“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” –Heraclitus, Greek philosopher
While Brinn and I have been working on maintaining a positive outlook regarding the end of 2016, I’m not going to lie. Things have been rough. While we absolutely have so many wonderful blessings to focus on, sometimes it still gets a bit frustrating as we deal with all of the negatives thrown at us in a short time period. Brinn has taken the hardest brunt of these burdens as he’s been caring for me, coordinating my medical appointments and sorting out payment issues with insurance agents, driving me around, taking Ian to the doctor for a sinus infection, running his shop during deer season, and trying to finish the home improvement projects we started back in early November. Meanwhile, he’s developed nerve damage in his elbow, and has continued to put surgery off while dealing with my descent into disrepair.
Through all of these minor catastrophes, Brinn has absolutely been my rock. He has stayed positive and encouraged Ian and I to take advantage of every good moment we’ve experienced. Despite his outward enthusiasm, he’s started to struggle to carry the concerns and responsibilities for all three of us on his shoulders. The last few weeks his smile hasn’t been quite as quick, and he’s been emptying the tube of liniment with more regularity. Brinn has needed an escape from his grown-up obligations.
When Terry got in touch with us to ask about paddling through the New Year Holiday, our crazy group of friends immediately sprang to action and started checking local river levels and monitored the weather forecasts. The group finally settled on a New Year’s Eve run down Clear Creek on my favorite section of Tennessee white-water. Unfortunately my injuries and doctor orders prevented me from being able to join in, but it did provide an opportunity for Brinn to get out and have some fun. I think I actually forgot to mention anything about Terry coming into town to Brinn until Wednesday night or Thursday. When he found out that a friend/accomplished paddler would be in route to Tennessee on Friday, he quickly began shifting his paddling goals to enjoying bigger runs.
Brinn, Terry, and Wayne agreed on using Daddy’s Creek as their warm-up run for a weekend of paddling activity. We struggled a bit to get the guys out on the water, Saturday. I’m not sure “hot mess” even comes close to describing the state of Kiser family right now. Despite a whole host of set backs on Saturday morning including poor navigation (yep, that one’s on me), forgotten GoPro (gotta pin that one all on Brinn), late start (darn cell phone reception), we did indeed finally find the take-out and were able to drop off cars at bottom and then made our way back to the put-in so the guys could get in some H2O therapy. Last on and last off of the river for the day, I think they were able enjoy themselves as they had moderate flows of 1’6″.
Daddy’s is not a run I have ever aspired to work up to. The consequences seem too severe for my limited paddling abilities and my slow reaction time. Thus I cannot narrate the run to you first hand, but will try to piece together some description based on reports from the guys. The last time Brinn ran Daddy’s Creek he managed to flip going into Rocking Chair, roll up then snap an AT paddle, flip again, and find himself being washed into a boulder pile, and finally swim. Then he proceeded to lose a hand paddle on down. Saturday proved to be redemptive run for Brinn as the entire group managed to have a dry hair day. The run allows for a good warmup with straightforward class II and III rapids that eventually build into solid class IVs. Paddlers ease their way down through boulders the size of houses! Another point of interest along this run are the cabins scattered along the river banks with no obvious road access. The creek eventually takes boaters into the Catoosa Wildlife Management Area where they can choose to take out at the Devil’s Breakfast Table, or continue on down to the junction with the Obed River. My tired guys opted to take out at the DBT and drive home with no shoes since I managed to drive off with them after I dropped them off at the put-in.
With tired paddlers and an overly excited four year old, we didn’t exactly party hard to welcome in 2017. Our party favors consisted primarily of guide books, AWW reports, and YouTube videos of local creek runs. And it was fantastic. Boaters have a language all their own. I wouldn’t necessarily call it jargon (well, some of it is), so much as shared experience and appreciation for the water that finds a way into the words and body language of paddlers as they plan and reminisce. The online community we have with our boating friends across Middle Tennessee provides a wonderful outlet to share and enjoy discourse, but there’s just something different about hanging out in actual real life. The jokes are funnier, the jabs at each other a little more accurate, and the laughs are deeper. And through this exchange, I got to see Brinn’s smile shine more brightly again.
Unfortunately the New Year dawned a bit dryer than the old year ended. Water levels dropped across the region and the rain hadn’t yet found us. After nursing some beat up joints, the guys seemed content to spend a day resting and recovering while closely monitoring the radar. Except Brinn and Terry seem to be cut from the same cloth, and neither does particularly well with resting. So after a morning of driving out to visually check water levels for runs that do not have an online gauge (and enlisting the help of cousins to send us images of a bony Crooked Fork), they changed their plans from “sitting at the house” (I should have known they would never actually commit to a day of no activity) to hiking on a reconnaissance trip to lineup a potential run of massive waterfalls for the next day. After complete dismissal from the park ranger, the guys changed their tactics to legal research and spent the remainder of the day educating themselves on federal and state waterway laws. They seem to have different ideas than the ranger for what constitutes a navigable waterway.
