Last Friday my buddy, Andrew O’Neil, and I decided to fight the urge to sleep and rally up to the Green River Narrows for some early morning boofin’. Besides, everyone knows that dawn patrol beats yawn patrol. We left Athens around 5:30 in the morning and got to Fish Top, the take out, around 8:30. To say the least, it was cold, like my-hands-went-numb-tying-the-boats-on-the-roof cold. Nonetheless, we were stoked for some 200% Green. We met up with some friends and decided that we would hike into Big Hungry Creek to put on, instead of using the normal put in. Right off the bat, this was a new experience and I was stoked. Big Hungry is a tributary of the Green River and recently went through the process of dam removal; it was really cool to get to paddle a river that was in the process of reverting back to its normal form.
Big Hungry was sweet: there were a couple fun slides, some good boofs and a sick mini gorge. I would definitely recommend putting on here if the flows permit! When we got down to the confluence with the Green River, I looked around for the rocks that I would normally use to judge the water level, but most of them were underwater. I was beginning to realize that this level was a good bit higher than I had previously experienced. However, I was still stoked as ever. We got down to the gauge, and it read twenty-two inches flashing to twenty-five, but this didn’t seem right. Robbie reminded me of all the sediment currently moving around the riverbed due to the Big Hungry dam removal and that it may have caused the gauge reading to change. It felt closer to thirty inches but I had no way of knowing because the highest I had paddled the river had been at twenty-three inches.
We boogied down to Bride of Frankenstein, and I ramped up on the boof on the right side which was usually a rock that you bounce off. It was a sweet water boof, launching me over a sizable hole that caught me a little off guard, but my line was good.
Robbie showed us a cool new line at Frankenstein. From there I charged ahead and splashed through the rapids, as I had done many times before on the Green at 200%. I regrouped with everyone above Whale Tail, and we made our way down to Boof or Consequences. Robbie was about to run the far right side, and I was close on his stern, when Andrew said that he was going to take a look to maybe try a new line. Robbie and I eddied out to wait for him.
Andrew’s face quickly turned to one of near terror. He told us that there was a log in the right side. We got out to look. The log looked like imminent death to anyone trying to run the far right line. Needless to say I was pretty frazzled and shocked. Only moments before I was planning to go directly into a rapid with very little potential for escape. The only thing that stopped me was Andrew saying that he was going to check it out. I was so thankful for his action but at the same time so discouraged by my own. I had gone into the day so arrogantly, and the river showed me who was in charge. This got me thinking about all of the other rapids that I charge into without questioning the position of obstacles downstream.
I had always known how many variable factors are present when we are kayaking but I had never thought of ways to prepare myself for them, other than through practicing hard moves on easy whitewater.
*The above picture is of Ben, but not on the Green.
I think the base of my over-confidence was my perception of the Green as a reliable section of whitewater. While this is true in the sense of its predictable flows, it is not at all true in the sense of what to expect after significant rain. Wood, rocks and sediment are constantly shifting in every river and anticipating that can make all the difference for safety, as it did in our situation.
The first lesson is something that I have known for some time now, but I guess I had to re-learn it, because it was not a constant thought for me while paddling: never take anything on the river as a given. No matter how many times you have run a river or rapid, nothing about it is guaranteed. Doug Ammons explains this in his article Making Sense of Death that a “great many of the deaths on rivers can be summed up as freak accidents or bizarre happenings,” and I think that this statement is so important to remember. So many accidents occur because of people not taking the time to look at rapids before diving into them. Rivers are constantly changing; expecting rapids to be different every time you paddle them is one of the most important keys to having a long and successful life as a paddler.
The second lesson I am continuing to learn and do so every times I set foot in moving water: never stop listening to the river. The river is the greatest adversary we will ever face and therefore it is the greatest teacher we could ever have. The river is older, stronger and wiser than we will ever be, and learning to listen to its lessons will allow us to further progress in kayaking and in our lives outside of our beloved sport. The river is a force we cannot beat, but through kayaking we are presented the opportunity to work with it and create something beautiful. We can transfer this into any aspect of our lives: instead of working against the forces around us, we can work with those forces to use their power for our advantage and to can accomplish just about anything.
*This photo was taken on a creek in North Georgia.
With that being said, I want to challenge everyone reading this to get out and enjoy the beauty and power of your favorite river. Learn from my mistakes and close calls if you can: never take anything as a given, and listen to the river. Then, let it take you for a ride!