On Saturday of our outdoor adventure weekend, my wife and I paddled eleven miles along the flat pools and class 1 and 2 rapids of the Greenbrier River.
We hurried through breakfast and squared away our gear quickly so that we could get on the first shuttle up the river. After we paid for the canoe rental, picked up a couple of t-shirts from the campground office and did a quick mental checklist of our gear, we had little to do but sit and wait. While patiently waiting for our shuttle service, the stories began. Two paddlers were discussing their previous day’s trip. “Yeah. Those rapids are pretty rough. We flipped two or three times yesterday!”
On the shuttle ride upriver to Ronceverte Island Park the stories were thick. The two other paddlers shared some of their New River and Susquehanna River stories and Misti and I responded in kind with stories of the Gauley, the New, the Elk, and the Shenandoah. I told them about losing my Rapala in the first rapids the day before and they told us about losing two fishing poles to the last rapid before the campground (this is where they dumped the canoe the second time.)
We reached Ronceverte Island and began loading up the canoe with all of our gear. I tied 550 to the thwart and made sure that our gear was well secured before sliding the canoe into the water. I didn’t want to take any chances today.
It didn’t take long until we found our paddling / fishing groove – a few paddles here and there between countless casts in search of M. dolomieu. I noticed that the other two paddlers pulled in a couple before Misti or I had had a single bite. But it didn’t take long until we started pulling the small mouth, rock bass, and bluegill out of the water. From that point forward, the fishing was good. We didn’t catch anything worthy of the campground bulletin board, but we caught a lot of fish and quite a few keepers (even though we were throwing them back.)
The river was running at about 3.1 feet and provided a perfect current for an early paddle. We could relax, take our time, enjoy the fishing and slowly float along with no need for serious paddling. Life was good.
We entered into a stretch of water that was about perfect in this woodman’s estimate. I don’t think that I touched the paddle for over an hour. The canoe turned in every direction but steadily floated along down the center of the river. This was where the best fishing of the day was found. For a while, it seemed that every cast was getting bites and every third cast was pulling in a fish – most of which were decent small mouths. On my cousin and fellow outdoorsman’s advice, I tied on a Gitzit. My first cast pulled in my best small mouth of the day. I continued using it with great success until it finally snagged along the bottom and broke my line (it was the last Gitzit I had with me.) I should point out that the Greenbrier tended to steal a lot of my lures, more so than most rivers at least. I’m pretty sure that Randy, the campground caretaker, wades the river when it is low retrieving all of the lost lures of the Greenbrier.
We eventually reached our first class 1 or 2 rapid. Rapid classification is a bit speculative in my mind. There were several that were legitimate adrenaline filled class 2’s but there were that many more that were right in between class 1 and 2. Regardless, they were all most enjoyable. We passed through the first rapid a little soggy but no worse for wear. The two other paddlers were pulled off enjoying lunch so we paddled over to share adventures for a few minutes. “Yeah. That was the first one that we dumped in yesterday.” I was somewhat surprised but relieved that maybe none of the rapids were going to be too difficult. He looked at me inquisitively. “What were you doing standing up before you got to the rapids?” “Ah, as long as the river’s not too bad, I stand up to read the rapids.” “Oh, yeah. That makes sense. You read the river pretty well.” “Hey. Thank you. Hopefully it will pay off down the river!”
After the first rapid the river got SLOW. The sun was beating down on us and I’m pretty sure that Misti was questioning why she agreed to a canoe and camping anniversary getaway. We had all but given up on fishing and were just floating through any shady spots that we could find.
The two other paddlers were only going to Fort Spring. They had left their truck there and rode the shuttle the rest of the way up the river. “We couldn’t get much fishing done on that last stretch of river. Too much swift water and too many rapids.” I was getting excited! I’ve only had a few opportunities to paddle bigger waters in a canoe. There are a few decent class 2’s that I’ve managed to find but when the water is low during the summer, they drop down to class 1’s or shoals. The two paddlers (I never got either of their names) offered to take our gear since they were certain that we were going to dump our canoe. “Nah. We’re OK. Thanks anyhow.” As we floated a bit further I changed my mind. “Hey! Maybe you guys could take our poles. Everything else is tied in but I don’t want to lose them.” “Sure. We’ll have them for you at the campground.” “OK. Great. How far till we reach the first rapids?” He smiled and said about a mile. “How many are there?” “I think that there are six or seven. I’m not sure. Just stay left on that last one! It’s the one that we lost our gear on yesterday.” “I think we’ll be fine.” “Yeah. You read the water pretty well. We’ll see you when you get there!”
