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River Tales: First Flip

I was ready, well past ready really, to have my own raft. My crew that day was a set of four thick-bodied men wearing gold jewelry. They had not bothered to take off their gold watches, saying "it's waterproof". They said they were "bean counters" from New York, and would not explain to me what a bean counter was. That was our bad beginning.

The water had come up just a little bit from 1.6 the day before. The men in my raft had no idea how much danger they were in. They saw that I was taking the river seriously, and they did not respect me, so they did not take the river seriously themselves. They must have thought me a little bumpkin or something, what with my soft Tennessee accent and crooked teeth. But I had a much better idea what was going on than they did.

We made it through all the early rapids with a minimum of trouble. I was working hard to get them down the river, because they would not paddle. You'd be amazed how many big macho men will wallow in the bottom of a raft instead of sitting up and putting a blade in the water. They'd just fall over and giggle on the raft floor. They think it's a ride or something, if a little girl can be their guide.

When we got down to Jawbone, they got to find out more about the power of the river. I did too. When the water level gets over 1.6, the Curler at the bottom of the Slide begins to weaken, and it is easier for a raft to punch right through it and shoot across the river to hit Decapitation Rock. When a raft hits decap at that flow, it is likely to flip. I had not flipped yet, and I had never seen anyone flip off this rock. But on my very first day of paid work on the river, that is exactly what I did.

I was trying to crank the raft to the left, and calling for my worthless crew of bean counters to help me turn the raft. As usual, they were not paddling. We hit the rock going full speed in a three thwart DIB. The front compartment of the raft climbed the rock, and the water coming down from the right twisted the stern of the boat underneath the rock. The flip happened so fast that I didn't see anything. When I popped up to the surface of the water, I could see the end of the raft a few strokes away.

I swam over and grabbed the big D-ring on the end of the raft. A guide on shore tossed me a rope and ran to position himself to pull me and the raft in. I had one hand on the rope and one hand on the raft, and I just hung on. Later they told me I had done an "iron cross". I didn't know it at the time, but the four New York men were hanging onto the other end of the raft. So I pulled the raft and all the men in with the strength in my little girl body.

I don't remember the rest of the trip. I think I was just relieved that the worse possible flip had happened to me and nobody died. After paddling across the lake and loading the rafts into two stacks of three on the top of the bus, I was allowed to climb on top of the bus for the ride out. It was a rare treat, to ride on top of the bus. A couple of other guides were up there too, and we hunkered down in the top rafts. We were instructed to keep our heads low, as some of the power lines were low enough to catch on anything that stuck up higher than the top of the rafts. Each pile of rafts was held down by just one strap, but we trusted those straps.

The dirt road up from the takeout is steep and winding, and on the way out we met up with another bus coming in. There was no good place for two buses to pass, so they unloaded all the customers from the other bus to drive it on the shoulder and around our bus, which was against the mountainside with two wheels in a ditch. After the big bus ordeal, everybody loaded back up and headed for home. Those of us in the rafts on top of the bus had stayed quiet and out of sight, because we did not want the other company, or the customers, to know we were up there.

At the top of the takeout road we expected our bus to stop and let us down, but it did not stop. Later we learned that the driver had thought we got down when the bus was stopped to pass the other bus. Whatever the case, we rode all the way home up there. It was April in the apple orchard hills of South Carolina...pink and white blooms stretching as far as the eye could see, and the Blue Ridge in the distance. I was deliriously happy.

When we got back to the outfitter, the New Yorkers tipped me $50 (my pay was $33/day) and though I did not like them, at least I hated them less. I don't think they lost any jewelry in the flip. That was my first flip and my first day of paid river guiding.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 26th, 2008 11:02 pm (UTC)
I had customers like that when I was a wrangler at the dude ranch. The city slickers looked at the horse as a ride, rather than something they had to control. Boy, did the horses take advantage of those people. If the rider wasn't willing to sit up in the saddle, take the reins and guide the horse, they were in for a hard day. The horses would try to rub them off on trees, would wander off the trail to graze, would stop to scratch their bellies on low bushes, or would find low-hanging pine tree branches to test the flexibility of their riders. Much of our time as wranglers was spent rounding horses and people up and getting them back on the trail... and more than once, chasing down a runaway horse that may or may not have lost its rider at some point.

Edited at 2008-12-26 11:03 pm (UTC)
Dec. 26th, 2008 11:41 pm (UTC)
Yeah, people can be really oblivious about the power of nature....it's not a "ride"....at least when you're herding city slickers on horseback you don't have to be on the same horse with them...or do you?
Dec. 27th, 2008 12:31 am (UTC)
Good God, no!!
Dec. 27th, 2008 01:36 pm (UTC)
rookie trips....
Don't remember my check out trip with SEE, but do remember mine when I re-certed on the Chattooga with NOC. My technique at ususal water was to float the first part of Corkscrew with a LEFT angle, and when I saw a little wave, I'd call for some help. This really whigged out my trainer since they asked for forward mo way earlier than that. Might have been Don or someone. Rather enjoyed making them a bit nervous.

The photo is of me in my SEE days with my trainee Ken. Nice fellow. Full on ALL the time. But honest and freindly.

We all had to start somewhere. When I look back, I realize how much risk I exposed others to. Once again getting back to the concept of judgement.

I remember doing the "elephant ride" back from the lake one time too. It was me and a few other folks. The rafts were deflated so we didin't have TOO much of a clearance issue. Quite enjoyable up there.

I also did that one time coming back from the Ocoee. I was so burned out on people that the thought of riding back with them in that crampt Blue Bird was overwhelming. I snuck up the ladder just as the bus was pulling away. As I scampered down at the end of the ride, someone asked if I'd ridden up there. My response was, "Are you kidding?..."

Dec. 28th, 2008 03:50 am (UTC)
Re: rookie trips....
Don's wife B rode with me for one training trip and I remember getting in a humdinger of a fight with her because I was exactly where I wanted to be and she was convinced that I was in totally the wrong place and flirting with suicide. We never reconciled it but she wanted me banned from the Chattooga because I would not bow down to her opinion of the situation. Then, or now, I trust my own instincts and senses more than I trust hers. I think that to be a decent guide, you need to know better than your trainers what you are doing. Even if you don't....you just need that cockiness.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )



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