My brother and I have always gone on adventures together. Years ago, after a couple of beers at our bar in Philly, he turned to me and said, I’m moving to London, why don’t you come with me? I didn’t even think about it. I said sure, no problem. I told him last Spring I was learning to fly fish and I told him why don’t you take a class? He called me by the end of the week to say he’d taken it and when were we going to go fishing? This summer, when his birthday was approaching he called and said, I’m going whitewater rafting, the Gauley, class V rapids, and I said immediately count me in. But…after a few weeks waiting for the date…I let a little bit of fear slip in. What if I get hurt? What if, what if, what if… I called him and said, nah man, I’ll go to the river, but I’ll just fish. Then, fortunately, I woke-up from my thirty-something coma and said to hell with it, yeah I’m down for a little adventure.
Fayette, West Virginia is a 9-hour drive from Brooklyn–I loved every minute of it, out the door at 5am, through the Lehigh Valley at dawn, over the Susquehanna River and down into the hill country of Virginia and then through the Shenandoah Valley around time for breakfast in Staunton (a town where my free and enslaved black ancestors lived during the Civil War), and then across the Monongahela National Forest right through the Alleghenies to the New River Valley just after lunch. The New River is a trophy smallmouth fishery and the nearby Gauley River (upper and lower) is a top 5 whitewater rafting destination with class V rapids and often considered #2 in the US. The Gauley is a tailwater, and its rapids are the result of releases from the Summersville dam. The Gauley itself is the second oldest river in the world. We hit the Middle Gauley putting in just before “Backbender”…starting with a Class IV!
I can’t do justice to describing the river. You’ll just have to take a trip there yourself one day. I can tell you that you’ll think you’re out west, in Montana or Colorado, you’ll think there couldn’t possibly be a WILDER river (until you visit the New River). You’ll think you can’t possibly be having this much fun. The bone-crushing rush of falling into a 10′ hole with whitewater churning around you and the fear turning to screams of joy as you’re propelled out the other end of a chute, the scream of an eagle on a long slow run, the pitter patter of rain on the river and the distant sound of thunder, your senses will be strummed like a guitar as you harmonize with the Gauley. Our guide, Ben from Colorado, was a patient and commanding guy, easy-going but firm and he got the most out of our little crew. We didn’t flip once, no one fell out of the boat, though we watched plenty other boaters take a dip.
After a few rapids, we were veterans and were happily bouncing through rapids called “Rooster Tail”, “Roller Coaster,” and paddling like mad through others, like “Rattlesnake,” and “Heaven’s Gate.” As we came out of an unbelieveable “surf” on a class V known as “Pure Screaming Hell” where we narrowly avoiding flipping, I looked at my brother, and said a mental thank you–for him, for the people in life that take me out of my comfort zone, for the ones I will trust to take me new places. We took a voluntary dip through some class I rapids and soothed our weary bones in the cold water as a thunderstorm bore down on us for our slow float out. We were wet, we were getting wetter, and by golly, we were happy.