We stepped out of my truck on a gloriously cool morning to see the Ocoee for the very first time, “we” being myself and my best friend, Scott, whom I dragged into the whole canoeing experience. He’s a kayaker at heart, and is only paddling a canoe due to a chronic lack of funds and the fact that I have an extra canoe.

We had spent the last two years preparing to run this river via literature, word of mouth, and by paddling lots of class III, and some class IV. This was not an impulsive endeavor. Everyone has a first day on every river. The Ocoee put-in was quite a thrilling sight. We scouted a few of the most notorious rapids by foot before growing impatient and returning to drop off boats.

We sat in an eddy at the put-in, me in my Ocoee and Scott in my Encore. We were a bit anxious and in dire need of an ice breaker. Luckily Scott provided it with an unsuccessful roll in the first rapid. We completed a sloppy but efficient rescue and began our day. We trailed a great group of folks we met at the put-in and had a whole lot of fun until my first swim at Double Suck. It surprised me, and it really liked my boat! All the shouts to “stand up” were very helpful, thanks.

We continued on in our little group through Double Trouble, all with good runs. There’s this little diagonal wave a little below Double Trouble that waits for first time boaters who begin to relax. I’m sure it has no snazzy title, and doesn’t deserve one. However, it successfully managed to separate me from my boat for a few hundred yards.

Now that was a bumpy swim! It was more annoying than life threatening, except when Jamie and his canoe pinned my head against that mid-stream rock. That rock re-taught me why we keep our feet high. If you look just below water level, there’s an imprint of my patella. And that throw rope that would have cut my swim in half…. you were so close, Scott! Work on that.

By the time we eddied above Table Saw we were lacking a bit of our earlier confidence. We watched a few folks run it. OK, so we watched a LOT of folks run it. It was my turn to go first. What a ride! I readied my rope and waved Scott on. Down he came, literally. He peeled straight out instead of up high and the first wave explained his mistake to him. He had a forgiving swim and came up grinning.

We dropped over Diamond Splitter and it was getting late when we arrived at Hell’s Hole. My brief visit to the top of that second wave convinced me that I had a super day. I even think my knee hurt less after that. Scott decided to take one more swim at Power House before we left. Yes, he came up grinning. What a sport!

It never looks or feels the same after you canoe it. The area now seems more welcoming and familiar. Thanks to the other open canoes who walked these rookies through, and a special thanks to the kayaker who reunited me with my Ocoee. It’s great to be part of a sporting community that takes care of its own. See you again soon!

by Ken Thorsen
September 15, 1996