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 whitewater canoe to do it with than the Octane 85? A crew of 12 whitewater canoeists 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 whitewater canoe. 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 canoe 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 canoe 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 an awesome whitewater canoe made for a perfect day at Gauley Fest. It wasn’t until night that mistakes were made.