Good Gauley!

Octane 85 Gauley River

Setting up for Pillow Rapid, Upper Gauley. Photo: Shawn Alexander.

After two years of hearing all the talk about it, I finally got to go to my first Gauley Fest. What better time to hit the Upper Gauley for the first time, right? And what better boat to do it with than the octane 85? A crew of 12 open boaters hit the upper on Saturday of the festival almost bright and not early enough for Mark Z.. I’ll be honest; I was a little nervous peeling out of the put-in eddy. The Gauley has the big-water and beatdown stories that can put the fear of God in you.

Mark Z acted as my guide and stated his simple instructions with a chill demeanor that relaxed me enough. First up, Initiation, possibly the deadliest rapid with an enticing river-right wave that can feed the unwary into a nasty sieve. The rapid itself is easy enough just staying river left. Through that and a couple of the other first rapids I learned the Gauley was pretty much just that: straight-forward lines with some spots you don’t know you don’t want to hit. Go with a guide, and it’s good.

Like on the Gatineau and the Ottawa, the octane 85 was the perfect boat. It was agile enough to cut back and forth across rapids and between holes, and the wide bow with rocker allowed it to climb over top waves and get big-air boofs. I was a little too busy making sure I could figure out where I was going, but Mark Z and Kenny D demonstrated the octane 91 made for a great playing boat, too. Rock spins, boofs, surfing time on some big waves, the octane works great on the big water for sure.

I’m still surprised at its agility and stability, which helps against user error. For example, sometimes I just straight up don’t pay attention or think I’m done when I’ve only gone halfway through a rapid. Pillow was a good example. I’m feeling the stoke of so many people cheering and going crazy, I see the pillow rock, I just punch past it. I make a little celebration whoop to myself, then I totally realize there’s still the Volkswagen rock. Thank god the boat picks up speed quickly because I was ready to hit it sideways on my offside. It wouldn’t have been THAT bad with flat water at the bottom and an easy boat to roll, but still. You wanna hit Pillow clean the first time, you know?

The only spot on the whole run where I flipped was actually the last rapid Sweets, which could have been paddler error or could have been beta some owner of some whitewater canoe company gave. Sweets Rapid has an easy pool to roll at the bottom, though, so no worries.

So, that was my PFD of the Upper Gauley. Good crew, great run and awesome boat made for a perfect day at Gauley Fest. It wasn’t until night that mistakes were made.

Octane 91

Mark Z hitting the Pillow at Pillow Rapid. Photo: Rick Thompson

Octane 85: Match Made in Big-Water Heaven

I come from the Southeast where rocks are not only expected but essential to hitting good lines in whitewater. So when I drove north to Quebec with the Boof Sisters summer tour, I was more than apprehensive about the big water waiting for us at Gatineau Fest.

Little did I know I was taking the boat perfectly designed for big water. The Octane 85 ran not through but over holes and waves, making for super dry lines and extra loud BOOFS that turned the heads of all nearby Quebec paddlers. That or the pink color. The boat was stable and when the edges are engaged surprisingly agile for the big water. While it stayed dry through most of the rapids, even when I screwed up a line and filled half the boat with water, the Octane made most the lines I wanted it to.

With the Gatineau’s first rapid I became a big-water bug. Thank god the boat’s lighter than it looks because I wanted to get lap after lap on the Mouth of the Lion on the Gatineau. Considered big-water Class V, it’s a rapid worthy of the mighty Colorado in the Grand Canyon in size. A big river-left V propels your boat into a right off-side wave, which pushes your boat straight into this monster wave hole just downstream. The rapid ends with another off-side wave and finishes with super swirly boil water and finally flat water to collect your wits and maybe gear. You eddy river left, hike up to the bridge and then put your boat back in the water to ferry over and start the rapid all over again. I got two Octane runs, a tandem run with Holly, and even tried a Savage Skeeter, which stays very well on its secondary stability as I low braced the whole way down the rapid.

