Archive | August, 2013

Float #82: Ocoee River

28 Aug

Upper and Middle Sections

F82_Ocoee

Ocoee River
Polk County, Tennessee
Sunday, August 11
10 Miles

We recently went on vacation to Asheville, NC with our friend Jake from Nashville. While in the area we wanted to check out some whitewater rafting. We haven’t done much rafting outside of Colorado, so we were eager to see what the area had to offer. On the recommendation of a friend we decided to raft the Ocoee river in eastern Tennessee. The outfitter we used is Endless River Adventures. The price was very affordable for a full day trip, the guides were friendly, entertaining, and showed us a great time. Everyone had a blast!

We left from DW’s cousin’s, Chris & Cynthia’s house in Asheville early in the morning to make the hour drive to the guide outpost in Bryson City, NC. From there our guides loaded up a couple rafts on the trailer and loaded us in the van to drive another hour to the Upper Ocoee access. On the way we chatted with our guides and learned a bit about them. Being a whitewater guide sounds like a really fun job, but the pay isn’t great and you have to work every weekend. Once we arrived at the access we went through the safety talk and another group of rafters arrived to fill the second raft. Since there were 5 in our group we got to have a raft to ourselves, which is always fun. Our third guide floated the upper section in a kayak and was our safety boat, staying behind the rafts to pick up any swimmers.

The Ocoee, like many rivers in Tennessee, is controlled by dam release. The upper portion of the river is only navigable on weekends during a set season. Because of this, there are many small trees and brush that are out of water most of the time, but get partially submerged when the water is flowing. It was kind of strange to be rafting amongst all the greenery! On rare occasions when there is too much rainfall the dam release is open more often. Our guides mentioned that a few years ago there was so much rain the dam release was open every day for the whole summer. They made a lot more money that year!

Ocoee River

Ocoee River

Ocoee River

Ocoee River

The float starts out with a stretch of class II rapids where we warm up and get used to our boat. We then descend into a series of ledge drops and class III rapids. I like to sit on the right side of the raft behind the front person. I find this position gets the most splash without getting bounced around a lot. We put Jake in the front of the boat since this was his first rafting trip. The front gets the best view and a little more excitement over the drops. The back of the boat is where you’re most likely to fall out if the boat gets grabbed by an eddy or rocked in a rapid. The back is also the most bouncy and guides will sometimes find themselves launched from the back to the front if they hit a rapid the wrong way!

The next section of water is the Olympic section, host to the 1996 Olympics whitewater competition. There are many large waves and rocking rapids one after another with no space to catch your breath. We then enter the Roach Motel rapid and the Edge of the World, the last rapid of the Upper Ocoee. Edge of the World is a man-made ledge rapid that was a lot of fun. After that rapid the river flows into a small lake. We were able to get out of the raft and swim from this rapid to our lunch spot at the lake.

Ocoee River

Edge of the World rapid

Ocoee River

A raft plunges over Edge of the World

Ocoee River

Jake swimming before the lake

Ocoee River

DW swims

Ocoee River

The lake above Middle Ocoee

We took a break for lunch at the lake above the Middle Section of the Ocoee. Lunch was provided by our outfitter; sandwiches, chips and cookies. It was nice to take a break to warm up in the sun. The water on the Ocoee wasn’t that cold (by my standards) so we enjoyed the splashing and the swimming at the end. Once lunch was over we paddled the raft to the portage on the right side of the dam and carried it down to the Middle Section of the river. This dam was built in the early 1900s and features a long wood flume that carries water to the next power house at the end of our trip. The flume does not drop in elevation, so it was a good visual along the way to see how far the river drops as we travel downstream.

Ocoee River

Looking over the dam

Ocoee River

Water pours over the dam

Ocoee River

Ocoee River

The Middle Ocoee starts out with a class IV rapid and keeps up the excitement throughout. There were many drops and rapids that kept us having fun. I got the full brunt of many waves on this section, including a couple that hit me right in the face! If your guide is feeling plucky and your raft crew is strong,  you might be lucky enough to surf some of the rapids, and we did just that. We also did some maneuver where the guide had us all sit down in the bottom of the boat while surfing a rapid. The boat gradually filled with water until the wave was nearly washing over the boat and all around us. He then pulled us out of the surf and we all returned to the edge of the raft, soaking wet.

