August 7, 2013
The water is unusually high for August in the New River (they are getting lots and lots of rain, as we will see). The result of all this water is a lots more action on the rapids. Whoo-whee!
We don’t do the river the easy way--riding in a raft with a guide who does most of the work. Instead, we pilot our own duckies--inflatable kayaks. We start out with Granddad and Natalie sharing a two person duckie and Gayl paddling a one person duckie.
But, after lunch, Natalie wants to try her hand a solo kayaking, and navigates her way through a long stretch of the river, including two big stretches of rapids. A massive wall of water tosses her out of the kayak in one, but she does an amazing job of holding on to the duckie and popping herself right back in it while we are still in the rapids! (Granddad’s contribution is catching the paddle and handing it back to her when she is back aboard.)
When we get to a stretch of calm water, the guides show us how to do balancing games on the bottom of an overturned duckie. Natalie and Gayl play three rounds, and Natalie is the clear winner, as you can see by this photo finish demonstrating Natalie remains on top longer (the big splash is Gayl).
Natalie decides to take the bow of the two person kayak with Granddad again after our game, and when Gayl tries to hoist herself into her kayak, she comes to really appreciate Natalie’s grace and athleticism in getting back aboard after the rapids gave her what the guides call “an out of duckie experience.” It takes a lot of heave-hoing help from Granddad in the next duckie to haul Gayl out of the river, and get her flopping back into her duckie.
(So glad Granddad was too busy hauling me in to get pictures of this!)
The rail bed that we saw yesterday when we visited Nuttallburg runs beside the section of the river that we are running in our duckies today. Even though Nuttallburg and many other coal towns along the river have disappeared or turned to ghost towns, we know that there is still a lot of coal being produced around here, because a very long and loud train with three engines pulling only coal cars passes us for at least fifteen minutes. It seems like an endless interruption to the serenity of our river rafting experience.
An immature bald eagle flies across the river right in front of us and perches in a tree where we can all paddle close and admire him. (Granddad didn't bring his big lens camera on this trip, so no photo.)
The scenery is beautiful and the weather wonderful--warm and partly cloudy--right up until fifteen minutes before we get to our pull-out point. We had been hearing distant thunder, watching clouds gain on us from behind, and feeling the wind increase (fortunately from behind) for about five minutes, when suddenly the clouds split open and rain comes down on us pelting hard. We almost wonder if it is hail. We are wet already from encounters with rapids, but we don’t much like the thunder and the low visibility caused by the torrents of water from above.
We fly through our final rapids with the rain feeling like whitewater coming down at us from above, then we fight strong currents to get to shore and take out the duckies.
WHEW! We are tired.
During the long bus ride on twisty roads from the bottom of the gorge to the top, we realize how much body heat we were generating paddling our duckies. Once we are sitting still, we start to feel a bit chilly. We treasured those hot showers back at the base at the end of the bus ride, and now we treasure great memories of a spectacular day.