Sarah Finding Fit

An unconventional look at fitness... my journey in reaching goals, laughing and having a bunch of outstanding adventures.

Posts tagged gauley river

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Fearless Friday: Adventures of a Lifetime

Do one thing every day that scares you.

The other night at Crossfit we started talking about rafting… excited at the promise of returning to the river, it drew me back to our battle with the Gauley. 

 “People have died out here!”

My brother turned and gave me a look of terror. I’d known full well what we were getting into, but he, on the other hand was just along for the ride. Now, fully suited up in slimy wetsuits, stinky PFD’s and brightly colored helmets we bumped along in an old yellow school bus on the way to the river… the sun hadn’t even crested the trees, but the chaco-clad bus driver navigated hairpin turns as we twisted our way deeper and deeper into the wild and wonderful mountains. Our overly hyper and uber-inappropriate and rugged 35 year old rafting guide threw out the phrases: “Swim for your life,” “Ball Up Til’ Ya’ Pop Up” and “Rocks are Bad!” His barked instructions were serious but also played into our fears.

 It was October 2009… I’d been determined to escape the city and tackle bucket list item 22: Rafting class V+ rapids. Gauley season promised adventure so I’d enlisted my brother and my friend Vice to join the fun. After a long drive, were in the middle of nowhere West Virginia (cue banjos), knee deep in the trip of a lifetime.

We’d arrived the night before and awoke at 4AM to a dark and dull fog in the mountains. We meandered out of our A-frame cabin to a set of picnic tables under a tent. It was too early to focus, but as novice rafters, we hung on every word of instructions as we huddled under gas heaters for warmth. Shit, it was cold. A small pit of nervous excitement started to grow in my stomach. What had we gotten ourselves into?

When we finally hit the river’s edge, we split into boats and took to the icy water. I landed in the front… my brother directly behind me, Vice across from me. We perfected paddling on a few small rapids and then… we approached our first Class V.  Our guide calmly explained that if we fell out we need to swim for our life to the left and to keep padding, no matter what. WHAT? The water roared… pure power. In a matter of seconds, we were sucked into the current. A tidal wave crashed over the boat, we bumped up against a rock that jutted out, nearly 20ft high, sucking water down under it and spinning us like a toy top. Every muscle tensed, I could feel myself gripping the boat and my paddle with every inch of my body! Paddle, breath, paddle… then silence and flat water and a surge of adrenaline. There is nothing that compares to realizing how powerless and small you are when compared to the forces of nature. 

From Pillow Rock to Pure Screaming Hell we snaked our way over 40 rapids down the Gauley. The upper Gauley is rated #2 in America and #7 in the world when it comes to steep-churning-white-water. To some, it’s considered the best rafting on the east coast, to us, who didn’t know better, it was just one hell of a ride. The 11 miles of river had us on a white knuckle trip over 6 class V rapids and a 14-foot waterfall. Seriously.

At one point, our raft guide asked if we wanted to go cliff jumping. We came all this way and we were already wearing wet suits in icy water…why wouldn’t we also want to jump off a cliff? “Leave your helmets in the boat…” were parting words as we exited the raft and climbed a small section of rocks along the canyon walls. I couldn’t imagine we’d jump more than a few feet, but as my brother hit the top he looked back at me and chuckled, “hahaha, holy shit! betcha won’t jump!” We’d climbed nearly 3 stories… I could hear him scream then splash, then nothing. I put my toes on the jagged edge, my brother looked like a dot treading water below. My turn, no turning back, there was nothing to do but take a deep breath and jump! I hit the water with a slap, my ears popped… it felt like it took minutes to swim back to the surface. Then an awkward frogger-style doggy paddle back to the safety of the raft and the rush of the rapids.

During the trip we were the only boat to stay upright. At one point our instructor even tried to flip us but I think half out of fear and half out of determination, we were dead set on staying in…

As we loaded our exhausted butts back onto the bus at the end of the day, I realized that it’d been a day of firsts: I’d peed in a wet suit, I’d jumped off a cliff, I’d floated over a waterfall and most important, I’d officially rafted the Gauley during Gauley Season! Gauley white water rafting is a badge of accomplishment you earn, and then crave… an experience that you remember forever. In fact, my family still shouts “rocks are bad” when life throws us a curve ball… and when I glace at the bright gold driftwood (aka “shining pop” looking) frame on my shelf with the above picture of us in the water, I giggle to myself as I think about pulling on wet suits and our late night arrival to the middle of nowhere. An escapade like none other.

This Friday, my brother and I embark on another adventure – 8 laps around the track in a NASCAR.  We may not be Carl Edwards or Jeff Gordon and this may not be as much about finding fit (although contrary to popular belief race car drivers are phenomenal athletes) as it is about doing something outside of our comfort zone… trying something that we wouldn’t normally do, testing the edge, crossing something off the bucket list. Flying around an oval at high speeds? Yes, I think tomorrow promises to be another Fearless Friday…

Filed under white water rafting Fearless Fridays fear family race cars Gauley Season gauley river