By Brian Lucas
This one is for Penelope – rest in peace!
“I don’t think people would climb mountains or jump off bridges with parachutes or kayak Class V rapids if those things didn’t offer the brief and horrible illusion of imminent death. They would just be complicated, time-consuming endeavors that we’d steer well clear of because they got in the way of real life.” – Sebastian Junger
One way of improving your mental agility is to play sports. For example, if you don’t anticipate where a fly ball is going, you’ll never catch the baseball. Or in this case, if you are not properly prepared AND think quickly as you are kayaking you can get into trouble. So here is a bit of a different slant on agile – my kayaking excursion with a little morality lesson built in. Successful agile thinking is actually a blend of preparation and quick thinking and acting on the spot.
Many people familiar with the sluggish Lehigh River around Easton and Bethlehem don’t know it has two Class III whitewater sections. The Lehigh is actually a superior whitewater river to the Delaware as far as I am concerned. So when my friend Joe invited me on a whitewater excursion while back, I couldn’t refuse. The plan was to drive up on a Friday night after work and stay at an Inn at Hickory Run in order to get an early start on Saturday morning in time to catch a dam release. The Inn was a beautiful stone lodge in the Poconos and has fireplaces and whirlpool tubs in every room.
The Inn was just completed in August, 2005 by engineering graduates from Lehigh University. For power, it used a 6.6 kilowatt wind turbine. It had a charming rustic exterior of stone and an interior that takes advantage of various woods like oak, maple and cherry to give the rooms their names.
Unfortunately, these plans collided with the directing debut of a friend of mine and I decided it was more important to support her efforts Friday evening. It was an easy choice for me because of my upbringing. My parents taught me at an early age that I should never abandon a friend in need, no matter what the circumstance, inconvenience or difficulty and they lived that example.
I remember when I was in the second grade and was playing with a neighboring child after school at my house. Just when we started a game of cops and robbers, my best friend came by with his dad and wanted to know if I wanted to go with them to McDonald’s. I said sure, of course (going to McDonald’s for a shake was a treat back then when you were in second grade. I asked the friend I was playing with if he wanted to go and he scuffed his foot and said no. So I said bye and off I went.
When I got back later my mom explained to me that my first friend did not have the money to go and was embarrassed. She said that he felt hurt that he was abandoned so she took the time out to play with him and give him some cookies and milk. She didn’t accuse me of doing anything wrong, she just explained the situation and lessened my ignorance. It was a lesson that stuck! So I went to my friend’s debut and she did a wonderful job and even went out afterwards to buy the cast a round of drinks, but I had to leave early since I was getting up at 3:30 AM to drive up to meet my friends.
I was out the door by 4:15 AM and I met my friends, Joe and Rick at the lodge for coffee at 5:30 AM. They of course bragged about the great time they had last night and the sumptuous breakfast they had of Canadian bacon, thick French toast and apple dumplings for dessert. I, of course, only got coffee since they wanted to get on the road, quel dommage!
Our plans were to catch a dam release and run the 9 miles between White Haven on route 80 down to Rockport. Joe was the leader and had mapped out the run and went over it with us carefully several times over the past month. We were using Dagger Mamba 8.1 Creekers which is a top-of-the-line, nimble whitewater Kayak. They only weigh about 50 pounds and are made of high-density polyethylene plastic. Best of all they have nicely padded seats and adjustable back bands. I was using Joe’s wife’s Kayak. Fortunately, it did not have a sign saying Joe’s wife decaled on it.
We got to the White Haven put in and got in line. Let me say this about whitewater kayaking, even a calm run can be dangerous and you need to use the right equipment and get instruction. I had done quite a bit of kayaking during my backpacking days and am a strong swimmer. Still, I would not do this with having experienced kayakers along.
Since it was a release weekend it was a bit crowded, but we were starting early and beat the real crowd. The access was by a dirt road behind the White Haven shopping center parking lot. The rangers gave us only a cursory check since we obviously knew what we were doing and we got through the line quickly.
So off we went with Joe in the lead, me following (with an empty stomach) and Rick following behind. The idea was to put the person with the weakest skills in the middle. Pride goeth before a fall or in this case drowning so I didn’t squawk. We paddled around a bit, mostly so I could get the feel of my kayak and then headed for the first rapids called the initiation.
