More suffering needlessly

This time the suffering wasn’t totally self-inflicted. After being invited by friends, I traveled three hours to east TN where I paddled some class II ww. A facebook based paddling group was hosting a “kick off” weekend where different trips were offered. Sat. went fine as several of us paddled the Lower Noli (Nolichucky).

Sunday turned a bit into a fiasco. We started on the South Holston River below South Holston Dam (class II). They generate power and release water. The plan was to paddle a bit before the release and then have it push us the rest of the way, 3 or 4 miles. The release was extremely short in duration and not all that much. So we ended up paddling at extreme low flow (elf run) and dragging over shale ledges.

A couple of the fishermen were particularly unpleasant because there was no room or enough water to completely avoid proximity to them. One fisherman who hadn’t started fishing yet, was just wading out from the bank, insisted that we not paddle near where he was going to fish. Since that was the only place deep enough in the river to float a kayak I wasn’t particularly happy. After climbing out of my boat, I made sure I went very slowly, taking frequent breaks, with plenty of splashing as I dragged the boat through the rocks but as requested, avoiding his fishing hole.

If you get snarky with me, then I get passive aggressive. What can I say, sometimes I’m not all that nice. Actions speak louder than words.

The trip to the take out ended up being 11 miles instead of 3 or 4 as reported by “trip leader”. I was the only one (out of 8 people to actually make it to the take-out). Someone with a cell phone called one of the weekend organizers and they started picking folks up at different bridges before the takeout. We were all strung out, so different folks were picked up different places. There was a pack raft and a ducky- neither of which was conducive to dragging over sharp ledges so I figure those folks bailed early on and probably called.
I took solace in knowing that I hadn’t organized this misadventure and that I was previously experienced at suffering needlessly, and knew how to do it with style. My carbon fiber paddle definitely took its share of abuse and I got home late and very tired. I still have some folks dry clothes (but no wallets or valuables) to return in a week or so when I return to TN.


A few miles can get ugly. A few of us decided to paddle the Lynches River on the coast of SC. I had driven past it several times and it looked inviting in a black water, muddy,swampy sort of way.
It was an overcast day with humidity of 120%. That is not overstated.
We stopped for a break at some point at what looked to be a semi dry spot. It was except for the mud. After that , the boats were covered inside and out.
And then the river disappeared into pure swamp. The mud was about knee deep, shoes were sucked off, and we crawled over dead fall and tree trunks for a mile or 2.
The river finally showed back up for awhile and we found the take out.
That almost all day , few mile trip is one I’ll never do again.
It is very apparent why the British never caught the Swamp Fox.


Great description: misadventure.

So, Level 2 or Level 3 fun? Sounds closer to level 3 to me.

And Lead Us Not…
(by an ole Duckheaded follower in the McCrea Way)

Mr. T would say,
and Miss Adventure does smile
at those coming her way.

And so crossing her T,
she’s also shot at this I.
Nietzche’s kindred undead,
no longer feeling stronger here guy.

I long ago hit the point where I am very reluctant to join any outing planned by anyone other than myself unless I know the trip leader well enough to trust them. All the worst waterborne misadventures I’ve had were due to organizers who came up more than a little short on competence in both route planning and vetting participants to assure they were up to par.

Like the guys who decided at the last minute in 1974 that one of our outdoor club “beginner” paddles during an annual group camping weekend (which had been posted as 5 miles of a class I-III river) should instead be diverted to 13 miles of the class III-V Cheat Canyon when they heard that a dam release was scheduled that day. Several of us missed that the decision had been made ( it was reached as we were all packing up at the campground to depart with the shuttles.) So the apex of my first experience with whitewater was going over the Class V Coliseum rapid straddling a 2 man raft with a blown out floor solo, after my almost as inept co-paddler was ejected at the first pillow. Had my dear, but now departed, friend and expert extreme kayaker George Bogel not realized shortly after we launched that I was a ww newb and coached and fished me out through the whole epic I would certainly have perished. Lucky for me it was a hot day (since I was in shorts, tee shirt and old sneakers), I was wearing one of the club’s orange Mae West type PFDs and my brother’s hockey helmet and I was young and fit and not afraid of the water. I swam a lot. But I kept my death grip on what was left of that freaking raft through a brutal maytagging in the last big hole below Coliseum. I think my adrenal gland was completely drained by the end of that 7 hour run.

In later years got sucked into an overnight canoe trip with some friends who said they “knew a guy” who could join me in my tandem when my boyfriend at the time got called in to work at the last minute. Said “guy” turned out to be a hippie schlemiel who had no clue about canoeing, did not know his right from his left and had brought nothing along for the trip but the jeans and shirt he was wearing, a couple of large books, a bag of apples and a blanket. We were on Red Bank Creek, running high and fast from recent rains and my inept partner (who I had to put in the bow so he could hear my frantic instructions) ran us into the high banks several times, resulting in us getting swamped and his small kit getting yard-saled and waterlogged. He managed to mooch food from us at camp and his pathetic shivering prompted us to take pity on him and contribute some dry clothes. He was devastated that his weed had gotten wet and decided to eat it since it was too soggy to light. I ended up sleeping on the ground in my bag so he could use my ensolite pad with his soggy blanket. Ingesting the marijuana did not enhance his coping skills that night nor the next day. I insisted the second day on switching off with the couple who organized the trip and dumped Nature Boy into a longer tandem with the husband , who ended up kneeling ahead of the stern seat to paddle solo while his passenger slumped in the bow as little more than ballast.

