for a quick nap before we hit the party. Yes, that’s what Webster Fest is about- the party. Class II whitewater, Class V partying. They have this gazebo/amphitheater thing with an vented roof to allow for indoor bonfires. There is a stage, too, for the bluegrass band. And then there is the pizza. And Beer. It’s a good time. Especially if you are obviously rollin’ on molly like this the sweaty, red-bearded maniac foot dancing in the picture below or the man known as Orange Crush (you will know him when you see him in real life, trust me). Characters, I tell ya.
Brenton and I spent a fair amount of time working our connections throughout the evening, trying to find something we wanted to paddle the next day. We weren’t going to be satisfied with another run on the Elk. No way. Finally, the next morning, after breakfast, we had it: a rendezvous at at Mason’s Branch to run the Lower Meadow. The Lower Meadow looms large in East Coast boating lore- Eister and Davidson’s Wild Water West Virginia refered to it as “for the Kamikaze Kanoe Klub” and a great article about the second descent in an old American Whitewater I read as a child was titled “TRAPPED IN AN UNDERWATER CAVE!!” This river is nothing but hollowed out sandstone boulders piled on other worn sandstone boulders- a plethora of sieves, a symphony of siphons, more undercuts than you can shake your paddle at. I don’t know why, but I left my camera in the car. We packed into the truck and headed to the put in for my first time paddling with some dudes plus John Moore, who has since become a regular partner-in-crime and is always good for getting me fired up to run the stouts. It was a sunny, nice day with water in the mid-800’s and the Lower Meadow, with a guide, was a ton of fun. Solid class IV, but giving a sharper, more invigorating experience than the difficulty of the moves would suggest, as there was always a death trap looming just beyond the correct lines. We hit the Upper Gauley for my third run on that whitewater standard at an ultra-low level. Yeah, I know- can you believe I’d only run the Gauley twice before? Weird. Iron Ring at about 1 grand is ugly. I shoulda brought my camera…shoulda, shoulda, shoulda… At the takeout, we said goodbye to our new friends and chilled by a creek for a little bit, Brenton and I taking a moment to enjoy the bounty that Jah provides and to reflect on the nature of exploring the great, wide world around us. Then we hit the road, another great weekend behind us….