southern rivers whitewater Tuckaseegee River

Hitting an eddy at Railroad Rapid on the Tuckaseegee

My First Encounter with The Power Of Water

I signed up for a whitewater kayaking pool course at the local YMCA in the winter of 1981.  The course covered the basics of boat control and eskimo rolling over the course of several weeks.  The course included an optional river trip in the spring to put our new found skills to the test.

In the pool, we learned how to go in circles (easy) how to go sideways, how to stay upright and how to go straight (definitely not easy).  While the pool sessions were certainly fun, I wasn’t yet convinced kayaking was something I’d be doing regularly.

When spring rolled into Connecticut’s Housatonic River Valley, our enthusiastic band of soon-to-be whitewater kayakers headed north to run the Gaylordsville section of the “Housi”.   After a safety briefing and a little stroke review in a flatwater section of river, we headed downstream.   The first “big” drop is under the Gaylordsville Bridge, it’s an easy Class 1 rapid about 150 feet long.  A couple of instructors lead the way and waited for the students at the bottom to “pick up the pieces”.

And there were pieces.  I entered the drop full of excitement and a little bit of apprehension.  Bouncing over the first few waves, things were going great. I felt in control and was completely enjoying the exhilaration that comes from being the captain of my own ship in the middle of the chaos that is The Rapid.

As  the bottom of the drop was in sight and being confident of my first successful descent of a whitewater rapid I chose to exhibit that universally recognized gesture of triumph, hands held high, head tilted skywards and chest thrust out along with some sort of exultation.  Lesson #1 The river will provide immediate feedback to the cocky and inattentive.

There is something about being suddenly and unexpectedly upside down, underwater in a cold river, “locked” inside a kayak, that completely eliminates rational thought.  I had successfully rolled in the pool and knew there was no real reason I couldn’t do it just as well in the river but that didn’t even come close to happening.  GET AIR!, was the only message my brain stem could muster.  If I came out of the boat, I knew I should hold onto my paddle, go to the end of my kayak and swim it to shore.  That didn’t happen.  I abandoned all my equipment and swam for the riverbank.

I was hooked.  I had a couple more out-of-boat experiences during the day but was completely drawn in by the sense of calm control in the midst of a chaotic environment, by the unique perspective it gave of the river I had driven past hundreds of times without recognizing it’s amazing beauty, of the camaraderie that quickly developed amongst the group sharing this incredible experience and by the sense of satisfaction of having successfully pushed my limits.

Little did I know that first pool session would have lead to discovering the Power Of Water in Belize, The Grand Canyon, Ireland, Wales, dozens of areas along both edges of the continent and hundreds of rivers and lakes in between.  I can’t wait to see what The Power Of Water has to show me next!

Scott Fairty