River Babe….She’s Baaaccck!

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Let’s get this next part straight, I AM NOT BRAVE, but stupid and lack a reasonable amount of fear that helps us perpetuate our species. The guys wanted to do the Cheoah River in Rossville, NC. It is a controlled river that has about 17 release dates throughout the year. It is very steep and narrow. The Cheoah is a fun yet extremely technical river to run. Burch asked if I would go, I said yes, not knowing or really caring about how difficult it would be. I will never say no to a river run. I am like Mikey, I will run anything, again because I am stupid.

The weather forecast for the day was snow, rain, sleet, ice and a lot of upstream wind. At one point late in our journey probably when the hyperthermia began messing with our minds, we discovered that the water was warmer than the air and would periodically stick our frozen hands in the water to warm them only to have them freeze again once we took them out.

What makes this river unique and difficult is the tree and brush line around the banks and of course fallen trees in the water line. There are 3 sections, the top section is the least difficult and the last section is the most difficult, so it is a natural progression into insanity. At the lower end you have a 12 foot drop called Bear Creek Falls, to look forward to.

Originally there were 9 people that were going to make the journey to the Cheoah, James hurt his knee during the carnage runs the day before so he backed out, Nick, Ray and Parrot’s fiancé, Chantel said, “Hell no, it is too cold”. So that left 5 of us that were crazy enough to take on this feral river in a snow storm: Burch, Joe, Parrott, Vince and myself. Ray and Chantel, who is a 2nd year raft guide, played the role of safety in a warm car where they closely followed our raft along the road and would periodically remind us that we were stupid and cold..

Burch guided, Parrot and Joe sat up front, me and Vince sat middle row where I hit the deck just about every time it got nasty. OK a little fear is healthy right? We got pinned on a rock and were completely vertical, but the fearless guides got us out of that tight spot with out swimming! We decided not to take the 12 ft drop b/c of the merciless weather and chances of hyperthermia were really high; if we would have taken the drop we would most definitely swim. We wisely chose a more technical route instead. At one point Burch was busy messing with the raft when we approached a ledge and Joe and Parrot guided the boat from the front as Burch was ejected 2 rows up into Vince. Crazy.

At the end of the 9 miles I was almost sick with hyperthermia, I quickly got undressed in the car where Chantel had my clothes ready for me. I sat in front of the heater for about 10 minutes before I could think straight again. I can honestly say that if I had to swim in the river that day I probably wouldn’t have made it out alive, my reflexes were slowed by the icy conditions and I could barely speak by the end of the trip. Chantel was a life saver having dry clothes and a heater ready for me was clutch, thank god for compassionate river girls. Although the weather was unmanageable, I got a lot out of the trip.

I fell in love with the Cheoah with all of it’s strainers and illusionary lines. It made me feel the commanding forces of nature with its raw intensity. I learned a lot about respect that day. Respect for my fellow guides and respect for the rivers of the world. Once I got home I went to the AW website and read about the Cheoah and the AW’s efforts to get more release dates and clean up some of the lethal strainers. The Cheoah is one of the most fantastic rivers in the world. I almost hate writing about it, in fear that it will become another tourist destination where people believe that the boats are on rails like Disney World. I would like for this to remain a boater’s river. Experience should be required.