We got back in the shuttle bus to hit the next section of the Gatineau for more rapids and some epic, epic flat water. Thank god the Octane tracks well because while it wasn’t the most comfortable flat-water paddle, it wasn’t as painful as some of the playboat kayakers who even had two paddle blades. Some of the Gatineau river highlights were as follows:

• Two total dry lines, one on Lucifer (IV) and the other the Wall (IV). By total dry I mean did not even need to get out to dump. Both rapids are regular flip-and-swim rapids for many paddlers.

• Beautiful wave boof at High Tension (IV).

• Decent surf on Le Bonne Rouge (IV). Most people missed the boof, and I was lucky enough to hit it for a moment for a fast downward zoom to the trough and a 180.

• After their initial skepticism, the Canadians expressed generally positive comments of the Octane 85, especially after seeing how well it performed in big water.

Overall, Gat Fest was a huge success. On to more big water!


The Green Dream

canoe Green Narrows

Futrapper, Keith Clark, and me scouting Groove Tube. Photo: Michael Lewis

The Green River Narrows is one of the most iconic steep creeks in the Southeast. Most paddlers see it as a right of passage and daydream at least once about running it. After three years of kayaking and just a summer of open boating, I finally saw the creek at the November 2012 Green Race. I watched as kayaker after kayaker cut between the narrow channel of the Notch and sailed off the launchpad of Gorilla Rapid into the whitewater chaos 16′ below. From that day I started to dream.

Not all of the 160+ paddlers ran clean lines. Gorilla and many of the other rapids on the Green served some handy beatdowns, a broken leg, and plenty of broken gear. I was both inspired that day to run the Green and also learned to respect it and make sure I was ready, and not ready to just kayak it. I wanted to canoe it.

Not sure why I wanted to canoe the Green. I’d only just started five months before, and had been kayaking three years already. Friends had been inviting me to kayak it for a few months. Maybe it was ego or an excuse for a little extra time. Either way I had decided on canoeing it, and  the next year and a half were all about getting on harder runs.

Fast forward through many river runs, states, and beatdowns to June 29. Below is my overall summary of my personal first descent of the Green River Narrows:

The Good: Rhododendrons, moss, hemlocks, and local deciduous trees drape the steep granitic gneiss (thanks for the geology factoid Furtrapper!) gorge into a beautiful green forest in North Carolina, transforming it into a fiery red and gold in the fall. The Green’s got slides, boofs, and slots. It’s pool drop and still a fun run at 7″, though looking forward to running it at 9″. The locals have regularly paddled it past 25″.

canoe the Green Narrows

Swim into the pool at Rapid Transit

The Not-So-Good: It may be beautiful. It may also have an easy shuttle and access. It’s definitely also fun. The Green can still easily and quickly put the hurt on the foolhardy. I swam Rapid Transit after starting upside at the top of the rapid trying to get past the tree. We all in my crew had a great run, walked a few rapids, and still came away with some Green River marks. It can get a lot worse real fast on this run.

The Surprise: The Green is one of the most fun runs I’ve ever been on. Having the amount of fame the Green does can take away the fact that it is really just the same as any creek, full of challenges, dangers, and great sense of reward for a boof well hit. People from all over the country move to Asheville, N.C. for a reason.

The Boat Though a discontinued playboat, the Blackfly Ion makes for a great time down the Southeastern creeks. It spins on a dime, making it very responsive for those quick moves carving into eddies or ferrying across waves. The Ion also BOOFS EVERYTHING. Rocks, waves, holes, you name it. Good for creeks and fun for everything. With a wide hull and short profile, the Ion is probably the slowest boat in Blackfly’s fleet, but it’s for playboating. That I as well as other open boaters can successfully run the Green (and some I’d dare say style it) in the Ion is a testament to how awesome this boat is (hint to Jeremy).

Respect it, prepare for it, and have the time of your life when you run the Green. I did, and the best part for me is I’m going to have new rapids every time I run the creek for the next while as I step up my game. Yee haw, y’all!

canoe the Green Narrows

Screen shot of Frankenstein Rapid