Feel the Excitement

I had not slept well Friday night. At 6:00 AM on Saturday I gave up, put feet on the floor, and began gathering the stuff I would need: clothes, food and water. I do a similar drill almost weekly and usually the night before is no big deal. However, this particular river is different—I seldom sleep soundly knowing where I am headed to the next day.
I had arranged to meet John at 10:00 AM, which meant that I did not have to leave the house until 8:00 or so. I used the time to read the description of each rapid on the American Whitewater Web site and to mentally paddle the six mile stretch river. I was desperately trying to remember the “sneak” lines in order to avoid a possible bone jarring swim in shallow, pushy water. The last time I was on the Middle Ocoee River, I made a mistake at the first rapid and swam over Grumpy’s ledge—not an auspicious start to that day. What bothered me the most was it would be just John and I paddling together, and he had never paddled the river before. On previous trips I knew that members of the group knew where to go and where not to go. Today it was up to me to choose the safest line. Plus it’s never a good idea for two people to paddle together, as the rule says: “One is a fatality, two is a witness, and three is a rescue.”
John had arrived even before I had, which meant that he probably did not sleep well either because his drive from Macon was at least two hours longer than my leisurely two hour drive from Marietta. He had a chance to look at the entrance rapid, Grumpy, and the consequences of blowing the ferry from river right to left above the ugly hydraulic below the ledge. Plus I had told him the tale of my swim through Grumpy several times and I had shown him the scars of the episode. My wife would add to my story that when I arrived home that faithful evening I looked like I had been severely beaten, which was essentially what had happened.
I pulled in the parking lot at the put-in about ten minutes before 10:00. There were several vehicles there, but the lot was not near as full as a typical summer day. The temperature gage in my Blazer read 45 degrees. It was a crystal clear fall day with highs predicated in the mid seventies. The steep slopes were a patchwork of bright yellow and red. However, I was focused on the faces of boaters unloading gear trying to find someone familiar that I could ask to join John and I. Alas they were all strangers, many obviously as nervous as me, because they avoided eye contact, intent on making sure they had everything needed for the upcoming journey.
John and I joined he drill by unloading our boats and paraphernalia. We dressed for the cool fall weather and set off to park our cars at the takeout. We had decided to try to hitchhike back and flagged a ride in less than five minutes.
John had decided that he would avoid Grumpy by carrying to a put-in about a quarter mile downstream. I relented and joined him, relieved to avoid the first must-make move. We jumped in, paddling through waves on our way to Staging Eddy where six to eight boats were waiting to surf first play spot or just resting in the calm water watching.
When I looked a John he looked sort of like a deer in headlights. He said that he did not seem able to make his canoe to go where he wanted it to and that the current seemed especially pushy. I told him that it may not bode well if he was not able to make ferries and eddies and, yes, the Ocoee is pushier by far than anything that we normally paddle. A touch of fear mixed with his dazed appearance.
“So John, you wanta surf the wave?”, I asked.
“No, I think not today”, he replied
After ferrying across the main current we head downstream to Gonzo Shoals and Broken Nose, which we negotiated without incident. However, John was still complaining that his boat was not responding favorably.
Fortunately I remembered all of the lines that kept us out of harms way, for the most part. We paddled the left slide at Double Suck without incident and made the ferry to river right, avoiding several rafts.
One rapid that took me by surprise was Double Trouble. I missed the eddy on river left and ended up paddling through the meat of the waves. I turned sideways trying to make the river right eddy—not the best of all possible moves. I took a short swim into the eddy. John followed a few minutes behind. Several miraculous braces kept him in the boat, but completely full of water, he had a difficult time making the eddy.
After lunch we made our way around Flipper and few more shoals to the Doldrums. John said, “I have never been so happy to paddle flat water.” We made a brief stop at Go Forth Creek before making our way to Table Saw.
Again we negotiated the rapid in good shape. However, we both had to dump water form our boats. For John, this was at least the tenths stop for him. He said, “I take on so much water that there is no way I can bail it out.” My pump had suddenly stopped working, so I was in the same boat, so to speak.
Cats Pajamas, Hell Hole, and Powerhouse all went well with several boat dumping stops for John along the way.
As we paddled the flat water to the takeout, I congratulated John on a dry hair day and said he was now an experienced Ocoee paddler. He said he was looking forward to paddling Lake Juliet on Sunday.
By the way, I slept like a baby on Saturday night/Sunday morning.

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