Another cool rapid is the Cat’s Pajamas, a torpedo rapid that shoots you downstream really quickly. After taking the boat through the rapid, we eddied out and pulled up to a large rock. If you jump off the rock into the hole, you will be swept downstream and emerge about 30 yards away. DW, Jake and Chris all jumped several times. After the Pajamas there were a couple more large rapids, including Hell’s Hole and Powerhouse with huge waves and big drops. These last two were the rapids where we were most likely to fall out or flip the boat, but we made it through just fine.

Ocoee River

Ocoee River

DW emerges from Cat’s Pajamas

Ocoee River

Powerhouse rapids

If you look closely behind the blue boat in the photo above you can see a raft getting vertical in the Powerhouse rapid! I don’t know if they fell out, but it looks close. The large red building is the actual powerhouse where water from the wooden flume powers the turbines. After these last two rapids we arrived at our take out just as it began to rain. We all soggily piled into the van and were taken to the area where the other group of rafters were parked and we were able to change into dry clothes for the long haul back to Bryson City. We had an excellent time and I would definitely recommend this Ocoee trip. It was well worth the money.

Me, Cynthia, DW, Chris and Jake rafting the Ocoee like champs!

Our guide Danny, Cynthia, DW, Chris, Jake and Me, rafting the Ocoee like champs!

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Float #80 & 81: Meramec River

9 Aug

Blue Springs Creek to Meramec State Park

F80_Meramec

Meramec River
Crawford and Franklin Counties, Missouri
Saturday, August 3 & Sunday, August 4
12 Miles

After the strain and excitement of the MR340 it was time to kick back on a relaxing, lazy float trip. Our fellow SLAG member and friend, Ben, organized a short overnight trip on the Meramec near our house. We’ve actually never done an overnight trip on the Meramec because it’s so close to home; we usually just head to our house to sleep. Ben planned to camp at Green’s Cave in the Hamilton Hollow area of the park, which is one of our favorite places, so we decided to join him. We put in at Blue Springs Creek conservation access in Bourbon around 1pm on Saturday. The day started out overcast, but the weather was pleasant and mild. I had forgotten to bring my sunglasses, so the sun was sure to come out, and it did!

Mermec River

Blue Springs Creek access

Meramec River

Meramec River

Fog rises off Blue Springs Creek

Meramec River

I spent most of the day fishing and not much time paddling. I didn’t catch any keepers, but I caught several small bass and the world’s smallest sun perch. He was about the same size as my crawfish lure. We stopped several times to swim and enjoy a lazy day on the river. There were a lot of people on the river that day and a lot of rafts, but since we put in so late we were able to miss most of them.

Meramec River

Meramec River

Meramec River

Before long we passed Sappington Bridge access and it was only a couple of miles from there to Green’s Cave. Green’s Cave is on the right side of the river. Hamilton Hollow creek comes in on the right and then there is a large island and a gravel bar. Just on the other side of the gravel bar you will see a very small creek flowing out of the trees. Follow that creek up into the mouth of Green’s Cave. Please don’t enter the interior of the cave, as all MO caves are closed in an attempt to stop the spread of White Nose Syndrome, a devastating disease infecting bats all across the country.

When we arrived at our camping spot there were several large groups of people swimming. It was after 5pm, so we only had to wait about 20 minutes for everyone to get back in their boats and head to their take out. After that the river was quiet and we didn’t see anyone else. I set about getting our tent put up and other domestic chores while DW and the other guys paddled the canoes across the river to collect firewood. We had two canoes full of wood and we managed to burn it all. One of the guys in our group had a brand new tent he had never set up before. When he took it out of the bag he remarked on the lack of poles included with the tent. The first line of the instructions were to, “thread the poles through the sleeves” so it was definitely supposed to have them! He ended up sleeping on top of the tent and using the rain fly to keep the dew off. Several other people were sleeping on camp rolls near the fire, so he wasn’t alone.

