Monday, August 4, 2014

A Rough Ride on the Shenandoah

I was up early on Saturday to meet with friends for a kayaking trip down the Shenandoah. I had done this trip last year and enjoyed it so much that I jumped at the opportunity to do it again. Even though I was there early, others had arrived before me, so we managed to spend some time chatting and catching up with each other before we had to hop on to our bus. The weather was dull but very warm, perfect for water activities. All we had to do was grab a paddle and life jacket and the rest of the day was organized for us. We had nothing to think about or plan.
We all clambered off the buses and walked around the kayaks laid out, looking for one that we'd want to spend the day in. This was done quickly and without fuss and soon we were all in the river waiting for our command from leader Bob to 'push off!'
The river looked so inviting and we all casually paddled downriver, some of us chatting while others enjoyed the beauty of the river while paddling alone. We would all take turns at this as we covered the 12 miles and sometimes folks would just be sitting in their boats with feet dangling over the edge in the water and just letting the current take them.
Bob passing by and we both attempted to take a photo of a lone turtle, the only one we saw on the trip. We also swept over a lot more rocks than I remembered from last year. I was used to these and so when I got stuck was fine with rocking off or pushing away from the boulders, but some of the newer members were a little concerned. They had to learn fast! A few had to climb out of their boats, holding on firmly as they worked their way free.
I got very stuck on a large rock at these rapids so pulled out my camera to quickly grab a couple of shots, but folks were ramming into me as they shot past with no control over their boats so I had to thrust my camera back into its waterproof container and concentrate on getting off my perch.
My boat of choice, albeit a very bad choice. Once I had been in the river for a few minutes I realized the thing didn't steer well. As soon as I stopped paddling it would suddenly veer off to either the left or the right. I had to resign myself to having to paddle constantly, no idle cruising with the current for me.
We stopped for lunch which once again was being cooked on a mill saw blade over an open fire. The food was superb, as good as last years, with burgers, homemade pasta and potato salad, with heaps of green salad and tomatoes. The trick was to not eat too much as I knew the evening meal would be well worth the wait.
But then once we were back on the river the capsizing started. This couple had problems and it must have soured their day as much later when we were only a mile and a half from the end we saw them standing on a small beach by their boats, and they were wanting to know if they could walk the rest of the way because their arms were tired. What? And drag their boats behind them, or were they just wanting to leave them? We had to assure them that the rest of the way was still water and they could simply float.
After a few more rills with folks getting stuck on rocks we hit a quieter part of the river and we just lazily paddled, enjoying the bald eagles who were circling above us.
But the peace didn't last for long. We rounded a bend and saw hundreds ofrowdy tubers in front of us. I had a friend who was celebrating her birthday here today and although I love tubing, being in a hoard like this isn't my idea of fun, so I was glad we could get past them and leave them to their noisy partying.
We soon came upon the Compton Rapids which were class II and seemed to be flowing pretty quickly today. The tubers were going through and screaming as they tumbled over the waves. As soon as I saw a gap I paddled fast and tried to steer as best as I could. It was exhilarating and I loved every second of it. I had some huge waves tumble over me and knew my boat would fill up. I just hoped I wouldn't be tipped over.
As I came into calmer water I steered over to the bank, I would need to emptyt the water before I carried on. I pulled my boat to the side and came across Jen who was in the process of               pumping water out of her kayak. We saw another couple who were tipped out of their boats and one guy lost his kayak and could only watch it tumble over the rocks as he stood up using his paddle for support. But Jen and I caught it and emptied it for him, then Bob towed it over to the other side of the river where the guy waited. Another guy smashed his knee but luckily his girlfriend had some Bandaids and Neosporin which she applied while Jen and I emptied his kayak. We ended up rescuing 4 kayaks, a few of our crew hadn't fared too well.
We were getting pissed with the tubers though. Many of them had not packed their litter away before negotiating the rapids, so much of it fell out and bobbed down the river. Jen and I tried to catch as much as possible which did result in me collecting a couple of unopened beer cans that would accompany my steak nicely that evening.

Once all of our group were through we climbed back into our boats and paddled down the final stretch of river leaving the noisy party kids behind. We got a mile from our take out point an hour early so we dumped the boats on a bank and swam in the river for a while. It was a lovely way to relax at the end of an eventful and tiring journey. Sam does a bunch of photos with captions, I loved this one. I had been having issues with my knee for the past few days and could feel it getting tight and more painful as I negotiated the slippery rocky river bottom. I think I could have twisted it while pulling some of the boats out of the rapids but I was not going to let it stop me from enjoying myself. We all splashed and fooled around, and soothed our sunburn with the cool water.
It was a very bumpy bus ride back to camp and I was glad to grab dry clothes from the car and get changed for dinner. We sat and impatiently waited for the steaks and chicken to cook. I was glad of the beer I'd caught in the river! The two plates above show a boy steak and a girl steak. Mine was plenty big enough and I had a small piece of chicken underneath that. Bob gobbled his steak down then proceeded to consume another two that were just as large. I really don't know where he put it.
We all chatted for a while after dinner but were soon feeling tired. We left the site with full bellies and a few bruises. I was grateful that I hadn't sustained any flesh woulds like some of the group and felt fortunate that I didn't have too long of a drive home. I was exhausted. I barely remember getting home and flopping into bed.

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