It isn’t very often that too much rain ruins a kayaker’s plans, but this year the rain put a bit of a damper on our annual fundraiser, Ladies on the Lower G. Anna Hallet and I left Fayetteville, WV early Friday morning headed toward the take-out to the Lower Gauley. We knew it had rained the night before, but as we drove past Laurel Creek and past the Dries, everything looked low. We figured that the rain hadn’t done much to bring anything up. As far as we knew the river was still scheduled to release 2800 CFS. We met everyone at the take-out and because the field is up away from the river, we didn’t even see the river before we loaded up and headed to the put-in. As we made our way up the Gauley toward the put-in the effects of the rain started to set in. Peter’s Creek was bigger than I had ever seen it! That was a shock and I started thinking about the Meadow River and wondering how high that was going to be. A few years ago the river went up to 3500 CFS while we were out on the river during Ladies of the Lower G, but it was fine as the lines were the same, just a little bigger. Remembering that trip, I wasn’t too worried yet. When we arrived at the put-in the water was brown and the river was flowing fast. My friend and Gauley/New River Ranger, Kathy Zerkle, was at the put-in and she let us know that she expected it to be flowing between at least 5000 – 6000 CFS. They had cut the dam back, but the Meadow was flowing around 4000 CFS and Peter’s Creek was flowing around 2000 CFS.
These are the times when being the trip leader feels really challenging. At the regular flow of 2800 or 3200 I feel confident leading a group down that has a mix of experienced boaters as well as first-timers, but high water is a different story. I wanted to keep the group together, but the river over 5000 – or even 4000 CFS isn’t appropriate for first time Lower Gauley boaters. A few of the ladies stepped forward and said that they weren’t comfortable with the water levels. We met as a group and started discussing options. We thought about all of us paddling the New River Gorge, but the logistics of moving over to the New were significant. We literally wouldn’t have been able to put on before 4 p.m. due to drive time. That would be pushing the timing of the trip, especially with 18 paddlers in the group. In addition to challenges of taking off the New before dark, the timing didn’t work for those of us who needed to get to the festival grounds and set up booth space that evening. It was a tough call, but in the end we decided that we would stay together as a group to honor Shannon’s life at the Lower Gauley put-in and then split. There was a group of 8 who paddled the Lower Gauley which ended up running at 8000 CFS and was like one big rapid from Diagonal Ledges all the way to Hell Hole. The other 10 women split again, some going with Aimee Norris from Ladies of the Saluda, to the Lower New and others just hanging out and socializing at the take-out.
In situations like this it’s tough to not be disappointed. Everyone had the expectation of paddling the Lower Gauley and the weather, which we can’t control, changed the game. Kayaking teaches us about good decision making and sometimes the right and good decision isn’t the easiest feel-good decision. I’m sure some ladies in the group were frustrated by the turn of events, although no one expressed frustration or anger for which I’m very grateful. Sometimes it takes more resolve to walk away than to run the river or rapid. A few women mentioned that the fact that we held the intention of honoring Shannon Christy’s life that day made it all the more appropriate to walk away from a potentially hazardous river trip.
Before the group split we gathered by the water to honor Shannon with a sharing circle, flowers and a sign that read ‘you are beautiful.’ Many in the group shared how Shannon or her energy impacted their lives. One of my favorites was a woman who shared how she told Shannon that she wasn’t an ‘A’ boater like Shannon who runs the gnar, but a ‘B’ boater who runs easy stuff. Shannon replied that she thought of herself as a ‘C’ boater because she likes to ‘C’ people having fun. That pretty much sums it up. Kayaking and running events like Ladies on the Lower G is about fun AND making good decisions when the conditions aren’t optimal for fun.
At the end of the day we were able to hook up with a lot of the group and do the drawing for all of the awesome prizes that our amazing sponsors donated: an AT Eddy Flexi, Smith Optics, Vapur water bottles and Kokatat t-shirts! Congrats to all of the winners! Thanks to all of the women who signed up, who joined us and donated to AW through Ladies on the Lower G! We are grateful for you! We are also starting a new fund in honor of Shannon and more details will follow. We hope to see you next year for Ladies on the Lower G and we hope to be running together as a group!