Meramec River

Hauling wood across the river

Meramec River

Sunset on Green’s Bluff

Meramec River

We spent the evening cooking our meals, sharing stories and gazing up at the stars. I went to bed around midnight and slept pretty solidly. The next morning we woke up around 8am and broke camp. I threw some breakfast burritos on the fire and by the time we were packed up breakfast was nice and hot. It was only a few miles from camp to our take out. We took off the river at the lower access in Meramec Park, by the campground. We were home by noon with plenty of time to do chores and gear up for our next excursion: vacation in Asheville, NC. The next few installments of the blog will feature some out-of-state floating and a rafting trip on the Ocoee River!

Critter Count: Turtles, Green Herons, Blue Herons

MR340: Missouri River Race

9 Aug

Kansas City to St. Charles

MR340

Missouri River
Kansas City to St. Charles, Missouri
Tuesday, July 23 – Thursday, July 25
340 Miles

This July DW participated in the MR340, an endurance race across the state of Missouri on the mighty Missouri River. It is a tough race on an unpredictable river that tests both the mind and body of the paddler. Participants race in a variety of human-powered craft, from 6-man canoes, to needle-thin racing kayaks; trusty Old Town trippers to stand-up paddle boards. DW did quite well for a rookie racer, placing 25th in the Men’s Solo division and 50th overall. Here is his account of three solid days and nights of paddling across Missouri. More information about this race can be found at: http://rivermiles.com/mr340/

MR340 – The world’s longest non-stop river race. Starting point is the at Missouri River mile marker 369 in Kansas City and finishes at Missouri River mile marker 29 in St. Charles, MO.

Day 1

The day starts early at 5 am with a taxi ride to Kaw Point Conservation Access. There I set out to locate my boat and paddling buddy Lewis. To my surprise I notice that of all the boats there, some exceptionally nice and expensive, that my boat and Lewis’ boat aren’t where we left them. After a quick panic, I locate Lewis, who is waiting for me on shore, having moved both boats closer to the water. We share a laugh at my nervous confusion. The laughter quickly turns to a hurried focus to get the boats rigged up and down to the water with the other waiting solo, man-powered boats varying from standard touring kayaks, ocean kayaks, racing kayaks, canoes, and stand up paddle boards all of varying types with in these general classifications. This is an event for a person who enjoys their boat and is looking to prove themselves in their vessel of choice over an extended distance. Three hundred and forty miles await me as I entered the waters of the Kaw River staring into the confluence with the Missouri River.

MR340_01

MR340_02

MR340_12

The race starts with the blast of a canon and the boats are off. I take a slower start to allow the more aggressive paddlers a route into the confluence. I wasn’t interested in taking a swim so early in the event. The route out of Kansas City features numerous bridges, a couple of power plants and other signs of industry. The pack is thick through the first 50 miles and I paddled with many people during this stretch including some people from Saint Louis Adventure Group (SLAG). Many people stopped at Lexington which was the first official check in point at mile 50. I paddled straight through this check point at 2:13pm to save valuable time. The ensuing 30 miles to Waverly didn’t offer much of a different view. By the time I reached Waverly check in at mile 80 I was ready to get out of the boat. None of my training prepared my buttocks for the long sit. This was the spot at which I was able to catch up with my ground crew who were  there to provide support along the way. This support includes making sure I’m fed, hydrated and safe. Attempting this type of journey without a ground crew is not recommended. At this juncture, I had to take a 20 minute break and then was out of this check in.  Having stretched the legs and buttocks, I was ready to get in and knock out the next 35 miles to get me to Miami.