Our next morning started a bit slowly, but our wonderful cousin (and currently favorite of Brinn), Emily deferred her pancake breakfast to run back to the waterfall down the road from her home to send more pictures of the water level for Brinn and Terry to evaluate. Now Emily must truly love us, because not much comes between this girl and a pancake. Except maybe a donut, but that’s a different story. After examining Emily’s photos, the decision to go for it was hastily agreed upon, and we threw boats and gear in the back of the truck in record time and hit the interstate for home.
I grew up in Wartburg, and still consider it home as most of my family still live there. Crooked Fork Creek flows right through my grandma’s backyard, and on down to Potter’s Falls, which is just a few miles away from some of our favorite people: Karen, Brent, and Emily. Karen and my mom are cousins, and Karen managed to marry someone who is just as cool and nice as she. So of course their apple didn’t fall far from some pretty awesome trees. The Ziegler family joined us at Potter’s to watch the guys come under the bridge and over the falls not once but twice. Then they invited us back to their house for one of my favorites, a hot chili dinner with grilled cheeses. How many boaters can boast a family who has dinner waiting less than 10 minutes away from the take-out?
For years I used trail riding as a form of conditioning to keep my show horses fit. As my horses all lived at Grandma’s house, I frequently used the trail in her backyard as a warmup for most of my workouts for Reggie. This trail follows right along Crooked Fork Creek, and I’ve also hiked down the creek bed many hot summer days with my brother looking for holes to cool off in, so I’m fairly familiar with this section of Crooked Fork. But like Daddy’s Creek, this is another run that’s considerably over my head when there’s water on it, so I’ll have to default again to Brinn and Terry to provide descriptions of the rapids themselves.
After the creek leaves the horse trail, it makes a fairly sharp left turn and heads for Laymance falls. Unfortunately the falls were not runnable as a tree has lodged itself right in the best line to take over the drop, so the many boaters who were on the water Monday were forced to hike around. Below Laymance, the pace really picks up on this run and the rapids become tighter with bigger consequences. A few times Brinn felt his boat get pulled back towards grabby holes and had to actively paddle through most each feature to punch through and over.
After a long trip for a just few short miles of whitewater involving repeated scouting sessions, the guys finally made it down to Potter’s Falls where we’d all been waiting. Once again, the tired boaters exited their boats to walk down and evaluate the lines they had to choose from. They developed a plan, and Terry led the way over the drop. And what a perfect line it was! Watching talented boaters run big water reminds me a lot of watching the top riders at big shows. My mom always likes to say that good riding is invisible riding, so you have to watch closely for subtle cues to see how the good riders quietly guide their horses over demanding jump courses or through technical dressage moves. Good boaters do so much of their movement inside their cockpits with their legs and core, so it’s hard to spot it if you’re a spectator. Nonetheless, spectating has helped me see just how far I have to go as a boater if I ever hope to go beyond class III’s. So many different movements to coordinate! Boof stroke, ear dip, lean forward, lean back, high brace, low brace, scull stroke, draw stroke, rudder stroke, c to c roll, sweep roll, and then of course through it all, dodge the rocks or use the rocks? Lean in to the rock, but never upstream unless you’re pulling into an eddy. It’s highly doubtful that I’ll ever become a steep creeker like these two, but I certainly do admire the skill and athleticism they possess to carry them over flood stage falls.
While Terry achieved textbook perfection with his first descent over the drop, Brinn’s was a bit gnarlier. He managed to insult his already aggravated elbow up above the falls, and it decided to hold a grudge. Halfway over the falls, he completely lost feeling in his hand and dropped the paddle on that side. Rather than hold it with one hand and risk getting smacked in the face with it (or worse, break another paddle!), he decided to throw it. But not without a surprised little yelp sneaking out first.
So now the guys have managed to run the entire upper section of the creek and make a descent over Potter’s. They’re exhausted and in pain, but apparently that’s not quite where they wanted to end their day, so they carried their boats back up the trail to the bridge and hopped in for another ride over the edge. This time, using some advice from Terry, Brinn was able to drastically improve his technique, and his elbow and hand even cooperated. Terry, however, didn’t have quite the same experience. He managed to smack the side of his head against the only rock at the bottom of the drop. But he didn’t even whine about it. I’d still be carrying on about that hit. But maybe that’s why I shouldn’t be running steep creeks?
No man can step on the same river twice, because it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man. Perhaps boaters should be researching the sayings of Heraclitus, because he is exactly right. Each river and creek you run is a completely different run at different levels. The drops are taller with low water, and the holes are bigger with higher water. Floods rearrange the rocks and river bed and leave wood jammed along the way. The men change as well. Brinn is not the same person he was 15 years ago when he dropped over Potter’s last, nor the person he was 10 years ago when he ran Daddy’s Creek. He’s older and more beat up, but he’s also wiser with more discernment now. Despite the changing river and men, one variable remains unchanged –the river still draws a fantastic community of fellow paddlers to provide fellowship and friendship. I may be the person standing on the bank for most of this season, but I am still looking forward to enjoying a role in this great community. Thanks for the memories and the future adventures, fellow boaters!