Fear is exhausting. Fear is exhausting. Fear is exhausting…Today my hands look like they were taken out of a blender. They are huge and purple with nicks and bruises all over. My upper body was pummeled by oars, frame, etc and is pretty sore too.
Swimming Double Drop, an 18-footer on the Green Truss, took some energy out of me. The real reason I’m exhausted right now… is because I was absolutely terrified for nearly six hours yesterday. That’s right, we did a five mile trip in six hours, less than one mile an hour.
Rowing the Truss, realistically, is a horrible idea. But, once you’ve lowered your raft, frame, and oars roughly 100 feet down a cliff, you’re pretty well committed. And that’s where I and about two-dozen other people found themselves yesterday morning. Most of them were kayaking, but we had a few R2 boats, my oar boat, and 2 cat boats. Before yesterday, I’ve heard that the Truss had been rowed once before and had been written off as a really bad idea.
Why’s it a bad idea?
For one, it’s really steep, about 180 feet per mile in the first half. I know what you’re thinking, there are a LOT of rivers and creeks that are rafted that push 200 feet per mile or even more. Well, the Truss is not what I would call “continuous”, it’s pool drop, and as most of you probably know, there is a huge difference between pool/drop 180 per mile and continuous 180 per mile. Pretty much, if the river isn’t dropping here, it’s dropping more somewhere else. Thus, we have Big Brother, a 25’ waterfall to worry about, Little Bro (another 15’), Double Drop (18’ two-tiered”), BZ (15’), and a handful of other no-name drops that would be considered STUPID STUPID STUPID rapids elsewhere.
I had calmed my nerves after pushing off from the bank for the first time. But, in the first rapid, a narrow shoot dropping maybe 8 feet, my left oar caught the bank and shattered mid shaft. Gone. As I struggled to grab the spare, the next drop came closer and closer and closer, a BIG drop, maybe 10 feet, was pulling my boat downstream into certain gnar. Thankfully, I was surrounded by a few kayakers who wedged my boat into a little micro eddy. I got the spare out (my only spare) and we continued on our way. This was at mile 0.2.
We ran Meat Ball and Bob’s Falls without problems and then got to Big Brother. A heinous portage and about an hour later, we had gone 1 mile. We ran Little Brother and then came around the corner to Double Drop. A HUGE drop, it’s a two-tiered waterfall that is too difficult to scout with a massive hole in the first drop. Some kayakers ran through first and then climbed up to say “good to go”. I pushed off the lip with the thought… I’ll get to the lip and throw the oars forward, reach back and grab my seat, hope to get through the hole and be straight for the second drop. Well, it’s exactly what my boat did, but not my body. Pretty much I was going 50 miles an hour over a massive drop, hit the hole, the boat stopped instantly and my body shot off the front of the boat, clearing the second drop. I was under water for a micro-second and traveled about 20 feet. Lucky I didn’t break my neck. The boat came through no problem and I climbed back in.
Next up was one of the cats. It flipped in the bottom drop and swimmer and boat got to shore before the 8-footer just down stream. Then we headed downstream.
The most significant rapid (in terms of holy sh** this is scary) is a rapid called Lower Zig Zag. It’s scary because of wood. There is wood everywhere and a must-make-or-you-will-hate-life move above the scariest piece of wood I’ve ever seen. You’re also walled-in at this point, and portaging a raft is out of the question. With this in mind, you can almost imagine why I became frightened when, while passing under a log, my left oar jammed and broke at the wrap about half a mile above Zig Zag. Shelly Becker, one of the cat boaters, offered me her spare. It was 9.5 feet long, about the length of my entire boat, and 1.5 feet longer than my right oar. With no option of hiking out, I looked like a circus going down the river… my left oar sticking way out in contrast to the short stubby thing in my right hand.
A long story short… We all made the move and from here out it was a sprint to take out. I ghost boated BZ because I was absolutely beat. Got to the take out after putting on six hours prior.
It was a heinous trip. Kyle Smith, a friend of mine who guides on the Kern, was R2ing and we both agreed that it was the scariest bit of rafting we’ve ever done.
Nevertheless, I’m glad we did it. I will never row a piece of whitewater like I did yesterday. It will be something to remember and something to be proud of, but not something I will ever do again. I discovered yesterday that I don’t like fear. I don’t like HAVING to run something stupid to get downstream. I don’t like dropping off blindly, breaking oars, and boating defensively. Normally I have confidence when I’m on a river. Yesterday I had none.
I imagine that some will question my judgment in even attempting this stupid trip. Rightfully so, I probably shouldn’t have even tried rowing the Truss. I R2’d it last year and enjoyed the run. Time does strange things to a boater. Memory shrinks the size of waterfalls, the narrowness and speed of a rapid. About a month ago I woke up and thought “I’m going to row the Truss this year.” It was stuck in my head and I knew that with the right support of kayakers and boating friends it would be doable. The flow was right, the group was right, and the day felt good.
I’m not sure it could have ended any better anyway. As brutal as it was, no one was seriously hurt and we ran just about everything. I sure would like to have my two oars back, but thankfully Shelly had a spare to lend. It figures that I wait until the Truss to have my first-ever and second-ever broken oar.
Here’s a short video of our run. Like most videos, it doesn’t do any justice: