Saturday, October 10, 2009
pure screaming hell on the lower gauley
I just got off the lower G. I'm sitting in my eggplant and lime colored sleeping bag which is losing puffs of feathers from holes made from Hometeam's neglected toenails. I've got a cup of coffee and I'm hoping it does the trick: I've got more papers to grade than one would expect, considering there are only 8 kids at this school. I had them all write essays at the same time (my mistake) and since they're going home on Sunday, I've run out of time in which to procrastinate reading their college essays.
This was my second run down the lower. My sister and her husband remarked that whenever they speak to me on the phone, I'm always doing something involving 'upper something' or 'lower something' or 'south branch of something.'. They try and keep up with the rivers and I inevitably end up saying, "Oh, no, that's the upper North Fork. Totally different. I ran the lower South Fork, which isn't so bad. But the kids ran the upper South Fork tomorrow, which I wouldn't touch." Invariably, they give up keeping up. The last words my dad said to me before I disappeared into the Grand Canyon for a month in the winter was, "Have fun selling kayaks, kid." I said alright, I would try. Best to keep them in the dark sometimes.
The last time I ran lower it was a Friday and the water was higher. Higher volume made for bigger features, tighter moves and an over-all higher scare factor. But we had the entire river to ourselves- no rafts, no other kayakers, nobody to jostle against in line for diagonal ledge playwaves. Today was Saturday, a big fat commercial Saturday in the 2nd to last weekend of Gauley season. There were armies of rafts out there, big floating undercuts to dodge and to wait for as they slipped one by one into rapid, and herds&herds&herds of boaters. Had I not been in the clutch of my usual blargh-inducing white-knuckled fear (I nearly threw up a peanut butter sandwhich at the put-in, mordifying) it would have felt like a big bouncing blow-up party out there. And it was shallower- each flip had me crunching against rocks and bracing my paddle against the river bottom.
So it was a much a different experience than the first time down. Also, there was an element of total surprise last week, not only was it my first time down, it was my leader's first time down as well, and he did a brilliant job of leading me blind down class 4. TodayI knew what to expect and my mamma duck was well versed in the rapids: 5 boat hole, rooster tail, junk show, pure screaming hell....so we eeked down little side-cuts and sneak routes that we hadn't known about before. Awesome. Definetly took more challenging lines the first time around at higher water and gained a whole lot of confidence and pizaz and style. And today, there were many times between rapids that I felt so confident that I let go of the fear little and started talking. Incessinty at times ("hey guys- guys, what's your favorite kind of cake!?).
It was a cold day, the blood is still draining back into my extremities, and the run is a long haul: 12 miles! Thank goodness the water is warm. The only real time I felt sketched out was on rooster tail, which is long and choppy. You start left and navigate around annoying, pushy little features and then head right around a big undercut rock. I'm pretty sure if you went under the rock you'd go under it and come out the other side as the current is strong, but I still want to stay the hell away from it. Today I couldn't get right fast enough and was approaching the rock with some real speed. I was sure I was going to smash right into it and whoosh beneath it. Lots of people hit that rock I guess so it's not a huge deal, but still an unpleasant ordeal. The rock was coming up much to quickly and I tried to paddle right, but the current was too fast. I looked frantically downstream and saw my fellow paddlers wincing as I grazed the edge with my shoulder, got pushed under the lip a little bit and flipped at the wavey thing at the bottom. I rolled up and was flooded with anger. I was no good at this sport and this sport is stupid anyway, it's cold, I'm sore, I'm tired, I'm hungry, I've had to pee for the last three hours and I've got 6 miles of foamy, pushy, wave trainy, rapid studded river left. Whenever I get infused with real fear I always get this way- indignant of myself and my boat the river and everything involved with the sport. I get edgy and shaky and off-balanced for a while and say something snappy to my leader because how could it be my fault, after all, that I got off line? Certainly it's there fault.
(It's not there fault.) And then I get over it and paddle the rest of the river without incident except the time that, right in the thick of Pure Screaming Hell, I screamed "WHICH F***ING direction???" and paddled like the devil, all the while it turned out I was in a huge mid-river eddy the water wasn't moving at all. Like running on a treadmill and shouting WHERE THE HELL DO I GO NOW???
It's now evening. It has taken me 3 hours to complete this, broken as it was by dinner, the dividing out of our prodealed NRA gear which arrived earlier this week, brushing the hair of a sick teenage girl, taking a shower, drying my hair, watching Taylor Swift videos with Tino up on the mattress-on-the-floor-of-a-closet that he calls his room, breaking up a near fist fight that began when two kids fought overa chair, eating fish tacos for dinner, dinking around on Flikr and correcting two college essays. Now I'm just listing the most mundane details of my life but whatever. It may be the end of the quarter but the work keeps piling up. And all I want to do is slide naked and alone into the world's largest tub in the most excruciatingly hot water possible.