There were some other unfortunate outings involving poor route planning by the organizers and having to accommodate paddlers ill-equipped for the outing until I got way pickier about who I paddle with.

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A “beginner paddle” on the Cheat Canyon? Really???

The scheduled activity was supposed to be a 3 to 4 hour class I-III section of the Youghiogheny (which I have since done in a kayak and agree it would not have been a big deal in a shared raft). We club members were gathered at a WV campground that was about equidistant from the Yough and the Cheat and at some point that morning as people were finishing breakfast and packing up for the shuttle a couple of the more advanced kayakers in the club brought up that there was a dam release on the Cheat and gathered consensus that they should switch.

Apparently nobody thought to survey what the experience level of the group was (about 30 people) and just presumed anyone who knew about the change and was unprepared would bow out. But somehow they missed making sure everyone knew about the new destination.

I happened to end up sitting with a bunch of others in the back of a large windowless van as my shuttle ride or I would likely have noticed that we were not heading north to Pennsylvania. I was still oblivious to the location once we got to the launch site and while I helped inflate the club rafts. I was the only single woman in the group which meant I did not have an automatic partner so they stuck me with a strange older guy who, unbeknownst to me, had a reputation as a bumbling flake (I should have recognized that this was the same guy from whom everyone fled when he would show up at the top-roped rock routes during the club’s annual climbing school.) Nobody wanted to paddle with him either, apparently.

In fact I STILL had no idea what river we were on until we were a few minutes downstream and my buddy and climbing mentor George paddled up to me in his kayak and shouted “Kerry, I didn’t know you did whitewater”. To which I replied “Not yet but I figured this beginner trip on the Yough would be a good start.” To which he replied, “Holy shit, this is the Cheat, not the Yough”. No way to bail by then since we were well into the canyon. George nudged us into an eddy and gave me a 5 minute crash course in whitewater safety and promised to shepherd me through. And he did – when I would surface after being dumped out of the raft in the pools after the rapids I could count on his red kayak being somewhere nearby and I could hang on the bow until we could corral my craft and I could flounder back onto it. And he would explain the line before we entered each rough section. He had done the Canyon countless times and knew every rock and hole.

To be honest, I barely remember any of the trip except the two most terrifying sections, the first becoming tangled in the paddle lines and trapped under the raft during one long set of Class III rapids after being spit out of the boat when we hit a hole the wrong way and the second being that trip over Coliseum (I was the ONLY person in the group in the rafts or kayaks who made it through that one still upright in my boat when the last hydraulic spit me out, for which I earned applause from the folks waiting in the pool below to extract the approaching swimmers.)

Fortunately for the other people on that trip I’ve always been one of those people who reacts to being in a disastrous situation and over my head by gritting my teeth and fighting to survive rather than taking the “poor me” victim posture and expecting others to rescue me. I kind of go on automatic pilot – my attitude after the first few rapids was “I’m clearly going to die on this trip but I’m determined to put that off as long as possible.” I survived with nothing worse than a badly bruised knee that gave me some trouble during long distance backpacking for a few months that year as well as an entrenched dislike of whitewater, which has recurred the few times since that I let people talk me into joining them on anything over Class II.

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Years ago I joined a group I had paddled with many times, about a dozen of us in total. We were doing a coastal estuary type thing, salt water marshes and rivers.

The problem was the rush weeds that are very tall. From a kayak you can’t see a thing and it’s basically a corn maze. There also weren’t any real shoreline areas to beach up for a rest.

We got miserably lost on about a 15 mile or so intended trip. We were poking around for hours trying to figure out where the route went wrong and losing daylight. Enough of us had lights so that was ok but my GPS was not working so I didn’t bring it with me that day, trusting the lead to know the route.

After hours of fruitless meandering the lead reaches into his day hatch and produces a GPS! He had us all wasting time for HOURS due to his own hubris even though he had a GPS the whole time.

The guy was lucky he made it out of that salt marsh that night.

A minor example but I never trust anyone else for equipment or guidance and always equip myself in my own interest in case even the most reliable person decides to be irresponsible.

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Salt marshes and river deltas a famous for folks having unexpected and uncomfortable overnights.

Cheat by having USCG Booklet Chart page(s) laminated of the area you are paddling on deck under bungees when in calm water. It doesn’t require electronics to operate. At night only a simple light and in my case reading glasses.

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I have paddled with plenty of people once. Make sure you review their plans before you commit to them. Some people are just green and over estimate their group’s abilities. Some people are aggressive and want to push their friends. I don’t like either of these approaches.