They disappeared as we began the last mile prior to the rapids. Slowly, the sound grew louder and louder alerting us that the first of several class 2’s were near. I stood up to read the river. “It looks like we’re going to go right on this one but there’s a big rock right in the middle we’re going to have to dodge.” Misti straightened up in her seat and reminded herself what to do if we flip “Hang onto my paddle. Feet first. Use your feet to bounce off of the rocks.” I’d been telling her this since our very first canoeing adventure.
The current finally caught us and we started moving fast towards the rapids. It pulled us a bit further right than I wanted. “Paddle right. Paddle right!” We hit the chute (or “V”) just as I had hoped. We were bouncing in high waves when Misti yells out “there’s the rock!” “Paddle right! Paddle right!” We dodged the rock by inches and floated on through the remaining waves. Misti was drenched and there was about eight inches of water in the bottom of the canoe. She may have been nervous about the rapids but she handled them like an old pro.
It didn’t take long until we passed through the next class 2. It was high waves but little danger. I found the right path and knew that there were no major concerns. At this point, I was so excited, I would have probably tried class 3’s and 4’s with that little Old Town Canoe.
As we approached the next rapid (which we thought was going to be the worst of them), I told Misti that she should get out and video this one. She agreed so we eddied out of the current, got out of the boat and walked her to a good video and pick-up point past the rapid. As I walked back up to the boat I studied the rapid carefully. Maybe I was missing something but it didn’t seem to be a big deal – minor waves with only a few rocks high enough to snag me. I started paddling towards it, stood up one last time to check my route, dropped to my knees and entered quickly. It proved to be an easy rapid but was still quite enjoyable.
To see the video of this rapid, click here.
Misti got back in the boat and we headed for the last two rapids. The next rapid was another class 1 or 2 depending on how you looked at it. We passed through with little to mention. My plan was to offer Misti an opportunity to get out and video the last rapid (a solid class 2). In truth, I was a little worried about dumping the canoe in this one and wanted to spare her the experience. But the water was moving quickly and there was little to do but take it on head first. “Get down on your knees and keep paddling.” Misti and I both dropped to our knees on the bottom of the boat just before the bow reached the fast moving water. The current was fast and the waves were huge! As one of the larger waves crashed over the side of the canoe, Misti looked back at me with the look of “what the hell do we do now” all over her face. “KEEP PADDLING!” I yelled loud enough to be heard over the roaring of the river.
As we reached the last few waves, we were both smiling from ear to ear. There was about eight inches of water in the canoe and we were both soaked but it was by far the most enjoyable moment of the entire day on the river. Both of the other paddlers from earlier in the day were watching us from a rock at the campground. I was so glad that we didn’t roll in front of them. I could tell by talking to them that they were impressed. “You read the river well! That’s the way we should have come through those but we were way off from there.” “Thanks a lot.” They handed over the poles that they “saved” from getting dumped in the river and went back to enjoying a cold adult beverage.
We walked back to our campsite, changed out of our wet clothes and went up to the office to talk with the owners, Bob and Beverly. We discussed SmoothingIt.com and I told them that I’d like to do a profile on their campground. They were great company and answered all of my questions for SmoothingIt.com and about running a livery – I dream of running one someday.
As I busied myself doing something or another she asked me about getting scared in the rapids. I told her that yeah, sometimes I get a little scared or worried. “The New River pulled me under one time and seemed to keep me for nearly a minute. I didn’t get back in for nearly a year.” “What do you do about it? How do you handle it?” As I looked into her eyes, the eyes I’ve loved since I was thirteen years old, I smiled. “When you love something so much, there’s nothing that can keep you away from it, no matter what.” I guess in truth, I feel the same way about her.
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