The following article was published many years ago in American Whitewater Magazine, a not for profit group I was involved with when I kayaked every weekend. The river written about is the Beaver river in upstate NY near Belfort and every year hundreds of boaters would gather from all over America to run this little gem.
So there I was running one of the more difficult class V runs to be found in NY backwards on a $50 bet. Thoughts of my sweet one year old son and his beautiful mother did NOT fill my mind. Survival was the focus here. How to pull off this stunt without getting flipped, swimming or worse. Marty probably didn’t think anyone would really take him up on his offer for $50 to run it backwards. The decision was already made before I started not to accept the money from him, so why was I doing it? Fame, fortune, glory? No, I was doing it because I wanted to prove to myself that I had put off running the Eagle section of the Beaver to a point in my paddling career where I could run it backwards. The crowds faded from my mind and all I could think about was, where is my boat, where am I pointed, am I ready to brace? Complete focus. The run was not pretty, but better than many other paddler’s forward facing runs.
I took the $50 from Marty just to make him sweat it for a second then I gave it back and told him if he really wanted to get rid of the money to donate it to AW. My karma could not deal with a blow like having taken another paddler’s money on a bet to run something that I had NOT gotten hammered on. There was other people that swam that day, none of the swimmers escaped totally unscathed, several sucked quite a bit of water, especially on the first big hole at Taylorville. That hole swam me last year when I dropped in to play on purpose. After about 5 seconds I knew it was going to be really hard to get out of it. After almost a minute of surfing (mostly upright) I had bailed out and started recirculating. After a mere 15 seconds and about 4 recircs I swam out. Others this weekend were not so lucky. One guy had 4 bags join him in the hole, to no avail. Its pretty easy to forget that even really good boaters can (and do) drown. The water has become my playground and in order to feel what is really happening, the fear of death must be released.
The first night Mike and I were there I talked him into sliding down Taylorville’s 2nd slide on my Themarest pad. The headlamp I was wearing bounced down onto my nose and made a couple of incisions as I careened down the bumpy slide laughing maniacally the whole way down. It was pretty fun and we vowed to take the Thermarest pads down during the full release on the next day. There was a bunch of little worms that got all over us from our slide and we meticulously cleaned them all off. It must have looked pretty bizarre to anyone watching, two full grown men standing naked in a pool of water at night examining each other’s bodies head to toe with headlamps.
The first release on Taylorville went without much comment except for 2 guys that nearly drowned in the first bad hole. After almost 10 runs down the slide including a Thermarest run for good measure we continued on to run the rest of the river. We made multiple runs down most of the drops and headed over to Eagle. My first several runs of Eagle went surprisingly well. I ran it backwards once scared out of my wits then run it a bunch more times forwards. There are lots of people who race to run class V stuff early on in their paddling career (I used to be one of them) but the last 2 years I have put off running Eagle just because I didn’t feel comfortable doing it. By the time I did run it there were many other runs under my belt which had been MUCH more challenging that Eagle.
There was a lot of fragmentation in the paddling community. In the past where there had been one big fire that all the paddlers had worked their way over to. Now it seemed that there were many fires including groups from Canada, the Black River boys, the NJ crew and the Plattsburg boaters. It was interesting moving from one fire to the next watching the different dynamics. Not the least interesting of which was the Black River Hudson rafting crew who were partying completely naked. It would have been a lot more interesting if it had been more than just guys, alas their attempts to attract women by partying naked apparently failed. Better luck next year I suppose.
Over the past couple weeks I had been toying with the idea of buying a jetski. For someone who volunteers for AW it may seem like a conflict of interests, but I had no idea exactly how noisy and dangerous jetskis really were. Ithaca is right on a lake so maybe I could fill some of those boring weekdays with a little water and adrenaline. Getting up on the old-school jetski was difficult to say the least. It made for quite interesting speculating however as people gathered around to watch me get dragged around the lake behind the jetski like a wet sock. I flailed pitifully in repeated attempts to get up. After several attempts I pretty much decided that it wasn’t my thing. Thank goodness I tried it out before investing in one, it would have been a tragedy to invest a bunch of money and not enjoy it at all. Instead I ended up selling my well-loved Forplay in anticipation for buying one of the new playboats getting released in the fall.
That night laying in bed I thought about paddling class V stuff backwards and how it felt. I thought about the anticipation and fear of not knowing what was going to happen to you and when. More crazed ideas of running other class V stuff backwards filled my head. I fell asleep under the stars dreaming of running the Bottom Moose backwards from beginning to end. It was a cool great evening until it started raining in the middle of the night. Running to the car in my undies I searched for the tent and set it up. After it was set up the sprinkling stopped, but I crawled in anyways to get away from the black flies that had joined me.
Moshier was kicking the next day and Mike and I spent a lot of time scoping out that first drop coming off the dam. There is a bit of confusion as to who has run it and from where and at what level. Scouting for over an hour 3 times at 2 different levels we agreed that the safest bet would be a ½ release run from below the falls on river right to start and to work our way up from there. It’s funny because unlike most boaters Mike and I are not interested in getting first descents although I’m sure we’ve run our fair share. It’s not like that for us, it’s about exploring and pushing our own limits. I think when you’re measuring yourself up against other paddlers you sell yourself short and increase the risk for death and dismemberment pretty substantially. For the first time in my paddling career I wanted to run something Mike wanted to skip. Although we ended up not running it I felt pretty interested at the dynamic of the complete role reversal of what had been. Usually it’s me trying to convince Mike not to run something, it was nice to have it go the other way for a change. In any case, there is always next year…
After a couple runs down Moshier I headed over to Eagle. Only planning to do a couple of runs I kept saying “just one more run, or until the power guy comes and shuts off the water”. The power guy was about 45 minutes late so needless to say I made way more runs than I planned to. That evening I rode around on my mountain bike begging food from one site to another. After it got dark I continued my rounds tearing through the woods with my headlight equipped bike. The locals ride along the top of the 15′ diameter water pipes in their dirt bikes for a good time, but I didn’t think I wanted to pit my sanity against that of the locals. Eric got dragged around in an easy chair towed behind a four wheeler. Apparently he was the first person to ever flip the trailer, but that may have been just a coincidence seeing as how he was also probably also the first non-local to participate in the local’s version of the X-games. Apparently the locals also tube Taylorville and Eagle when they are running at flood, not just these piddly release levels. Come to think of it Eagle would be a pretty good run in an innertube …. Nah…
Afterword: After this incident I preceded to run Eagle backwards pretty much from here on in, got pretty good at it. Even started running other class V stuff backwards. In the end I had to give it up, too much risk to get the kind of adrenaline ‘reward’ I was accustomed to.