Cheoah Beat Down

Jun 2, 2015 by

It took a crazy beat down for me to understand something about whitewater kayaking: you’re always learning.

Over the past two years I’ve grown from an awful, just awful paddler to a confident Class III boater who can handle Class IV rapids in small doses. Dan and Rob say I paddle smooth, like the guys in the videos. I don’t believe that really, but it’s nice to hear that I don’t look like an idiot. I used to be afraid of the Ocoee and the Comp Channel at the USNWC. Now, those are the places I love to practice and show off my skills. So, after several ‘comfortable’ runs on the Ocoee, a great run on the Lower G during GauleyFest, a dry beard run on the Tellico, and six months without a real swim, I thought I was ready to step it up to Class IV. I had a very solid guide, a great security sweep boater and a release on the schedule – Cheoah.

I’ve run Class IV rapids – the El, Grumpys, Pure Screaming Hell, Jarrod’s Knee, and others – without too much trouble. I can boof, side surf and ferry like a champ. My strength is my roll and my ‘no swim’ mentality. I’ve taken some beatings in shallow rapids, held on when others would have bailed and rolled it up. I’m not the smoothest paddler but I have total boat control on the Ocoee. That’s what makes my hour on the Cheoah so strange – it was like I’d never paddled a whitewater boat ever. I was all over the place, couldn’t keep a line and spun in circles all over the place like a beginner on an eddy line. I had my moments of glory – nailed a boof on God’s Damn. But it was mostly me sucking ass like a noob all the way down to my eventual beat down. I’m used to catching eddys high up, I teach beginners how to do it. That day I couldn’t snap into a Cheoah eddy if my life depended on it. It was like I didn’t know how.

When I thought about running the Cheoah, I asked myself ‘am I ready?’ And when I answered ‘yes’ it was always thinking about my best day. On my best day paddling, I tear up every Class III river or creek I’m on. On my best day, I use my paddle very sparingly on the Ocoee, usually floating, edging my way down, holding my line like a champ. There was nothing I encountered on the Cheoah as technical as Jarrod’s Knee, or as intimidating as the Upper and Lower Mashes. I’d seen this all before. There was never a featured I’d never seen, hadn’t conquered nor a move I’ve never made. Granted, I didn’t make it to Bear Creek Falls. I know there’s shit there I’m not yet prepared for. But like I said, the BS features that gave me trouble on the Cheoah were features I’d crushed 100 times before – on my good days.

The problem was this: I didn’t have a good day on the Cheoah. The water was squirrely, pushy and tight. I wasn’t prepared to be on a Class IV river and have a bad day. Like missing a boof stroke. It happened. I missed it. Right there on Craik’s Ledge. The only  thing that saved me from swimming was my side surf and my roll. That hole held me for a minute but I fought and I eventually got spit out.  So, when I was thinking about ‘am I ready for the Cheoah’ I wasn’t taking into account the unknown (which is now known) – how would I do on a Class IV run? Can I survive a bad day? I almost didn’t.

When I first got on the Ocoee, we broke it down into pieces. I did the Ocoee Lite, walked Tablesaw, skirted Hells Hole. Why didn’t I do that on the Cheoah? Break it down, rapid by rapid? Run one rapid well, take out. Think about it, maybe run it again. Build up to it. Just like I did when I went from Class II to Class III whitewater. I tried to eat the whole Cheoah pizza in one bite. Not smart. I nearly paid the price and my boat got beat all to hell.

So my advice to anyone considering ‘stepping it up’ is to start over – assume you know nothing. Don’t be an arrogant ass like I was and look at my skill set through rose-colored glasses. On my best day, yeah, I think I could have made it to Bear Creek Falls. Could I have made it further? I don’t know. But on my worst day I didn’t make it past ‘Takeout Rapid.’ Aptly named.

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