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DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

This stretch of the paddle was the first transition from daylight to dark I’d encounter. The boats are required to have bow lights of red and green as well as a clear stern light. I also brought a Dewalt spot light to assist in finding the channel makers, buoys, and wing dikes. Wing dikes are the most persistent concern as the night sky darkens. Fortunately the moon is up quickly and fairly effectively illuminates the river for my journey into Miami. This first evening was my introduction to river bugs as thick as you can imagine. I caught so many of these gnats that my face was gritty with them by the time I got off the river in Miami. I had planned to push on from Miami, but the constant headwinds of 12-13 knots through the day took their toll as well as my lack of sufficient hydration. Because I had an EXCELLENT ground crew, I was advised to stay there, drink lots of water and Gatorade. This made a big difference since I apparently was quite dehydrated. So I was off the river at about 12:30am and spent the next hour rehydrating and focusing on the short sleep to come. Unfortunately even though I laid down by 1:30am, I laid there for an hour before catching some sleep. This sleep didn’t last long through the car alarms, arrivals of others who were loudly chatting and the departures of those ready to get an early start on day 2.

Day 2

I received a wakeup call from the ground crew at 4:30 am and was directed to a healthy looking breakfast of pancakes and sausage. After finishing this delicious and welcome meal, my day on the water started at 5:30 am. Not long after getting started I met up with multiple groups of paddlers. I spent a large portion of this day focused on socializing with fellow paddlers and learning about why they chose to participate in this adventure. Most people I talked with were first time MR340 participants just like me. As the day wore on and I made slow and steady progress the groups of fellow paddlers became more and more sparse.

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

At mile 150 into the journey is a spot called Lisbon bottoms. This is a location where a new path in the river was eroded through the large oxbow during a recent large flooding event (Perhaps from 1993). Some paddlers see it on the GPS as a short cut, though the water is much more stagnant and has little flow during low water. I understand that during high water it can be very dangerous and clogged with trees. The entrance to this “short cut” has a 30’ or more pile of tree’s accumulated at the entrance where the wing dike is directing the river to the right where the proper channel flows. After you make it past the two large sweeping bends, you are greeted by a friendly group of observers who call your name out, your home town, and cheer you on. This is undoubtedly a welcome morale boost to receive at this point of the journey regardless of your pace, boat, or preparedness. Within the next ten or twenty miles I caught up with a fellow paddler from Joplin and we generally paddled together all the way to Booneville.  Here I realized that if I was to make it to Cooper’s Landing in time for Thai food and beer, I’d have to pick up the pace quite a bit. The reasons for this were two-fold: 1. My bag with my wallet had inadvertently been left at an earlier check point as I was attempting to lighten the load and leave more gear with the ground crew. Probably would have been a good idea for me to tell them I was leaving that gear there with them! 2. Because of the aforementioned reason and the fact I was sharing ground crew with Lewis, who was about 3 hours in front of me at this point, I needed to catch them before they left to meet Lewis in Jefferson City so I could borrow some money. So I told my new friend from Joplin that I was going to pick up the pace. Starting at Booneville and continuing into Rocheport, Katfish Katy’s and to Cooper’s Landing the scenery really started to look beautiful. I checked in at Katfish Katy’s about 8 p.m. and continued onward to Cooper’s Landing making it there about 9:20pm. I stayed there for about an hour and enjoyed the Thai food and beer VERY MUCH! After this welcoming warm meal and cold beer were finished, it was time to make the push for Jefferson City. I started off on more of a sprinting paddle pace passing as many boats as I could. Somewhere along the way I realized I had forgotten to get my spot light from the ground crew at Cooper’s so I took the strategy of paddling quickly to the next set of bow and stern lights I would see. All was going well until one of the bow and stern lights suddenly stopped, pivoted 90 degrees and moved very quickly to the right. Then I hear some hollering and turned down my music to hear the rush of water which is NOT what you want to hear in the dark on the Missouri River without a spot light. The moon shows signs of large rocks ahead and I suddenly realize I’m heading straight toward a wing dike. My first thoughts are “My race is over and this borrowed boat is going to be totaled” and the following thoughts were “Turn right and paddle like you’ve never paddled before”. Taking the latter advice from myself I narrowly avoided a direct collision with the wing dike and road out the eddy line in the dark of night. So after that, I connected with the two fellow paddler’s who were in the immediate area for the remainder of the paddle into Jefferson City. One of the paddler’s was from the South Dakota Canoe and Kayak Association. We spent the next hours getting to know more about each other and it seems like we will have to collaborate with this group for some future northern floats including a boundary water expedition. So as we are paddling down, we run into a group of locals enjoying the evening by the river and kindly inviting us paddlers by for some moonshine. No one in our group was feeling that enthusiastic after our previous close call. Finally, the lights of Jefferson City start to show in the distance. Little did I realize we still had more than an hour of paddling to go. By 2:30am we make it into Jefferson City and being more hydrated than the previous day, I set up my tent and crashed out for a solid three hours of much needed sleep.

