It
was a warm sunny day in Charlotte. The temperatures were in the 80’s
and the water was warm too. The only reason many of us in our group
of five (Janet Chisholm, Gretchen Mallins, Bobby Mitchell, Scott
Houser and me) wore long sleeves was to prevent picking up any fruit
on a roll or swim (raspberries, strawberries, etc. from encounters
with the concrete bottom).

As
soon as we arrived we scouted both courses, Freestyle/Wilderness
Course to the left; Competition Course to the right. There was even
some talk of running the Competition Course. After the walk we had to
scramble to the car to bring our boats and gear down for the 3:00
p.m. session. Ben gave us the safety talk, the greatest risk is
picking up fruit. He also addressed many of the urban legends about
the course—you will not be sucked down the water intake at the
lake. He also talked about the eddies, and that the skills that we
would develop staying upright in them would make us better boaters.
He also talked about rolling; given the often strange and swirling
currents, he recommended that we tuck quickly and wait a few seconds
before an attempt (advice that paid off for me twice).

Our
group of five set out together, running the Entrance Rapid for both
channels. After this rapid the channels split: Wilderness to the left
and the first leg of the Freestyle to the right. The eddies formed by
the Entrance Rapid provide a quick introduction to how strange they
truly are. There is more current going upstream than downstream! In
the center of the large river right eddy, like the eye of a storm,
was a relatively calm spot. The only dilemma is that this was often
on the route taken by rafts. To get to the entrance to the Wilderness
Channel, many of us dropped below the mid-stream wave ( Janet and
others surfed here) and ferried to river left.

On
the Wilderness Channel we worked down its five fun drops. At the
second rapid I attempted a surf, but was quickly flipped—I waited
and fired off a textbook sweep roll. The rapids did not provide
nearly as much as a challenge as staying upright or controlling your
boat in an eddy; although we eventually did find a couple of places
in eddies with slack water. The last rapid of the Wilderness Channel
feeds into a large pool, joined to the right by the last drop of the
first leg of the Freestyle Channel.

The
combined Freestyle Channel has been described by others as
“Ocoee-like.” From my own limited experience, I have not found
the place on the Ocoee with current this big and strange. I also
haven’t found (thankfully) the place on the Ocoee that will body
slam you onto the concrete bottom (see below). In the combined
channel we worked down the first two big rapids, and then caught an
eddy above the “M-Wave.” Janet said that the last time she ran
the rapid, two weeks ago, it was much like Tablesaw on the Ocoee.
Today the rapid offered a steep first wave, which shot you down a
gauntlet and then quickly up onto a massive haystack. Following were
two smaller waves. Janet ran first, then Chuck and rest of the group.
Coming through the chute, I ran straight down the middle, leaning
forward. The boat was still nearly vertical as I hit the pile
straight on—staying upright. From there it is a quick trip down the
smaller waves, around the bend and then running the last set of
rapids before the lake.

Round
two!

Crossing
the lake current (yes that’s right) we headed for the conveyor belt
for the fun ride from the bottom lake to the top. Back in the top
lake we set off for our second circuit. After the Entrance Rapid, we
went to the right and ran the first leg of the Freestyle Channel.
This section was very Ocoee-like, but the current was much more
squirrelly, with very dynamic eddies. On this run Gretchen had her
first of many combat rolls. We all made the last drop clean and
eddied out in the pool at the head of the combined channel.

Chuck
battles the M-Wave and Gets Beat Down!

On
the second leg of the Freestyle Channel we worked down the first two
drops and then eddied out before the bridge and the entrance to the
M-wave. Again I ran the first wave straight down the middle and shot
up again on the huge pile. This time my landing was upside down. I
had a sense as to what was going to happen (and happen very quickly).
So I tucked very hard as my boat accelerated down the wave into the
trough and on to the bottom of the channel (ouch!). My PFD and the
bib took the shock—the bib had impressive looking brown skid marks.
As the Diesel climbed the second wave I rolled, and I was up, but not
for very long. I was sideways on the wave, and was soon upside down.

My
second roll was not the best and I set up for the third. I was nearly
up but was hurling into the rocks on the left side of the channel (I
felt like I was in a car going off the road on a curve). Scott
offered his bow, but he was too far away to reach. So I went down
again, tucked hard and fast, and slammed into some rocks on the
left—I have a Whitewater Center souvenir on my helmet. I punched
out. My swim was short, I swam over the next ledge and with a couple
of strokes was into the next eddy. I did recirculate a couple of
times before walking on out. Janet rescued the paddle and Scott the
Diesel. Thanks!!! Given the height and size of the pile, the pile is
a wild and crazy place, I don’t recommend my line of going right
down the middle at M-wave.

As
I emptied out my boat at the lake one of my dear friends, who will
remain nameless (Gretchen), started talking trash about my out of
boat experience. Well, we all know how situations like this end.

I
needed a break as the group continued to lap the course! I sat down
on the wooden chairs at the center, with leg rests, and enjoyed a
couple of cold Gatorades. I then turned to the serious business of
being team photographer. As I started to walk the course to find the
group, I helped out on the rescue of another boater. He didn’t have
water shoes, so when he swam he ended up with a seriously lacerated
left foot. One of the security guards and I walked his boat back to
the center, as the boater gingerly walked back for some first aid.
This is not a good place to go barefoot.

Again,
and again, and again

Soon
I was back on the course with the camera. I was truly amazed to see
Scott, Gretchen, Bobby and Janet run the course, again and again and
again! At the Entrance Rapid Gretchen had a big sky ender, with a
soft landing (sorry, no photo). She also styled the M-wave once,
spinning on the pile and running the wave backwards! She also had at
least five combat rolls for the day! She and Scott styled the
Freestyle circuit at least eight or nine times. Janet surfed,
side-surfed and spun at the wave hole on the first big rapid on the
combined course. Bobby reported that his highlight for the day was
staying upright and finishing -– no mean feat on this course.

Back
on the Horse

Janet
and Scott encouraged me to get back on the horse, and I did for short
run for the 6:00 p.m. session. I still didn’t want to run the
M-wave; I tip my hat to that rapid. The group (sans Gretchen) hung
with me down the main channel, where the wave hole at the Entrance
Rapid ate the Diesel. I did have a great combat roll; that in itself
made it worth getting back into the boat. My intention was to take
the Wilderness Channel, but I blew the ferry, and worked down the
Freestyle Channel. I felt pretty good working through the big and
weird currents. We all caught the big eddy where the currents merge,
as Janet played. Scott and I walked up to run the Wilderness channel
again, as Gretchen continued as team photographer. Everyone had fun;
everyone was exhausted; everyone, save Chuck, at some point slept in
the car.

Photos

September
23, 2006

by
Chuck Spornick

From
The Eddy Line, November 2006