Sunday, May 1, 2016

Curve of the river

The best curve you know is the river, of course. You line up your kayak on the Broad River at the Swimming Hole rock. you have to come parallel with the rock on river right and let the fast curve take you over to the left, down into a beast of a hydraulic, paddling like a son of a bitch. You think you might tilt over and go under, but you keep paddling till you eddy out and pull into the channel between two flat rocks. You pop the skirt and hoist yourself up. The channel is narrow enough so you can lay your paddle across. That's where you can eat lunch because you've then done Flat Shoals and Swimming Hole Rock. Flat Shoals doesn't have much of a curve; it's ledges all across the river, but you've seen plenty of people come out of their boats, even though you always forget about that feature because the big stuff is farther down the river. The first one that gets your heart pumping, in fact, is the Swimming Hole.

After the Swimming Hole, only a couple of shoals keep you alert until you get to the island that divides the river. On river left is well, you don't really know what's on the left because you always go river right where The Slide is. The Slide--most refer to it as the waterfall, but it's not; it's nothing like Anniston Falls. The slide is only a Class II+, although today it might be a Class III. The river is way up from the two storms last night, at 48 inches. You've run it that high once before. It's not really dangerous, just pushy and challenging.

To get ready for The Slide, you paddle through a rock garden and come out to a pool. The big rock is to your right. A medium size rock juts out of the water  and usually, you line up between the big rock and the medium rock and paddle in a curve across to The Slide, coming to the lip at about a 45 degree angle. Today, though, you decide that you never get far enough left, so you head straight at The Slide and get as far left as you can. You tip over the edge and drop maybe four or five feet. There's a big rock exactly opposite  at the bottom where you have swamped before.

As you drop over The Slide, you see that Katie has come out of her kayak, but you stay up. The hole at the bottom is churning with white water and it tries to suck you over and under, but again, you paddle like a bitch and get through. Good thing, Katie loses her boat, so you have to hit the next ledge and go through a nice Class I+ to try to catch it. You go through one more, a tricky curve this time and get to the boat. You nudge it over across the eddy line to the shallows, but it gets away from you, and you have to follow it. At the next eddy, you catch it again and grab it. You know you're supposed to put the overturned prow up on your boat and flip it over. You did this last week when somebody else lost a boat, but this time Katie's boat is just too heavy to flip, and besides, your whitewater boat is tiny, with sharp edges. It's your favorite boat; you feel every bit of the river in it, but it's not that stable.

You paddle one-handed and hold Katie's boat with the other and get to the edge. She comes body-surfing down the river and you give her the boat. She can stand up and flip it over and that's The Slide.

The Rooster Tail is the last big feature and you think by far the most technical. It consists of three ledges. The first you approach along the edge of the river to the right and curve left again to hit the second ledge, a sharper drop and there are two large rocks you have to aim right for. If you judge wrong, you get slammed up against a rock peninsula at the bottom of the drop. Today, the water is almost over the peninsula and you think you maybe should come up against it to make sure Katie and Susan get over without trouble. You figure Susan will probably portage, but she doesn't. Katie comes over right after you and stays in perfectly, whooping as she drops. Then Karen, who also stays in. Susan is way back, so you go for the third ledge, the tricky one. Last week you went over too far right and didn't get the biggest drop, so you head toward the middle and drop fast, getting a huge chop and a face full of water. Your boat goes under the chop but smacks down and you come out. It's awesome.

Susan's coming now. you see her hat, but then here comes her boat without her, so she's gone in somewhere on the drops. Karen can't get to the boat. You paddle fast out into the middle of the river and get it. You miss landing it at the first set of rocks, but you push it up against the second set and pull your own kayak up, popping the skirt off again and getting out. It takes a while for Susan to come down. She walks because the Rooster Tail is just too fast and rocky to body surf. She waits. You get in the water and swim her boat up to where she stands. She's kept her paddle and gets in with no problem and paddles on.

The only other patch left that will require skill is under the bridge. It's an exciting wave train, like the Devil's Racecourse on the Chattahoochee, the Metro Hooch stretch. Today, though, a tricky little drop appears because of the high level and it catches you by surprise. It's like an unexpected treat and then you're under the bridge, angling your way through rocks and fighting the chop and Katie's right behind you.

After that, a flat-water paddle to the take out and the shuttle pulls up right as you do and the paddle's over. You and Karen and Susan and Katie have followed the big curve of the Broad and all the challenging little curves and drops it had today.  It was one of the best Broad paddles ever. You started to go to church today, but you paddled instead, so you bless the rocks, the river, and the rain.

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