Ok, to be fair, I’ve been rafting on the Gauley River since about 1996. But just because I’ve done it repeatedly doesn’t mean each trip doesn’t have its fair share of wonder. Not only is each trip is a new experience, but if one isn’t careful, the river can eat one for lunch – literally or figuratively.
Last year, we’d booked a trip for the opening weekend of Gauley Season at Adventures on the Gorge months in advance. Shortly before we were to embark, I received some very bad news, and it made the trip much less enjoyable than it should have been. Since the trip was already paid for, there was no option to cancel. I am very glad I went, because the raft guide we had, Kerren Hall, was the best I could have imagined, in more ways than one. First, she helped me see that the School of Hard Knocks degree I was about to earn was simply the trees hiding the forest. Although I knew that already, it was something that I couldn’t recognize at the time. Second, she is the first and ONLY raft guide who has gotten me through Pure Screaming Hell without turning me into a member of the Gauley River Swim Team! Ok, so we joined the Swim Team on another rapid, Upper Mash, but that was a fluke. We even swam Lower Mash because they couldn’t get us back into the boat right away. I wouldn’t recommend doing that, if at all possible.
This year, we booked our trip months in advance, and the trip date arrived with no bad news like I had last year. Therefore, I was in a much better place emotionally and able to become excited and appreciate all the little things that were hard to smile at last year. I laughed, joked, sang and even screamed like a Banshee at the oncoming rapids. What made the trip even better was that we were able to get Kerren as a raft guide again! Once again, she got us through Pure Screaming Hell with the right side of the boat pointing up! And we were even inside the boat on Upper/Lower Mash. Excellent.
We even argued about the terminology. Is it an oar we used or a paddle? The rafting people told me since I started rafting that it was a paddle – not an oar. Others argued that it was an oar. The question was never resolved while we were at the river, mainly because we had too much fun to split hairs.
We got through the rafting trip both days without much more than sore/achy muscles from paddling our arms off. The day we left, however, we decided to follow the trail at Carnifax Ferry that some of the raft guides told us would lead us down to the rocks at Pillow Rock to see rafters flipping over and swimming it. (Yes, it’s fun to see others flip, especially when you’ve been through that particular rapid and may or may not have made it through unscathed!) When we finally found the trail, there was a sign from the Park Service that said something to the effect, “This trail is very difficult and not maintained by the Park Service. We recommend you DO NOT use this trail.” Well of COURSE we had to use that trail! I took my phone to get pictures and Tom took his high-end camera. I, of course, BROKE my phone on one of the myriad of slips/tumbles/mishaps I took on the way down. Tom, of course, had a padded case for his camera. So the trip wasn’t in vain because he got some awesome pictures!