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Adventures in Wildwater - The Practice Run

by Rick Thompson

March 29, 2011 -- Bryson City, NC

It was Friday around one and I had just gotten off work. I called Francheska to let her know I was on my way home. “The clothes and the baby are all packed up and ready – all you have to do is load the boats and gear”. I sped home. I began loading the boats and gear before I even went in the house to say “I’m home”. Check lists were slowly checked off – Boat, skirt, PFD, helmet, paddle, boots, and spray skirt – as each item was placed into the truck and gear bag. The excitement of our trip was beginning to overtake me. Don’t think about it I told myself. I had to keep my mind on the packing or else I would forget something. Once packed and loaded I scanned the shelves and bins for any last minute items. Throw rope, first aid kit, pin kit – should I – yes – it’s always when I don’t have them that I need them. I pack them. Boats and gear all loaded I head into the house and proceed to fill the remainder of the truck with clothes, food and baby supplies. 3 pm we pile in and hit the road. I make a phone call to John and he is leaving his house too. We will make it there at the same time. A diaper change puts us a little bit behind.

It’s 5:45 pm and we pull into the put in. John is ready and waiting. We have decided that I will make the first run while Cheska feeds the baby. I quickly dress and unload the boat. The sun has set for the evening and the gorge is hazy. Smoke covers the mountains and the smell of fire is strong. I put my gear on and we head to the put in. No shuttle will be waiting on us as Cheska is still feeding the baby. John has already put on the water and has paddled upstream to warm up a bit. I struggle to get the skirt around the rim of my cockpit. The skirt is always the hardest part of the wildwater boats. Sitting still in the boat is difficult enough. Then to have to balance and use both hands to snap the skirt in place is even harder. It feels like 30 minutes has gone by when I finally get the skirt on. I paddle around a bit in the eddy and then out into the fast current and begin to attain to the next eddy up. John always eager to go asks me if I am ready the minute I get to the eddy. Without waiting for my answer he paddles past me and heads downriver full speed. I psyche myself up and peel out into the current as it turns my boat down stream. John is headed far river left and I head diagonal towards the bend in efforts to gain distance on him. I focus on the strokes and techniques, and try not to let the rush of the approaching rocks and waves ahead slow me. The water running down the shaft of my paddle slowly creeps down my arm as a chill sets in. Inside my dry top my heart starts pounding harder and my lungs start to burn. John has turned the first corner and I am not far behind him.

The first part – the sprint – has now ended. Around the bend is the obstacle course. A small hole between two rocks appears quickly. I speed thru that hole perfectly. I ask the boat to turn right. It goes straight. I tell the boat to turn right and it gives a little to the right, Bump - Thud. I slow a bit as the boat drags over a rock hiding in the shallows.

I paddle hard to pick up speed with some hard strokes. I demand the boat to go right and it goes right. Up to speed again and a bit shaken. I glance ahead to figure out my next line. Too late. I am lined up dead center of Patton’s. I hit the hole and prepare to brace. I watch the long narrow bow disappear into the wave. It pops back up quickly. a cold splash of water pops up with it and drenches me. It feels like slow motion as the boat punches through the hole and slows and the hole tries to hold on to my stern. I realize with astonishment that I am still upright. I start paddling and regain my boat back from the grips of the hole. The worst was over. I had made it thru the obstacle course.

The finish line was just ahead about 200 feet. This stretch of water was fast moving water with a few small waves. It was time for sprint mode again. I dug hard and fast into the wild frothy current. I bounced along quickly and soon passed the finish line at the second concrete pad.

I met John at the pad and he said “Not bad. Let’s go do it again”. High on the rush of adrenaline pumping thru my veins we walked back up to the top and did it again.

Cheska had the baby fed by the end of our second run and was waiting with a shuttle. She completed two practice runs as well. Content and energized we headed to Rivers end for a delicious meal.

Rick Thompson
phone 678-907-1378
Email -

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