This is the fourteenth article in the series by Jack Wright. It was first published in the May 2001 TVCC newsletter.
by Bill Miller
Note: John Pickett and Bill Miller have been asked to contribute some of their early hair paddling experiences for this column. – Jack Wright
On one early trip down the French Broad I got hooked into leading a trip of intermediate paddlers (Ha, so they said). Jerry Stansberry was the only other experienced person along, and he said he would not lead it, but said he would sweep if I would lead. It was a fair-sized group of about 15. I was very reluctant but they all pleaded and begged, so I said OK.
Above Railroad Rapid I was trying to guide/ direct everyone to river left toward the cheat chute. The river was up and even the cheat was a good class III/IV. Several of the paddlers went to the right in spite of the fact I had warned them, tried to lead them, and told them not to. So, one guy (can’t remember who) is over against the right bank, out of his boat, in the water, holding on to a tree branch and his boat (in some swift water) so he does not get sucked into Railroad Rapid.
Now I have to ferry all the way across to river right, just above Railroad Rapid, to try to rescue this guy. When I got over there, my temper was hot. I yelled “What the heck are you doing over here on this side, out of your boat and in the water here? @#$%^& Do you know where you are; what is below you? Are you trying to get yourself killed!!!”
He yelled back “There’s a snake in my boat and I’m going to let him have it!” I thought to myself what a ________ mess. How did I let myself get into this? If I get off this river without getting killed, and no-one else does, it will be a ________ miracle.
As I recall he let the boat go and the snake ran Railroad. In my opinion, it was under better control. I always wondered if that snake could swim. At least I got the paddler (term used loosely here) to shore and he walked around. By that time, there were 3 or 4 paddlers over there who were just not able to ferry over to the left. Last trip I agreed to lead with people I did not know.
A lesson for Trip Leaders: In retrospect, I now realize it was my own fault. I was the one with the experience and I should have said “No” from the outset. I now realize – considering what can happen, it just ain’t worth it.