The water picks up speed as I enter the narrow channel that marks the entrance to the right side line of Shurform rapid. I’m running right down the center of the channel. away from the curler that lurks just to my left, hoping to catch an unsuspecting paddler and send them down the center of the blocky slide.
Past the curler I paddle hard left and punch my bow up and over the enormous reactionary pillow piling up on the rocks on the left edge of the channel. Misjudging the speed of the water, I’ve broken left a little too late and pass by the rocks a few feet farther right than I would have chosen. Paddling hard, I try to run the slide angled to the left in order to avoid the huge rooster tail that rises up dramatically from the center at the bottom.
It doesn’t work out all that well as the water shallows out and catches my bow, spinning my wayward boat to run the last quarter of the slide backwards. After a moments panic, I settle down as my boat seems to know where to go and its a fairly smooth ride. I slide neatly into the slot just to the left of the rooster tail, pass easily through the seething crevice, get pushed right and take up residence in the sticky hole below the rooster tail. It looks like I may be staying a while.
I had a few concerns coming into this Moosefest. My roll had gotten sloppy and I had wanted to tune it up at the pool prior to jumping on the Moose. An ill advised raft trip down the lower Lehigh Gorge disrupted those plans and I was heading north without brushing up on this vital skill. On the ride up, I kept reminding myself that in six years of paddling, I could count my swims on the fingers of one hand and despite paddling some fairly difficult rivers, I hadn’t been in the water for over a year. All of my swims have been the result of circumstance. Either stuck in a hole, having my knee pop out from the thigh brace or being pinned against a rock. I have never missed a combat roll. So I manage to convince myself that I’ll be fine and my roll will be there when it really matters.
I’m also worried about the trim of my boat. I had been pushed around a bit on the big water Gauley release a few weeks previously. A few people had recommended moving my seat forward as a way of countering bow drift. I had followed that advice and relocated the seat perhaps 2″ toward the bow but had not had a chance to verify the results. I really didn’t know how the boat would react to my meddling and maybe the bottom Moose wasn’t the optimum setting for a test drive.
Down Fowlersville, through the funnel, knifes edge, double drop and over Agers I am thrilled with the boat. Its punching everything without getting blown off line. After a quick stop below Agers to sample the chili provided free by NRS, we put on again. Shurform looms just ahead
Its not really a bad hole as holes go, pretty gentle really. I’m stuck behind the rooster tail and what little water coming over the top crashes down on top of my boat and feeds into the center of the hole. The main difficulty is the two strong tongues of water that are formed as the current splits around whatever rock is creating the big plume of water immediate;y upstream of where I sit in my hapless craft. Both tongues curl around the rock and feed back into the shallow hole.
I try paddling forward, pulling hard on my downstream blade and trying to draw myself out. I’m not going anywhere, I don’t think I’ve moved even a foot. I try going backward but again cannot move as the eddy lines on either end of my boat push me back to the middle. I bounce around for a while, leaning into the foam pile to my right.
Steve comes down, having run the drop perfectly despite using hand paddles and recognizing my predicament starts to paddle back upstream to try and rope me out. A minute or two later and I’m still stuck. I’m getting really tired of this. I can’t spin or even try to ender out as its pretty shallow here and I could be in for a beating if I flip.
Eventually though I kind of give up and let my boat slide a little further under the water coming over the rooster tail. Immediately I’m upside down, my head scraping and banging on the rocks below. I have no idea where I am as I try to roll up. It doesn’t work, I totally miss it and out of breath from fighting the hole, I reach for the grab loop.
Not a bad swim really. I’d already run the main drop and am swimming the shallow runout below. I still have my boat and paddle as I get to the right shore where Steve waits, shoving his throw rope back into the bag. I had flipped and was out of both my boat and the hole before he had time to use it. I drain the boat, climb back in and head towards Powerline.
Nothing to worry about here although Powerline is a little bigger than I’m used to seeing. The river is at 3.8′ today and I’ve only paddled at levels just above 3′. The wave train is big but we pound down through it and past the pourover at the bottom. Next up is Crystal.
Steve asks if I’d like to scout. He doesn’t need to, having made countless runs on the bottom Moose. He tells me that he paddled at the first Moosefest and every one of the eighteen after that. I know the line through Crystal pretty well and tell him a scout isn’t necessary.
I run it first, lining up just to the left of the large rock in the center and continuing down to the 1st little 5′ ledge drop. I don’t pick up much speed and kind of plug in after the second ledge and am pushed backwards against the rock. Not a problem though, I simply push off and back into the main current screaming down towards the final 14′ ledge.
It looks pretty big down there with a huge standing wave guarding the top of the drop. I quickly decide to eschew the standard left line and turn to run the right side race line. Its really bumpy over there at low water but everything is well padded today. I crash over the wave, wash a tad to my left and then turn to run the drop on the right.
Its pretty scary as I drop onto a boiling mass of frothing water. There are all kinds of rocks below there but my boats rides up and over everything. Down I go, bouncing up, down, left and right in the midst of the confusion. Sometimes I just hang on, having pointed my boat in the right direction. there is little I can do to control it in this mess.
