I’ve always been a flat water paddler, but knew I needed basic whitewater skills to deal with a number of rivers and water trails I may be interested in. After a search of the American Canoe Assoc. instructor directory, I contacted quite a few, but only found one ready to help me when our schedules suited. I arrived in his area this week, which is also near where my daughter and grandkids live. Today I was able to take advantage of the opportunity for personal instruction from Vernon Graham, from near Boiling Springs, PA. We used three whitewater boats, Vernon in one as instructor, Howard Davis in a second as support, and myself in the third. We used Yellow Breeches, a local Class I+ stream. We put in next to a covered wooden bridge at Messiah College, but the bridge was torn apart for renovation, so not up to a picture. I had never used a round-bottomed whitewater boat with a lot of rocker before, nor spent a lot of time paddling on my knees. It was quite tippy for a while, but I started to get settled in. We worked on identifying water features, such as strainers, overhanging banks, rocks, trees, and other obstructions, how to set up to make various approaches for rapids and bends, ferrying, and cutting in and out of eddies. I had two problems.
My legs went totally dead. I had no feeling or use of anything below the knees. By the time we stopped for a break, I found myself unable to get out of the boat without help. Part of this is not being experienced with this technique, and part is my age. My legs don’t like me kneeling on a flat floor, let alone strapped across a saddle in a moving, confining boat. The circulation returned to the legs during our snack break, and then we headed on down river. Vern presented more and more challenges as we progressed, and I was beginning to think, “Man, I’m going to get to go home in dry clothes.” The last section was a series of steps, or dammed segments with openings at staggered locations across the stream. The assignment was to shoot one opening, cut into the eddy, ferry across until upstream of the next opening, spin and run it, and so on. I was feeling pretty good, and we were within a hundred yards of our take out and our vehicles. I leaned upstream, when I should have been leaning downstream, and there wasn’t even time to be surprised. I went from upright to upside down before I knew what was happening. I held onto the canoe, but Howard had to retrieve my paddle, which had made its escape. My legs were dead again, so I had a problem controlling myself in the water without the benefit of my legs. Yellow Breeches is shallow, and my then moss-green trousers proved that I had polished most of the rocks in the river bottom with my knees and butt before I got things under control, and managed to get the boat to the shore where Vern helped me bail and dump the water sloshing between the floatation bags. By the time we had the boat ready, my circulation returned again, and I climbed back in for the last little run and cut into the eddy along the shore.
It was a great new experience, and Vern is a skilled instructor who is able to patiently critique and inform. After corresponding with him by phone and e.mail for months, it was great to finally meet Vern and Howard and spend the time with them.