Day 3

I was up by 5:30am and on the river by 6:06am. This morning I happened to wake up feeling extremely energetic so after getting my breakfast calorie input, I started on an aggressive 116 mile sprint as I desperately wanted to sleep in my bed, see my wife and visit my pack of dogs and cats before I slept again. I didn’t see any of my new friends from the previous days this third day. About an hour into the morning the fog began to thicken. I saw two deer who thought the kayak was curious and stood there staring at me as I passed them by. I saw a HUKI boat which is a very fast, thin kayak designed for speed. I had not seen one of these since they all passed me by on day 1. So I said high to the two women paddling it and we continued to pace and race each other for the next 14 miles without a break. Finally they slowed and I continued my push to Herman. As I got closer to Herman I was starting to fatigue a bit and I slowed to talk to a canoe that was making some time on me. It turns out this boat had a paddler in it who was also from the same small town as I. We talked about floating different stretches of rivers in our area and paced each other until we reached Herman.  I passed at least 30 boats by the time I made it to the Herman check point and was making up a lot of time. I was greeted with a delicious sandwich on a bagel and this was exactly what I needed to get my carb energy going again.

DCIM100GOPRO

My ground crew

I found out my big push had me almost caught up with two other paddlers from SLAG, Lewis and Shane. This further motivated me since I hadn’t paddled with either of them for 48 and 24 hours respectively. Motivated to catch up with my fellow SLAGers, I pushed on with a full head of steam. About 18 miles into the push I caught Lewis and talked with him for a little and pushed on. Making Washington mid-afternoon I obtained more needed calories, water, and electrolytes. This was not an official check point, but a welcomed one. I also found out that Shane was less than a mile ahead of me so I pushed ahead with the same quick pace I had all day until I caught him near the Labadie power plant. We both paddled into Klondike together for the last resupply.

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

This was the first time I had gotten out of the boat all day so when I attempted to get out, I stumbled and fell right into the river. After paddling for hours and hours your legs tend to get wobbly. This was a great stop as my wife showed up to cheer me on and brought me a refreshing cold beer. Our friend Greg showed up to cheer me on as well. After 300 miles of paddling, those little things go a long way to increasing motivation level and keeping you enthusiastic. I took a little long on this pit stop and after 45 minutes I departed to try to catch the rest of the pack that had passed me by as I relaxed.

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Pushing off from Klondike

The clouds rolled in almost immediately after I shoved off which cut down the available day light by as much as 30 minutes. So I paddled hard and after 7 miles heard my wife and friend eagerly cheering me on at Weldon Springs. Only 21 miles to go. Only one set of lights in sight. I paddled harder finally catching up with the pack. We paddled in together from there all making it in a few tics before midnight. I was greeted by my wife and several friends all who were giving up a good night’s sleep to congratulate me on the feat of paddling 340 miles in less than 65 hours. I’m grateful to have such companions and as my day’s goal started, it was to be fulfilled in a short few hours when I made it home to visit my critters and sleep the night away in my bed.

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Celebrating at the finish

The days following the race my aches and pains caught up with me. I had very chapped lips, two back sores from rubs when not wearing nylon the last 30 miles, a sore mid back where rowing muscles are, and generally fatigued both mentally and physically. My left pinky finger tip was also slightly numb.

Gear: Water, iPod, radio, ibuprofen, nylon clothes, spare paddle, paddle float, life jacket, whistle, bow lights (green/red), stern light (white), frog tog, hat, sun screen, chapstick, paddling gloves, athletic tape, cell phone, toilet paper, granola bars, boat sponge, lighter

Critter count: 2 deer, numerous herons, 2 hawks and 1 snake