(Mis)adventure at Nantahala
About 12 years ago, I took a new job at a new school and began in the middle of the school year. I didn't really know many of the faculty members at the end of the year and was surprised when one approached me and asked if I had ever been paddling. When I replied that I had, he then invited me on a weekend trip to celebrate the end of the school year. I quickly accepted.
Our journey took us, 8 in all, to the Nantahala River in Western North Carolina. To be honest, I had never done anything this big, and everyone who was running the river at the time, was doing so in a raft, yak, or a solo canoe. We, being flat landers from the eastern part of the state, decided we could do the paddle in two man canoes with truck inner-tubes inflated in the center for floatation. Yes, we were really low-budget operators and many, no, I take that back, all of the people on the river took a second look at us as we prepared to cast off.
The first good decision we made was to skip the first set of rapids and put in below them. Well, two in the party promptly flipped in some calm shallow water. (This is significant to the end of the story). The very cold water promptly sent "Jerry" into shock and he was pretty much a "rider" for the remainder of the day. Well, the rest of the day went well, with a few flips and spills, but we finally made it to the head of the last and largest rapid on this river. We scouted the rapid and chose a track and the "rider" said matter of factly that he was not going to attempt this rapid. Well, I volunteered to take his place, but "Bill" demanded that I ride in the front of the canoe. "Bill" is 5'8", 165 lbs, I am 6'5", 230 lbs. This set the canoe a little front heavy. Because this rapid is at an easily accessible place, there is a large group of spectators there to watch the boats come through. Well, it took a miracle, but "Bill" and I made it through perfectly without even getting wet. We drew applause from the crowd.
The next to come through was "Dean" and "Mike", both of whom are experienced paddlers. They were bragging and talking to the crowd before they went up to get in their boat for the run. "We'll show you how to really run this rapid." as well as many other like phrases were heard as they headed up stream to begin the journey. Well, on the first little wave of the rapid, they took on about 20 gallons of water. On the second wave, somewhat larger than the first, they took on about 20 more gallons of water. Now they are about 300+ pounds heavier than they were when they began, and the two bigger waves are yet to come. On the third big wave, they swamped, and on the fourth, their boat was completely under water. There they went down the river in front of the crowd, two men wearing PFD's, arms and paddles held high and a truck inner-tube sticking up between them. The boat could not be seen. The crowd was laughing hysterically, (it was reported that a German Shepherd belonging to a very nice looking lady in the crowd was on its back, four feet in the air, laughing at them) and above the roar of the crowd, the rapid, and the traffic on the road, we could still hear "Dean" shouting the command, "Draw right Mike, draw right!" Because the boat was so heavy, we had to rescue them before they went over the falls, but everyone got back safely. This story has made its rounds many times here and will continue to do so for many more.
Submitted by Mark A. Rowles, Albemarle, NC
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