DISCOVERY hits rapids at YHC
By Callie Stevens, Staff Writer
This past week the DISCOVERY group started the new adventures of water pursuit’s management class. Our first activity was canoeing. On Wednesday, we left for our first water trip.
We drove to Fontana Lake on the south side of North Carolina’s Smokey Mountain National Park. After the drive, we paddled to an island in the middle of the lake and set up camp to stay on the island Wednesday and Thursday night. Thursday we paddled to Hazel Creek, where some people in the group fly fished.
Friday morning we packed up and left the island and drove to the Nantahala River. We canoed the river including the Nantahala Falls. We camped out Friday night, canoed the Tuckasegee River on Saturday than came back to school. The trip was very tiring but worth every minute because it was so much fun. My favorite part of the whole trip however was running Nantahala Falls on Friday.
White water rapids are categorized into five different classes: one being fairly easy and five being very dangerous and technical to run. Nantahala Falls is a class III rapid which means it takes a certain level of skill to run it and it can be very dangerous. Before we ran the rapid we got out of the canoes and scouted it out. The falls includes two ten feet drops one right after the other where paddlers have to avoid two different holes where many people flip. We had the choice to run it or we could decide not to run it. I decided not to run it. I was physically exhausted by that point and had heard stories of some people dying in the rapid. I was scared and tired so I decided to be a rope person (a person that stands at the bottom of the rapids with a rope to throw at people if they fall in the river and need rescuing). I watched two canoes come down the rapid perfectly and smoothly.
At this point, my canoe partner, Jennifer Watford, decided she wanted to do the falls. As she started to walk back to the canoes upstream, I decided that I could do this and I couldn’t let her do it without me. So we started the walk back to our canoe. On our way back however, we saw one of our canoe groups run the rapid and flip. Our courage that had just been built up took a sudden blow. I looked at Jennifer and said, “Let’s run to the canoes and get in before we can chicken out again.” And we did, we took off running to our canoe trying to outrun fear. In less than a minute we were in our canoe headed toward the white water downstream with no chance of changing our minds.
Our instructors Rob Dussler and Drew Cavin had already shown us where exactly we needed to go down the rapids when we scouted it out. So Jennifer and I knew which path to take, the hard part was making sure we stayed on the right path. We set ourselves up on the right line as the water started picking up speed. Jennifer was in the bow of the boat (front) so her job was to paddle hard for power, I was in the stern (back) of the boat. So my job was steer us and keep us straight.
As we drew closer to our first obstacle, a large slab of rock on the left side of the river, Jennifer started paddling harder with everything she had, and I focused on keeping the canoe straight so we would avoid the rock. As we passed the rock the water started to get even bigger splashing into our canoe from every direction. I could see the falls now up ahead, fifteen yards to set us up with the right line to avoid the holes. The canoe is taking on more water than I expected from all the water splashing in. Jennifer is still paddling every stroke using every muscle she has to keep us in the water current. The canoe is moving really fast now and we’re a few feet from the falls before I know it. Our line is set right, just hoping that we don’t flip.
The bow goes over the first drop and pushes me in the back of the boat into the air. Jennifer lands back on the water and then the back of the boat lands. No time to think though, because the first drop turned us a little and I have to straighten us out before the next drop. With one big hard stroke of my paddle the bow straightens back up just in time as it crosses the second drop and falls down. The back of the boat then crosses the drop and falls. We sit at the bottom of the falls for a second until we both paddle hard enough to pull the boat out of the hole. We made it!
Jennifer and I ran the falls like experts. It’s funny to think that I at first I didn’t want to run the falls at all because I was scared. With encouragement from the others in the group and seeing that some of them made it through the falls perfectly, I convinced myself that I could do it.
Rob always says, “It’s a good decision to push yourself as far as you can go, but it’s also a good decision to know your limits and not push them.”
I think there’s a fine balance between being scared and knowing you limits, and being scared and pushing through it to better you. I found that balance Friday and it was definitely the highlight of my week.