These are actually several small rapids and a great way to tune up for a run. The first is right at the railroad bridge crossing. There is a neat, small surfing wave just below initiation. Trying to catch a wave, while running downstream, is actually tricky. You have to know where and how to enter it with the appropriate amount of force. As you approach the wave, you must slow down to the ambient speed of the river or you slip right through the wave. You have to turn upstream just before you get to the wave and paddle hard. It’s an acquired skill.
The next stretch, called Tannery, had numerous rocks. There was a kayak slot on the right side of the left hand ledge, but the water was too low to try it. So we just followed the main current. The end of the rapid had some nice standing waves in the middle of the river. On the heels of Tannery was Tripledrop, a Class III where a large island divided the river and punched up some zippy Class II riffles on the right. I didn’t do a lot of talking here just a lot of wooing. In the middle of the run past the island, there was a drop of about 1 foot. That made me glad I didn’t have breakfast. Following the island, was a stretch of calming flat-water that gave my muscles a welcomed chance to rest.
The next trick the river had was called Z. Z had a large square rock on the river called a Peculator that creates a hole capable of flipping rafts. I avoided this, though Joe ran it. Rick by previous agreement would always follow me. After Z, the river gets shallow for a stretch as you approach the next trick at Lunch Rock. We all stayed in the center right and moved to the center as we passed the rock. There were strong eddy lines at the rock on our right. No Way was next where the river bent left. We followed a chute down the left side to where it is blocked by a series of rocks across the river. This were a maze of rocks to thread here, but fortunately not a lot of current.
Next came Eddy Turn Rock. It has a huge rock sticking out from the right hand shore and there are eddy’s before and behind the rock, hence the name. Below was a small riffle followed by the Staircase, which was a jumbled series of rocks that dropped off. Below this was Broken Canoe, three large rocks across the river. By this time, I was getting sick of rocks and more than a bit hungry.
The Ledges came next which are tiny, but river wide and indicate the start of this Class II section. Joe did some side-surfing, that I was not going to try it. There were a large set of rocks with a good surfing wave right next to a sizable eddy. Mud Run immediately followed, with a set of small waves and holes. Second chance followed this and if I was already wet, this one soaked me thoroughly as I got into a bit of trouble, but extricated myself before Rick had to rescue me. I beached for a second, to catch my wind, and that was the second accident of the day. As I was getting out of the kayak, a rusty piece of iron I took for a twig in the water gashed my thigh. Oh great!
I grabbed the first aid kit, wiped it with an alcohol pad and wrapped some waterproof tape around it. I figured it was nothing that a healthy dose of Balvenie Doublewood on the rocks wouldn’t cure later on. I finished just in time to wave off Joe and Rick and got back into my kayak. Now we encountered a set of Class II riffles called Moe, Larry and Curly. I love it when people with a sense of humor name things. Then Wilhoyt’s popup with its large flipper rock smack dab in the middle of a narrow section of the river. Below Wilhoyts was a long fast water stretch followed by Scott’s hole.
We exited at the Rockport takeout just about an hour and a half after starting. Rick had parked his truck to take us all back to the Inn. After stowing all the gear, we all grabbed a quick shower and a change of clothes. I was of course famished, but I had a little surprise for everyone. Instead of eating at the Inn, I suggested we go to a park and do a little cookout. Joe and Rick grumbled a bit because they didn’t want to run around shopping.
I told them no problem I had jerky and a can of beans in the truck. After cajoling them into going we all pulled up at the nearest park with benches and grills. I proceeded to unload the thick cut slab bacon, organic, cage free, omega fortified eggs, and sundry items, I had brought along as a surprise.
I grilled the bacon, which was cut in ½” thick slabs, basting them with a sweet onion, butter and a bourbon sauce I had previously prepared. A porcelain coffee pot of fresh ground Sumatra coffee with a splash of bourbon, just to stay in theme, was added to the grill along with an iron skillet to fry the eggs in a bit of bacon drippings. Yes, guilty as charged of unhealthy eating, but the flavor was so to die for. Some oat-rye pan bread followed the eggs and the feast began. Yes, I brought enough food and shared it as my mother taught me even though they didn’t wait breakfast for me.
After enjoying a final cup of coffee and cigars (they were my specially treated ones that Joe and Rick adore) Joe and Rick both said I was a very fine fellow and much too generous. Not wanting to start an argument, I agreed with them.