Jay Manalo

little bathtub is that?”

another boater asked me, noting my 6.2 foot long Dagger G-Ride as he
walked by with a much longer river runner. “Uh, it’s mine,”
I replied. There I was, halfway down the 600 plus steps leading to
the bottom of the Tallulah Gorge. I had walked down to the water
several times before as a volunteer for the releases, but I had never
imagined that I would be running the river myself, let alone in a
play boat. I had awakened early that morning, even before my alarm
clock went off. I was nervous and just wanted to get it over with.

I reached the bottom of the steps and put my boat down at the
platform, it laid side by side with a multicolored selection of creek
boats. Big creek boats. Mine was a dwarf in comparison. I wasn’t sure
if this was still a good idea. But I had made the decision to run
this river for my first time. It was something I had decided that I
did want to do after all, and the conditions were right — good
weather, a Saturday (i.e., lower CFS) release, and (I was hoping) the
right mindset. As I walked down to the water, I looked at the
entrance rapid. When I sat down in my boat, I took another look at
it. I had seen it before when volunteering at the platform, but it
sure looked a lot different from a boater’s perspective. A lot
steeper. Scarier. I watched other boaters much better than myself and
in a lot bigger boats looking downstream at the first rapid. Into the
water one by one throwing braces as they ran the rapid. “Here we
go,” I thought. “No turning back now.”

Sam Wilburn led me down a sneak to the left of the main drop; it was
a little rocky, but I liked the fact that it avoided some of the
gnarliness. As I reached the bottom of the eddy and looked back up at
the rapid, I realized that there was definitely no turning back now.
I watched other boaters surf in a small hole below the entrance
rapid, but not wanting to press my luck too much, I decided to shy
away from playing that day.

up was Tanner’s Boof, which I found to be like a bigger version of
the single drop at Bull Sluice. Pretty fun. I regained my composure
long enough to talk to the photographer sitting on top of a nearby
rock and gaze at the sheer vertical rock walls that rose above me.
Just around the corner was a huge horizon line. Oceana. To put it
simply, I had absolutely NO intention of running that rapid
whatsoever. I recalled my impressions of seeing it from the
observation platform several hundred feet above the rapid, and even
from that high up it had looked intimidating. As I portaged the rapid
on river right, I cheered on several boaters as they screamed down
the left and center to- left lines. It seemed unreal to see a slide
that big and that fast, not to mention seeing boaters disappear into
The Thing in person. Absolutely incredible, but not for me….

I don’t remember that well except for catching an eddy on river right
and then ferrying over to river left to set up for Bridal Veil. As I
sat at the top, unable to see past the horizon line,

knew that this was another one of the “big ones” on the
river. I thought about getting out of my boat to scout, but I decided
not to. Watching another boater get surfed in the small top hole made
me somewhat concerned, so I knew I had to stay left and out of the
way of the hole as much as possible.I told Chuck that I was going. I
paddled down, sneaking past the top hole, and committed to the slide.
It was a fast, scrapey ride down a long shallow slide to the bottom,
and boy was I glad to have made it.

I sat in the pool at the bottom, rejoicing after running Bridal Veil,
I decided to play tourist and take some pictures. “I’ve got to
take lots of pictures of my first run down this river!” I
thought. I popped off my spray skirt, pulled out my camera and
started taking pictures.I then handed my camera to Chuck to take my
picture as well. But the river has a funny way of rewarding tourists.
I was sitting right on an eddy line with my spray skirt off when my
boat caught an edge and the cockpit started to fill with water and
sink. I didn’t even try to roll;I just bailed out of my boat. As I
swam to shore, my boat floated downstream without me. Fortunately,
some other boaters were able to chase it downstream as I scrambled
over the rocks on the bank to try to catch up with it. Finally, they
caught up with it at the top of the Zoom Flume and were able to help
reunite me with my boat. Embarrassing, indeed, but I realized that
there could have been much worse places to swim other than swimming
in an eddy. Lesson learned: when taking pictures or playing tourist,
leave the spray skirt on!

Flume was probably my favorite rapid on the river. Not intimidating
at all, very straightforward, and just a fun “kiddie slide”
down the river. To be honest, much of the rest of the river was a
blur. Some of it was probably due to adrenalin, and some of it was
probably due to the sweep crew catching up with us and making sure
that we stayed ahead of the water before it was shut off. After
Lynch’s Wrench, I ended up running the rest of the rapids by boat
scouting, reading and running, and asking the other boaters around me
constantly, “What’s the line?” I think that in many ways
not land scouting every rapid actually helped to lessen my anxiety. I
just had to commit to running the lines, reading the current, and
maintaining my boat control as much as possible.

Brain Buster, however, stands out from the rest of the blur. As one
of the sweep boaters described it to me, it was “chunky.”
“It’ll bounce you left and right,” he said, “and then
you’ll want to work your way around the right of that rock at the
bottom.” Well, bounce me left and right it did. Unfortunately, I
did not get far enough around the right of the aforementioned rock,
and consequently I got pushed up onto my edge and subsequently
flipped. As I was upside down, I soon discovered why the rapid was so
aptly named “Tom’s Brain Buster.” After taking several
shots to the helmet, I felt the current mysteriously set me back
upright all on its own. Didn’t even have to roll. Well, maybe my head
bouncing off rocks helped. After running a few more rapids (again, it
really was a blur), I finally spied a large brick building on river

then whispered a single word out loud. “Powerhouse.” I knew
we had to be close to the end of the river. As we ran the last rapid,
I turned to Chuck and demanded, “Is that it? Is it over?”
After confirming that we were now at the lake, I let out a rebel yell
of relief. The Tallulah was over. I looked back at the powerhouse,
the last rapid, and the cliffs covered with the reds and oranges of
autumn. After a mile of intense white water, the most intense I had
ever paddled, it was a peaceful sight.

paddling across the lake to the take-out, I was never more happy to
cram myself into a van full of wet boaters, driven by none less than
Wayne Dickert of NOC. And my little bathtub, the Dagger G-Ride? It
was nestled against all of those big creek boats in the back of the
trailer, similarly crammed, yet quiet as well.