Talkin' trash to the garbage around me.

16 September, 2007

Middle Yough death paddle

I just got back from Western Pennsylvania and a day on the Youghiheny (pronounced YOCK-i-hay-nee, in contravention of conventional English pronunciation) River. The whitewater was less than we hoped for, unfortunately. We had the choice of two runs, the Lower Yough, which is a Class III/IV playland, and the Middle Yough, which was an easy class I/II run. Since it had been awhile since Mark, Mara and I had actually had an opportunity to paddle, we opted for the Middle, thinking that it would at least offer some splashy water and a few playholes for some surfing. We were wrong. Oh my, we were wrong.

We spent the vast majority of the 9 mile run paddling. For the uninitiated, that seems like "Duh, you were in a kayak." But by way of explanation, in a whitewater kayak, you shouldn't have to paddle. The key to kayaking, like dancing and good sex, is the swivel of the hip. Subtle shifts of your weight against the current of the water account for 90% of your maneuverability (and 100% of any on-river carnage, when you plant the wrong edge). Your paddle is used mainly as a brace (like an outrigger on a canoe), a pivot point around which to maneuver, or, lastly, as a means of propulsion to either punch a feature or move away from something which you don't want to find yourself in or against.

But on the Middle Yough, we found ourselves paddling on interminably long stretches of flat water. There were a few riffles in the first mile and half and the last two miles, but the intervening stretch was flat, flat, flat. And into an upstream breeze. Even if there had been some playspots at the bottom of the run (which there weren't), my arms were too noodlely to attempt any upstream paddling, or even to roll if I got myself in a bit of trouble.

So the kayaking was kind of a bust. Later in the afternoon, we hiked in to see a few of the rapids on the Lower Yough. There was nothing particularly scary about them - a lot of technical picking your way from eddy to eddy, but nothing that was out of the range of our abilities, even being a bit out of shape, and there were nice recovery stretches after each rapid to collect your wits and/or boat if you bailed. In retrospect, we should have run the Lower. We would have suffered the indignity of a couple of swims (but we're all between swims on the river), but would have had a lot more fun. So opportunity lost. Next time.

But the weekend was overall a lot of fun. The Ohiopyle Falls race was going on, so we got to see all sorts of idiots experts run the approximately 20-foot waterfall in the center of town (kudos to the guy who ran the falls standing up in an inflatable kayak and stuck the landing). They also had an upstream race where kayakers raced down the class III Entrance rapid on the Lower Yough, then turned around and raced back up the river. Not for me, but entertaining to watch, and the guys who came in first and second were fucking monster upstream paddlers. And, of course, you can't beat sitting around a campfire drinking cheap beer with good friends and sleeping to the sound of the wind in the trees.

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