When you live and raft out West you hear these stories about Eastern rafting and most of the really good stories are about the New and the Gualey rivers in West Virginia. This past Thursday Dan and I had a chat about what each of us really wanted to do in our remaining two months and Dan said The New. So we detoured off of the Blue Ridge and made our way to Fayetteville, which is home to the 18 or so companies who commercially run the river.
After a few discouraging hours we had almost given up on Dan getting to paddle the lower gorge (the class III-V section). Since I am not as good a boater as Dan I cannot go with him on those kind of stretches and it is unsafe to attempt it alone. We tried to find some local boaters that Dan could tag along with, but this too is a bit dicey since you don’t know their capabilities and vice versa.
Additionally given some of the “neighborhoods” we had been driving through we were starting to have some serious Deliverance flashes and were getting a bit scared. I heard a joke yesterday…”Given the choice I’d rather be dropped off at night in Compton than West Virginia. In Compton they just shoot you, in West Virginia they keep you.”
This is when we stumbled onto Rivers’ base camp and met up with Jeremy. Jeremy is a video boater; he follows commercial river trips down the river in his kayak, stopping to video the trips at the bigger rapids along the way. He and Dan discussed the possibility of Dan working for him on the Gauley and next thing we knew we were booked on the 8:30, full-day, lower gorge trip for the following morning. Since Dan is a potential employee we were allowed to camp with the other dirt bag rafter types for free. Note: in this context dirt bag is an honorary title.
Rivers has its own bar, restaurant, campground and outfitters store, very near the take-out for the lower section. The bar is genius because raft guides like to drink so they will never be short of customers. When you go down the river with these guys you get two free drinks after the trip, so everyone gathers in the bar and has a drink with their guide while watching Jeremy’s video. Friday night we met a bunch of the guides at the bar and I managed to secure a seat on a guide boat instead of the usual customer boat.
Dan barely slept that night. This was going to be one of those “check off your list of things to do” kind of days, and he was excited. The river was everything we had heard. The gorge is beautiful, deep and lush and steeped with history. The river is a hoot! In the first rapid, which is named Surprise, we flipped out 12’ boat, more or less on purpose, since we were all guides this was just a fun flip and we had the boat righted a minute later.
After lunch we splashed through rapid after rapid all ranging from class III to V (really probably III’s and IV’s by western standards, at this water level). It was like a giant wet rollercoaster, boats flipped, swimmers swam and everyone had a blast. Rivers puts on a good show and runs a safe trip, we were impressed.
Meanwhile Dan was busy spinning and surfing in every hole he could find. He had an ear to ear grin all day, even after he got surfed upside-down in a nasty hole named Nose Bleed and only popped out when a raft ran him over. He grew up watching videos of eastern kayaking and now he has gotten to run one of the big eastern legends.
We returned to the campground happy and satiated. We were recounting the day’s adventures to each other when Jess and Kimball, both Rivers’ guides, came knocking at our door with great stories, conversation and a jug (really a jug) of moonshine. This might be Dan’s perfect day.
A big, no a HUGE, shout out to Jeremy, Goldie, (Dingle)Barry, Amanda, Kimball, Jess, Thomas and all the folks at River’s. We’ll see you again.
I was a bit behind in my posts so this is the second one today. Click here to read about our time on the Blue Ridge Parkway.