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First Annual Tuck Gorge Race

Hosted by Shane Williams, owner of Dillsboro Rafting

by Chris Osment
USA Canoe/Kayak
Wildwater Committee
Dir. of Eastern Jr. Athlete Development/Team Management

February 6, 2010 -- Dillsboro, NC

The First Annual Tuck Gorge Race was held today, February 6, on the Tuckaseegee River at Dillsboro NC. Shane Williams, owner of Dillsboro Rafting, was host and organizer. This event actually started as an email thread to creek boaters in the Waynesville, Asheville, Bryson City area as a combination invitation to come see the progress that Duke Power has made taking out the Dillsboro Hydroelectric dam, and a fun downriver paddling day.

The dam removal is underway. The powerhouse is gutted down to the foundation, and the spillway gates are removed so that the river flows uninterupted now. Shane Williams says that by summer Duke Power expects to have the entire structure removed.

Chris Hipgrave, Director of Retail at the Nantahala Outdoor Center and current US Wildwater team member, forwarded me the email thread and invited me to come to the "race". 40 boats were expected - or so says Shane Williams. Shane said he had responses from as far away as Wytheville VA, and Huntsville AL. The weather was awful. In Dillsboro it was snowing, and there was a 15 mile an hour wind. But by mid-morning we heard that people in Washington, DC could take thier kayaks out for bob sledding, so we thought we were doing fine with good road conditions and plenty of water. Shane promised hot cider, or beer, and $50 each to the winning man, and woman.

The turn out was thin. Some people called or texted to say that the Cheoah was running, or Overflow Creek of the Chattooga, or the Linville they were all off to run creeks, weather be damned.

In K1, Chris Hipgrave, and another NOC staffer named Ben, Shane Williams, and another paddler filled out the largest class. Tierney OSullivan, Susan Hollingsworth from Asheville, and another woman assured three contestants in K1W. Yours truly was the lone C1.

The conditions were just short of hollywood epic, while the competitors looked more like characters from the Mutant Ninja Turtles film. It rained and snowed Thursday and Friday in western Carolina. The Tuckaseegee was running around 5000 CFS, or 5X it's normal release flow. The Tuck runs east to west. Meanwhile, the wind was blowing 15-18 miles per hours, west to east. There was light snow blowing into our face, but most of all, freezing my fingers and hands so quickly that they passed through the pain stage into numbness within the first mile. I can imagine a small screen rendition of this event on Utube would appear like waterbugs in a snowglobe.

To add to the frivolity, the race included a mass start, and we were required to point upstream in the current. Fortunately the Tuck is wide as it passes through Dillsboro. Even so, the start looked like a get-a-way scene as people windmilled hurried forward and back strokes to attempt high speed peel out manuevers mid-stream, all the while the wind just kept pushing us around.

After my hands and nose went numb, things went okay. Paddling C1 against a headwind is often reason to get out and go home. The kayaks fared a bit better. Turning around at the start is harder for them, but once they get going downstream, they could counter the wind easier than a C1.

I am familiar with this section of the Tuck, and I know where the best lines and slots in the rapids are located. It didn't matter. At 5000 cfs, you can pretty much go anywhere. The K1s disappeard from my sight about half way into the three mile course. There were nice roller coaster wave trains, and a few holes. The ledges that normally form rapids in the Tuck were washed out with the high water, and we could all just follow the wave trains for 100 or 200 yards at a time. The finish was at Double Bridge, where we always finish when we race here.

Not surprising was that the loading boats and changing into dry clothes was accomplished in record time. All shuttles should be like this, even when it's warm and comfortable.

Back at Dillsboro Rafting Company, the times were shared with everyone. I do not recall what my time was. My teeth were still chattering. I don't know how fast I went, and it doesn't matter. I know I used to be fast on this section, which is better than remembering a slow time on a cold day.......

Chris Hipgrave was the winning man, Tierney OSullivan was the winning woman. Each collected a $50 prize, ugh, that's 50 Jamaican dollars. It looks like monoply money. But, we all had hot cider, and we all enjoyed the high water. If the wind hadn't been so harsh, it would have been a really enjoyable run.

For a few minutes I thought about a movie titled Fast and Clean. It's a documentary about the 1979 US Slalom Team, and it tracks them from winter workouts, to team trials, to the World Championships. In the opening scene there are paddlers on the river preparing for a race on a snowy day. A voice (Kathy Hearn) poses a question and response with great conviction:

"On days like this I ask myself why am I out here freezing my butt off.......but then I realize that somewhere else there is another paddler out on a cold day working thier butt off, and then I know I want to be here because this is going to make me better, faster, and tougher."

Well, 20 years ago I would have used that thought to justify being out on a cold day. But now, it's just for the fun of it and a chance to brag about going out for a paddle in the snow!.

Shane Williams closed the day by reminding everyone to come back next year, on the Saturday before the Super Bowl, and bring friends.

Cheers, see you on the water.
Chris Osment