TVCC – The Early Years – Four Paddles of the Apocalypse

This is part 10 of the series.  It was first published in the December 2000 TVCC newsletter.


by Jack Wright


In Chapter 8 of the Bible book of Revelation, the Apostle John describes a vision of what is to come on earth.  Four horses and riders, carrying things that are interpreted to signify perilous evils in the future.  Horses of white, red, black, and pale.  Riders carrying bow and arrow, sword, and scales, which signified conquest, war, famine, and death, or Apocalypse, as the worst things imaginable.  Since then, added to that horrible spectre, is the “Grim Reaper”, in long black hooded robe, carrying a long-handled scythe, all moving to the ominous haunting music of “Ghost Riders in the Sky.”   


TVCC’s first ‘hair’ paddlers, or “creek boaters,” faced a similar Apocalypse of evil challenges, like Class V rapids, fatal souse holes, strainers, and under-cut rocks.  I submit that they rode boats of white, red, black, and pale, carrying paddles, throw ropes, dry bags, and wet suits.  They were the first to conquer, and overcome, these evils, all in open boats, no less.  As surely as water runs downhill, they had the inner drive of “Fire in their bones” to do it first.  They had visions clear enough to somehow survive the Class V and VI water they paddled.  So below I’ll name Four Paddlers of TVCC’s Apocalypse, whom I think were first, but there were several others close behind them.  They weren’t Charter club members from 1967, but all joined in the early ‘70s, learned the basics from TVCC’s annual training, then moved on as a group to higher water.


Tom Grey and John Pickett, are both still loyal club member today.  Tom still paddles and leads club trips. John started paddling when he worked for DuPont here in Chatta, and continued with TVCC after moving to Aiken, SC with DuPont, where he still lives today.  Bill Miller was another one.  He grew up in Polk County, was President of TVCC one year in the late 70s, and in 1972 had the first vision of an Olympic Venue on the Ocoee, after watching the concrete river in the ‘72 Munich Olympics.  A fourth is Bob McClelland, who, with Tom Grey, is still a DuPont contractor in Chatta.  Others close behind them were Jerry Stansberry (now living in Colorado), Lew Braley, and Carolyn King (now living in Birmingham).


John Pickett kept a detailed log of notes on each trip for many years, which is priceless today.  Some of the “first” challenges conquered by people in this group were (and lots of colorful stories on each of these):

> Ocoee, first open canoe, Bill Miller, behind 9 kayaks from TSRA.  From Bill’s notes: “They kept disappearing in front of me.  Right scary.  Nobody knew what was in there yet.”

> Gauley, first open boats, Miller, Pickett, Grey, Stansberry.

> Daddy’s Creek canyon, on Cumberland plateau, the Cheat river canyon, the Youch in PA, Baby Falls on the Tellico, and it may not have been a first, but they also did the Grand Canyon of the Colorado.


Pickett’s log book shows the first ever “combat” roll of an open boat done by Bill Miller at Frank Bell (Railroad) rapid on the French Broad river, on Sunday, Aug 22, 1976.  Don Bodley, Hugh Worthy, and Jerry Stansberry, among others, were along that weekend.  Pickett ran it first, down the center of river right, and got thoroughly trashed and rope rescued by kayakers.  Then Miller takes the same line and flips, the kayakers go after him, but his boat was on the surface, and his paddle comes out from under the boat, and he rolls up!  Then paddles to the side, dumps water, and sports what Pickett’s log describes only as a BIG “#@%&”-ing grin.  Everybody went home, fiddled with braces and flotation, and started practicing a roll.  Both Miller and Pickett were avid 35mm camera and super-8 movie buffs, with each still having thousands of pictures and lots of movie film, supported by John’s descriptive log.


Back to the Grim Reaper.  I can’t do this piece on “hair” paddlers without remembering what virtually every “hair” paddler I’ve ever met ha described.  That’s him/her own personal meeting with this guy on some river, at some point, underwater.  Close your eyes and look, the back hooded one carrying a scythe, but it seems to have a large paddle blade on the other end of the shaft.  Bill Miller said his meeting was while flushing through a hole under “Jawbone” rapid, on Chattooga section 4.  A commercial kayaker had died in the same hole just a month before.  Miller’s notes say: Met God there.”