All the time I hear friends jokingly talk about how it takes a village to raise a kid, especially from our like-minded friends who tend toward more free-range parenting. I would say that Ian’s upbringing also takes a village, but these days I feel more like Ian requires a navy.
After a bit of excitement to start our Labor Day weekend, we were finally able to begin packing Saturday evening to get ready for our Ocoee day trip. We’ve made this journey about a million times, but this time was special. Ian had finally convinced us that he could handle the rapids on the Ocoee, and talked us into let him make his first descent down Brinn’s home river. We woke up early, threw the raft and a couple of gear bags in the back of the truck, and took off to meet our group and pick up Mrs. Anderson.
Brinn went back and forth deliberating how to get Ian down the Ocoee in the safest manner. He reasoned that Ian could handle the top half of the middle section, with the exception of Grumpy’s. We recruited Mrs. Anderson to come along as well because she’s a great paddler, and well, she’s family. Brinn dithered on the benefits of having Wes and Rachel in the raft versus the benefits of taking down a lighter boat that he could push around more easily. Ultimately, Brinn decided on a lighter boat, but asked Wes and Rachel to paddle down separately as safety boat. Upon arriving at the Ocoee, Brinn decided that one more paddler would provide a bit more power to our boat and free me up to hold on to Ian, so Billy found himself drafted to help push rubber.
After setting shuttle, pushing our giant boat down the rails, and hefting it over some rocks, we finally were able to situate ourselves and head down through Gonzole Sholes. Initially Brinn and I tried sitting in the middle of the raft, as if we were R2ing, with Ian in between us and Anne and Billy directly behind us. We made our way down river in these seats for a short time, then stopped to rearrange so that Brinn could sit in the guide seat and steer a little more effectively. I think that he just wanted to be the one closest to Ian until the rest of us proved that we could adequately hold onto our small charge through Broken Nose.
To get Ian down his biggest river to date, Brinn installed a handy (get it?) thwart handle around the middle thwart, and had Ian kneel in the floor directly behind this thwart while holding onto the handle with both hands. We did let Ian sit up on the tube and paddle through some of the smaller rapids, like Dixie Drive and Slingshot, and even at Torpedo, but he went back in the floor for Hell Hole and Powerhouse.
Ian proved to take this promotion quite seriously, and tried hard to be a good listener for the entire trip, but after watching other boats around us, he did pitch a small fit about wanting to ride the bull through rapids. Maybe he’s ready for that step, but considering this was his first time down, my heart wasn’t ready to see that happen. During quite stretches, Ian did tell me several times that this is his favorite river, but I suspect that if you ask him what his favorite part was, I’m pretty certain he would tell you it was the peanut M&M’s that Rachel pulled out at Goforth.
So here’s what you don’t see in the images or the video:
- The scouting trips we did down the Ocoee this summer to ascertain what would be the best lines to take Ian down. We rafted and funyaked the Ocoee (which Brinn already knows like the back of his hand) with new eyes, looking specifically for hazards that could trip up a 45 pound boy.
- The messages back and forth with Wes. Wes helped us make plans and patiently waited on standby for Brinn to decide what would be the best set up to guide Ian down with the most support but the least weight.
- The endless swim practice. Ian worked all summer at the creek and in the pool to practice his white water swim position. He took 3 rounds of swimming classes at the university over the summer to become more comfortable under water. We also took him to Spring Creek repeatedly so that he could practice floating in the current wearing his pfd and helmet. He worked extremely hard on learning his barrel rolls and feet downstream.
- The Nantahala practice. Ian rafted the Nantahala two more times to practice bracing in and listening through Lesser Wesser to prove that he could be a good listener and was tough enough to hang through class IIIs.
- Lots and lots of money on gear. I’m a firm believer that the more comfortable a child is, the better a time he will have. There are some corners you can cut when selecting paddling gear, but with Ian’s safety and body temperature on the line, I’m just not willing to compromise. Since Christmas, we’ve been slowly saving and improving his personal collection of paddling gear a few pieces at a time. Some friends have helped us find great deals on good gear, and we lucked out to find some items through local Facebook groups. Despite the baller prices we happened upon for some items, the cost of gear still adds up and was quite an investment. (Side note, expect to see used youth gear coming up for sale periodically over the next 10 years!)
- And most importantly, the years and years of experience. Brinn has been an Ocoee guide for 19 years now (Holy Moly!). Wes and Rachel have been through multiple swift water rescue courses and Billy and Mrs. Anderson are both accomplished kayakers who make class V look like a leisurely float. I’m good at packing.
Letting Ian jump on the Ocoee means a lot to Brinn and I, not just because Ocoee is the local whitewater Mecca, but because this is where our family began. If not for the Ocoee, Brinn and I would have never met, never married, and certainly never had our junior raft guide in training. Now that Ian can paddle this river with us, our family truly feels complete. For the cycle to come full circle, I’m just waiting for the day when Ian can guide his mom down the Ocoee and become admiral of the navy that helped raise him.