I come through cleanly, down through the main drop, over a couple of big standing waves below and out into the main channel. I don’t know what causes me to flip in the squirrely water but over I go. No big deal, I am through the drop.
I set up for my roll and miss it. I set up again and miss a second time. I tell myself to relax and take my time as I set up for the third attempt. But I can’t seem to bend well enough to reach the surface with my paddle and the boat is sill bouncing around quite a bit. I wait patiently until it feels right, but it never does. My head and shoulder slam into a rock and I’ve had enough. Out I go.
By the time I leave my boat I am through the channel and into the lake above the dam at Magilla. Its really embarrassing and I’m quite a bit disgusted with myself. At least Steve and I were among the first paddlers on the river and there aren’t a bunch of fellow paddlers to witness my ineptitude.
Steve comes along, tows my boat to shore then goes off to run Magilla. I am left to backstroke across the lake to the takeout, climbing out of the water while being watched by two of the locals who had come to witness the carnage. It is not my finest hour.
The next morning we are at it again. I take a few practice rolls above Fowlersville and come up each time. Its really sloppy though, While I have never had what could be described as text book form, I am completely out of sync now. My left hand never comes to my chin, my hip snap isn’t great and I just kind of pull down on the paddle instead of sweeping it. In short, I’m not doing anything right but it seems to be working.
Coming to the top of Fowlersville I paddle hard to my left in an attempt to reach the boof ledge over there. I don’t quite make it but do manage to start down the slide slightly sideways. I scrape my paddle hard on the shallow slide as I work to get straightened out before I slam into the hole at the bottom, but I come in slightly angled and flip.To my great relief, I roll up easily. It looks like today will be a better day as we head off downstream.
My boat punches easily through the hole at the top of funnel. Moving the seat forward has made a dramatic improvement in the way the boat tracks through waves. I’m really happy with it and we pass through funnel and head towards knifes edge
Ahead, the river splits around a large island and knife’s edge sits in the right hand channel. Normally I run hard right, turn left and drop over a small ledge then paddle across the mank before turning back to the right and finishing the drop by running through a surging slot.
Steve asks if I have ever run the boof line. I have not but tell him I am willing to give it a shot. To run the boof, you must stay hard right and ride the Knifes Edge, a narrow ledge of rock extending from the slab of bedrock at the side of the channel. The current drops off the left side of the ledge into a nasty, narrow little slot on the left. The object is to ride the ledge to the end before boofing off to land 10′ below at the mouth of the slot.
Steve goes first and,of course, nails the line as I follow. I think Iv’e got it made but slide a little to the left and off the ledge slightly early. Its a good boof though. I come down in the slot really flat and think I’ve got it made. But the water is super aerated and my 90 gal boat just sinks taking my with it. Down I go, my head completely disappearing beneath the foam as I am swallowed whole in the slot. Everything is white as my boat claws its way back to the surface. I think its all OK until I flip.
Not a problem. I’ve rolled up below knifes edge before. I set up and miss. Take some time and miss again. I’ve drifted across to the rocks on the left as I set up again. I’m not even coming close and my rolls are getting worse instead of better. I miss for the 3rd time and I’m out of the boat again.
Steve waits yet again as I get back into my boat. I know that he is in a hurry so that he can spend some time with his family and I am slowing him down. This is getting tedious.
I am really concerned as we run Double drop and Agers. I don’t want to be upside down in between the drops at double drop and while Agers is relatively benign for an 18′ falls, the runout is shallow and a swim there could be nasty. I manage to stay upright through them both.
Here comes Shurform, the start of my swimming lesson from the day before. Not so today, I’ve already gotten todays swim under my belt so I run it cleanly. Not so at Powerline.
Steve runs first as we pound our way just a little right on the first set of waves and then down the middle on the second set. Its really a lot of fun as I love big wave trains. I’m not sure exactly what causes me a problem. Once again I am through the biggest part of the drop when I am suddenly upside down.
I try to set up but my head and shoulders are taking quite a beating in the shallow water. Downstream, the river gets nastier, battering its way towards Crystal through a jumble of jagged rocks. I really don’t want to swim there.
I miss a hasty roll and set up again. but I keep hitting rocks and can’t maintain my set up position. I’m a mess and pull my skirt for the 4th time this weekend. Luckily I’ve drifted off to my left and out of the main current so I can hod onto both my boat and paddle as I make my way to shore. Steve follows and empties my boat as I catch my breath.
Crystal is next but in my head is a picture of me flipping after the 2nd ledge, missing my roll, and being swept down the race line upside down. I think of getting battered against the rock below the drop and being pinned or paralyzed. My confidence is shot. I walk the drop.
That how my weekend ends. Steve waiting for me as I drag my boat through the woods to the parking lot in front of all of the other boaters. Its a really bad feeling and I am quite subdued as I change. I’m sure that Steve will really think twice before paddling with me again. It is without a doubt the worst experience that I have ever had on a river, especially one that I have paddled numerous times before. Time to get back into the pool.