Just before the alarm went off on Saturday (4 a.m.) Sadie stood up in the bed ready to go. I had laid out all the camping/fishing gear Friday night in the dining room so I could quickly pack the truck. We did our normal routine of me pouring coffee and then hooking up her leash to go for our morning walk then hitting the shower. But, after that she stood in the middle of the dining room floor looking perplexed as I ran in and out of the house packing the truck. At one point she went and stood at the door like “I’m ready to go and you’re taking me with you.”
“I’m not ready for you yet.” I told her. I still had to load the coolers and the fishing gear.
Finally ready I let her out and opened the door to the truck and said, “Up-hup” which, I always say when I want her to jump into the truck. It was 5 by the time we got on the road but we still pulled into Nantahala Outdoor Center by 9. As we walked around I saw that they were hosting the U.S. Open Kayak Slalom event that weekend. I have no idea how I lucked out in showing up that weekend but I planned on watching a lot of it in between heading up river to fly fish.
Sadie and I went back to the truck so I could replenish my cup of coffee and headed up to the event start. As we were walking I ran right into my former kayaking instructor, Juliet (actual name). Memories came flooding back of us on the Ocoee River -her pulling me out of an undercurrent and saving my life. I was so in love with her then. Even though this was almost ten years ago she still remembered me and we said “Hi.” She was one of the judges for the event. She said, “Who’s this?” and reached down and petted Sadie.
We chatted a bit more but I took off before she could ask me if/why I ever/never kayaked again after that time on the Ocoee. Despite feeling a bit of nostalgia over those times on the river I didn’t miss it. I didn’t miss the stress of wondering if I was going to get through that class III, IV or V rapid without flipping, hitting my head on a rock or even worse, drowning. No, my time on the river these days is much more relaxing. Standing in no more than waist-high water, tying on a nymph, casting out and watching it float on down hoping for a hit. Yes, my whitewater days were over.
(Juliet – left, Me – right taken on the upper Ocoee River the day prior to my epic swim and hanging up my paddle for good)
When the event started, I saw the first two competitors flip and have to be fished out by a rope. I was glad I wasn’t the only one [historically] who had to be fished out below that rapid. In my better kayaking days I could only get through that particular one 50% of the time. I even remember Juliet coaching me through it. Us in the micro eddie just above and her saying “Now just ride the tongue of it and soon as you get over brace hard on your right side.” No matter how you rode it the current always grabbed the back of your boat sending it vertical and if the brace was missed you flipped having only seconds to catch your role before the side of your helmet would crash into a rock just under the surface downstream. Yeah, fun times. I was suddenly glad I was only a spectator but had immense respect for the male and female competitors in the event.
After watching the first run, Sadie and I went upriver to fly fish. (Well, she slept in the truck while I fished. It was decided very soon that she in fact didn’t have any interest in water.) I parked along the river and walked out. I had tied on a dry fly and as soon as I got out into the river I got a hit, but, nothing else the rest of the afternoon. The other fishermen I spoke to were not getting anything, either. Maybe it was too late in the day. Sadie and I went back to the kayaking event, watched it until the end and went and found a campsite.
As we pulled up to Turkey Creek a big dog ran out barking. Apparently, we had a greeting committee. I opened the door and let Sadie out and she became immediate friends with the big dog whose name escapes me. The owner walked out and said, “I’m sorry I meant to keep him in. He tends to scare people.” I nodded to Sadie and him starting to play and said, “Not her. He’s made a new friend.”
“You’ve been here before, haven’t you?”
“Yes, but it’s been about ten years since I’ve been up this way.”
“I knew I remembered you. Well, choose any site you want.”
I drove down, choosing a site away from everyone else and parked. I pulled the coolers out of the back of the truck, opened a chair and sat down to finish my book with a beer while Sadie ran around the campsite like a little lunatic with her squeak toy in her mouth. We went to bed early that night with both of us curled up on an air mattress in the back of my suv. We were woken up by pouring rain and thunder in the middle of the night but we both just rolled over and went back to sleep – the rain on the roof lulling us back to sleep.
The next morning was cold and wet. I packed up the truck and made coffee while Sadie, again, ran around the campground like a lunatic. We headed out early to fish the river but like the day before there was no action. We went back and watched the kayak semi-finals (and after reading this article today I realized that I petted the No 1 women’s chocolate lab who had ran up to play with Sadie.)
At lunch I ate at the café that was on the river and drank a lovely Breckenridge Vanilla Porter before heading back out to watch the finals.
I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend and I think Sadie did, too.