Sunday, February 20, 2011

Tales From The Outdoors Show Part II: West Virginia

Here we are at the second installment of my outdoors show series. Last time I talked about some beautiful, tranquil land up in the land of hockey and maple syrup. This time, we're traveling south to an area that's also beautiful, but not quite so tranquil. Said area is Fayette County, West Virginia, home of the New River and the Gauley River. Now, in all fairness, these locations may very well be tranquil for a lot of people. It was not, however, incredibly calming for those of us who were going to intentionally going to ride inflatable rafts through some of the ugliest parts of each river.

The first time I went whitewater rafting I was probably about 11 or 12 years old. Dad found them at the outdoors show (of course) using the ever-thorough research technique known as "Oh hey a whitewater rafting outfitter. And, wow, a discount coupon!" That's pretty much all he needed to hear. So that spring about 6 of us headed down to God's country to an outfitter called Rivers, and set up in our deluxe accommodations, a.k.a. a tool shed with wooden shelves that doubled as beds. Apparently most of Rivers' capital went into the mansion-sized drinking lodge they had built.

Alright, guys. Enjoy your stay. What's that? Heat? Well, it looks like the walls are flammable if you want to light them on fire.

Fortunately, the rafting itself made up for the "room and board." Being novices, we only did a trip on the New River on this trip. What we didn't know until we got there, however, was that some heavy rain had raised the river about 10 feet above its banks. This meant good news and bad news for us. The good news was that with less rocks jutting out of the water, there was more room to maneuver the rafts. The bad news was that if we fell in we had a few extra million gallons of water pushing us God-knows-where. But that's just the kind of news that keeps you good and motivated, so we managed to get through the trip with little to no bodily harm

As great of a trip as we had, we figured we could do slightly better from our next outfitter than living in a shanty town, so this time Pops put a bit more time into finding a group called Ace Adventure Resort. We really hit the jackpot this time around. Instead of a shed, we slept in a chalet, and I don't think I need to explain that any accommodation with a French name is going to be pretty awesome. It was essentially a fully furnished apartment in the middle of the woods, complete with an outdoor hot tub. For those who say that this is not exactly the best way to commune with nature, I say you try sleeping on a wooden slat with no heat and then come on back and give your thoughts on what you'd pick for future living arrangements.

Posh living conditions aside, the best part of riding with Ace Whitewater, by far, was Fred. Fred is known by rafters in the area as the "Gauley Lama." He knows more about the New and Gauley Rivers than you or I will ever know about anything. During any lulls in the action he'd even give us some stories about each river's history.

Take, for example, the small mining town of Brooklyn, West Virginia. You may recognize that it shares a name with a slightly more well-known town in New York. This connection didn't slip the attention of coal company owners in West Virginia during the turn of the century. They came up with quite a sharp little plan wherein they'd set up a train near the docks in New York City where immigrants would be getting fresh off the boat. This train would be labeled "Brooklyn." Wanna guess which Brooklyn it was going to?

So, um, is that the Statue of Liberty?

Unfortunately for the immigrants who got on this train, they'd be on a non-stop trip to West Virginia before they realized their mistake. Now, the tickets to Brooklyn were very cheap. Getting back from Brooklyn, of course, would be much more costly. And how could they pay for those return tickets? Well, it just so happened that there were plenty of mining jobs they could take. That my friends, is American ethics and ingenuity at their best.

Now, stories like that are more than just entertaining. They are actually comforting coming from a man whose job it is to know the river well enough to keep you from dying in it. Fred knew every inch of both the New and the Gauley rivers, and we really needed that experience with the dumb shit we were doing on these trips.

You see, we were set up for a two day trip, first on the New and then on the Gauley. The thing is, on the day we were supposed to raft the Gauley, we didn't have enough paying customers to fill a boat. So they decided to take us on a trip with the guides-in-training who needed to get some more experience navigating through the Gauley. That meants, of course, that they needed to take the hardest, most dangerous course through each set of rapids so that they'd know what to do should it happen with paying customers. As a paying customer, I found some fault in this logic, but I was too proud to really say anything except for one time.

Fred actually had us land the raft on a rock so that he could show us our options. Option A was to go left and get through basically without much chance of incident. Option B was a bit more complex. Fred explained that there was a 90% chance that we'd fall out, and that there was a 50% chance that once we fell out we would get pulled by the current under a rock and we'd have to hold our breath for as long as a minute until we were pulled back up......Option A! Option A! A thousand times Option A! I have no shame about that either. I'll gladly be a wuss as I sit hear breathing all of this air.

It goes without saying that we did in fact live through all of our subsequent trips, all of which were with Fred. Unfortunately, I haven't had a chance to go since high school. Hopefully, I'll be able to talk the Mrs. into taking a trip in the near future. I hear that Fred has since retired from Ace, but that he's still spending most days on the river. Maybe I'll just hang out on the shoreline and ask if I can hop on with him.

OK, we're almost done. Check out the finale, where I do my best to avoid the business end of a 250-pound wild boar. Read part three to find out if I've got a tusk-shaped scar on my ass.

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