This is the fifteenth and final article in the series by Jack Wright. It was first published in the June 2001 TVCC newsletter.
by John Pickett
Note: John Pickett and Bill Miller have been asked to contribute some of their early hair paddling experiences for this column. Jack Wright.
In Jack Wright’s previous column on “TVCC – The Early Years”, he alluded to some of the early open boat paddlers, some of their “Firsts”, and some other stories. I started paddling with the TVCC at canoe school on the French Board in September 1975. I started a “Trip Log” at that time, and I’ve maintained it ever since. I’m up to 373 trips and 97 different rivers, or significant river sections.
Jack’s articles have reminded me of a great many fun and interesting trips that the early open boaters took on the first serious ‘hair’ rivers – that most people said, “couldn’t be run OC-1.” As Jack is limiting his future articles, he’s asked me to share some of the ‘notes from my trips log.’ I promise not to simply relate who ran what rapid, and who didn’t, but relate some of the things that happened along the way. I plan to ask the paddlers involved to give me comments before we go to press, as long as they’re email literate. If the readers wish me to continue, I’ll try to provide an article at least every two months.
Bill Miller has provided some slides and photographs to Jack, who has scanned them in. I have others, and as soon as I get my scanner operational, I’ll add a few. We’ll start with the ones that Jack has now. But first, a few clarifications on two of the photos that Jack ran previously.
In the Dec (2000) newsletter, there’s a photo of me trying to escape Woodall Shoals. The next newsletter had Tom Popp and Tom Parsons running it tandem. As Jack noted, Woodall has/had a well-deserved reputation for a very dangerous hydraulic, but at 1 foot, it’s not too bad.
On that trip in July 1977, we had watched Bob Harrison surf across the hydraulic – without stopping. What Jack didn’t mention in the previous article was I thought I could actually surf in the hole too. So, I paddled in, leaned on a great downstream low brace, until the boat starts to fill up, and then turned downstream to paddle out. That’s the shot in the newsletter – with a stern fill of water. Woodall won’t let go, even at 1 foot. Although I have seen good K-1er’s surf it at that level fairly easily. The laughter of all the on-lookers (after I climbed out onto a rock), was well deserved, because I had not given the rapid it’s full respect.
First Open Boat Roll: I gave Jack some incorrect information on the first open boat roll. I originally said it was by Miller on the French Broad, at “Railroad Rapid.” He did roll it there, but that was in May of 1978. I believe the first whitewater roll was below Bull Sluice, on 7/30/77, where he showed off his open boat roll for the first time. In the photo on 7/31/77 with this article, Miller is running 7 ft Falls (Chattooga Section IV) backwards (on purpose, no less). After bouncing off the far wall and flipping, he pulled the first true combat open boat roll.
The reason I remembered Bill’s 1978 roll on the French Broad so strongly was that when I ran the hole at Railroad, I flipped, and got sucked way down in the hydraulic. When I started to come to the surface, I got sucked down again – before I could get a breath. There were a few seconds of panic during which I thought I was going to be recirculated without ever getting any air. But, the next time up, I came out about 30 feet downstream of the hole. I hadn’t been in the main hole at all, but a smaller downstream eddy had pulled me back down. So, after getting my boat and paddle, and dumping out, I watch Miller get trashed just as I had. Ha!! But his upside-down boat slowly floats out of the hole, his paddle appears, and he rolls up. Moral of the story. He was in his boat, on top of the water, while I had been swimming many feet below the water surface. That’s when I decided that open boat rolling was not just a “show-off” trick, but had real value. I went home and started to learn how to roll my open boat.
Note: we should give Don Bodley and Don Hixson (of “Canoeist Headquarters”’ in Chattanooga) a lot of credit on open boat rolling. Without their help in figuring out how to cut and install the foam blocks of flotation in our canoes, rolling doesn’t help. No, in 1977 there were no open boat flotation bags.
Jack Wright was a member of TVCC from its earliest days. We do not have records that say if he was one of the 6 founding members. If not, he was close. Jack passed away some maybe 10 years ago; circa 2007 is a guess. I never knew him personally, even though our being TVCC members overlapped by some 10 years or so, me joining in 1994. As I understand it, Jack was very active in the Boy Scouts also. He was one who started or helped start the annual Boy Scout raft race. For reasons not clear, it was discontinued sometime before I was asked by Tom Crye to help restart it in 2001. So, Jack Wright’s paddling legacy is with TVCC and the Boy Scouts. Thanks to long time member Jamie Wendt, a past Board member of TVCC, and a librarian by profession for keeping copies of many past TVCC paper newsletters. I learned about them and so captured this series electronically as part of capturing all his saved newsletters. And I remember reading the series when Jack first published them. John Hubbard