On the other hand, conditions can change. If you plan a trip well ahead of time, you can end up with lots of wind, or rain or snow. There might be low or high flows and other variables. The best thing to do is not complain about the things you can’t change.

I cannot understand how anyone can think of 11 miles as a long day.

I didn’t take it as 11 miles literally being a long day. Rather, given how the OP’s day went, it seemed much more arduous. It felt like a long day to me just reading it.

A friend and I once went to the ADK for several day paddles and staying at a motel. I agreed a friend of his would come too. At the bar he complained long and loud that they didn’t have a beer on tap he had last time he was there a couple years ago. Then every night he had to commandeer the TV to watch a show called “The OC.” Then call his wife to recap the show they just watched.

The longest three kayaking days my life.

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Having been on countless wilderness sports trips of all kinds for 50 years as well as being an instructor and guide on some of them, I can say that individual attitude of each of the participants counts as much, if not more, than their training or experience. I’ll take an alert, attentive, self-aware, cooperative and congenial newb over an arrogant and bullying “expert” any day, especially if we run into bad conditions or an emergency.

My heart used to sink whenever a group I was about to lead turned out to have a guy who’d proudly claim to have had some sort of military “commando” training. Those types tended not only to not listen to anything the trip organizers had in the way of planning and instructions, but would contradict them in front of the other participants. I often found they were (unaccountably) most likely to fall apart in the face of any crisis and either only help themselves (often at the expense of others) or to concoct some excuse for becoming helpless (“flare ups” of “old battle wounds” or “PTSD” were some excuses) and having to be tended to, even rescued. On the other hand I’ve experienced some remarkable courage and helpfulness from sport newbies on trips that went south for unpredictable reasons.

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Had that happen when paddling the Housatonic salt marsh estuary with my early sea kayaking mentor, John Jensen. We got separated in the maze of tall reeds (spartina!) at mid day and couldn’t hear each other yelling. Fortunately, John, a professional hunting and fishing guide, had some flares aboard and sent one up so I could see where he was and make my way towards him. He told me he’d gotten lost in there before but just used a compass to fix bearings towards the open water and would then locate where the main channel emptied into the Sound and head back upriver.

Though that outing was far from suffering, and was in fact one of the most fun day trips I’ve ever had on the water. We paddled downriver from under a bridge (blanking on the name), explored the marsh (at one point rounding a bend and flushing 9 great white herons), banged around off shore for a while (where he wickedly rammed me at one point), then paddled back upstream at twilight, pulling out at a dock below a restaurant midway for a great seafood dinner, after which we made our way in the moonlight back up to the launch ramp. At this point I am “suffering” from nostalgia recalling this day. Somebody stole his beautiful Northwest kayak a couple of years later, he had some hard times after that and I eventually lost touch with him.

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What happens during those 11 miles can make for a very long day.


come to Maine and paddle against the tide. How are you paddling against 5-8 knots for six hours?

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Friday it took us (4 tandems all 8 paddlers well experienced in the bush) 7 hours to travel about 10 miles on the Fox (Michigan’s Upper Peninsula). That was a fairly long but enjoyable day. I’ve done 50 miles on the Grand River twice and that is a long day.

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I had a lot of those on Scuba courses. Usually the first to panic.

Yes! i took a NAUI couse in my 30’s and there was one of those in the class who not only bored us all to tears with his constant tales of “special ops” he had supposedly carried out during Viet Nam, but he was so inattentive to what was being taught that the instructor had to spend more time on that dude than the other 5 of us combined. It was clear to me (and, I am sure, the instructor) that the guy was terrified of being under water and the bravado was a cover up. It would take him forever to even jump into the pool and once in he would flail. He was never able to complete the exercises where we had to sit on the bottom and remove all our gear and put it back on. As soon as his mouthpiece was pulled out he would shoot for the surface. We were all relieved when he dropped out before the last class.

Years later I tried to take a PADI class as a refresher before a trip to the Virgin Islands. In that case, it was the lead instructor, co-owner of the dive shop, who was the paramilitary jerk. He was so brutally demanding that he made everyone stressed out. There were 10 students so he had 2 assistants and would berate them so much in front of us that they were on edge and embarassed. He would make mistakes and then lash out at them when they would try to point them out. I think he had a drug or alcohol problem, definitely had rage issues. He called a couple of the students “stupid” and even pushed one into the pool when he thought they were taking too long to jump in with their first full set of gear on. The only way we got through that course was to mock him behind his back (the assustants joined with us in that). In fact we worked it out that whoever got the worst insult or thrashing from him got all their drinks and snacks at the bar we usually hit afterwards paid for — our “drill sarge” never joined us there, in fact would always take off as soon as class ended, leaving the other two shop folks and us students to load all the gear and close up the pool.

If you are paddling against 5-8 knots you are going backwards. It means your planning has failed. Bring a tide table and learn to read it.

Know when to go ashore and wait. The same with wind on big lakes.

A long day on a river is anything over about 35 miles.