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NRG: Sometime Season

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So me and Mr. Mechanically Inclined Boatman A.F. took off west on I-64 out of central VA and rolled out through the hills under a piece of sunshine making the year’s first warm weather pilgrimage to the New River Gorge in West Virginia. We wore mostly dry suits for the chilly water but the days got warm and the nights required little more than a light pullover. The trip unfolded last minute like sort of squeezed down to one weekend between busy schedules--for him between Texas and Austria to work on big diesel engines--for me between here and there to measure things to the hundredth of a foot--and we crashed at Glade Creek Friday night and sipped whiskey--A.F. likes Irish, I prefer Kentucky-ish--beside a small fire listening to the creek’s endless noise on its endless cycle from sky to sea. A. F. is working on weaseling his way into my January solo trip down the Grand Canyon as expedition chef, believing himself to have developed some type of propensity toward the culinary arts of the out-of-doors, so he threw food on the fire all weekend and then threw food at me and I ate some wildly amazing vegetables seared to perfection and various meats wrapped in tortillas with lots of peppers and verde sauce, all washed down with whiskey or growlers of 8 point IPA brewed before Devil’s Backbone up in Nelson County got all bought out by Anheuser-Busch.

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I must here quote America's favorite hedonist, Jim Harrison, who writes: "Small portions are for small and inactive people." Anyhoo: some people can throw anything into the fire and it pops out like a culinary masterpiece. And then there's me and my need for a chef. So but anyway he’s doing a pretty good job weaseling, though I've got to say, despite my love of Jim Harrison, it's all starting to make me feel like an overweight epicurean at some sort of mock trial.

The river stirred and swelled giant and uncoiling out beyond the glow of the fire and we knew the water was turning from green to brown and we knew rain was happening somewhere and coming our way and we knew the water level was rising. The Virginias are apparently stuck under some weird circulating alien eyeball and we’ll be getting rained on until June. So they say anyway: those experts in the know. (Some get fire; some get rain.) The Fayette Station gauge read 2.8 feet, some thirty five miles and two days away. But by the time we paddled up to the bridge on Sunday afternoon, the gauge read 7 feet. We were anticipating quite the ride and our spirits went up with the water.

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The New River is another one of those rivers we consider a backyard run, by the by, falling, as it does, into the concentric circle of the three hour drive. Come summer, when the air gets hot and the waters get low, we run to the New River at the drop of a hat. Anything goes wrong: fight with the wife, bad day at work, car accident, hangnail, anything at all, we head to the gorge. The NRG, as it’s often known, offers up that heavy, folding water feel with pulsing waves and high eddy lines that billow like blankets and then the sudden whirlpools out of nowhere that stop time,

so to speak.

At the same time, there is nothing mean about the gradient or the boulder placement and while the drops in the lower gorge are big and intoxicating, they are for the most part harmless. The sandy beaches invite camping, the plentiful driftwood makes for big easy fires and near constant grazing on experimental cooking, and the smallmouth bass border on legendary. The gorge is a classic east coast canoe trip.

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Typically a hammock sleeper, I broke from my usual swinging bed and slept on the ground, experimenting with Therm-a-Rest’s winter pad: the NeoAir. A.F. is a firm believer in the Paco Pad--the big one that's like a foot thick--but then, he oars a 14 foot Aire and has plenty-o-room. (Most open canoeists have a justifiable aversion to canoe trekking in really big water, so I end up paddling with the folks who oar. They tend to like multiple days on the water and they tend to like it really big. Flipping size queens.)

Mr. Mechanically Inclined Chef Boyardee also broke his back some years ago and therefore has the scoop on sleeping comfortably on the ground. On the second night the Neo was sinking flat and I left the tarp open just a little too high and it rained all night. Like Noah’s Ark flooding all night. I was sleeping pretty deep down dreaming of the New and wishing I had a Paco so I wouldn’t have to wake up if the river washed me away, or rather that alien eyeball got too close, so rather than reconfigure my tarp I scooted as far to the low side as I could and let the rain blow in on my back.

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It’s not a huge river by any means, I must have dreamt while rain pelted me, some 320 miles from the southern Virginia border to Gauley Bridge, WV, where it meets the Gauley and forms the Kanawha. It drains roughly 3000 square miles of Virginia--about 7% of the state--and another 1600 square miles in West Virginia. And despite the half dozen dams that kill the river at various places along its course, rain in seemingly disparate locales tends to bring the levels up rather quickly, such that rare is the year when there is no water in the NRG.

I rolled over at least once and saw A.F.’s bumbling headlamp bouncing around in the rain down on the beach double checking the boats. I’ve only been flooded off a beach once and it won’t happen again, so I wasn’t much worried about my canoe.

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The New River Gorge National designation begins in the small, dirty little town of Hinton, WV, a mile or so below Bluestone Dam, and flows north up through some typical West Virginia deciduous rain forest over delightful class II rapids while the river cuts deeper into the mountains--cuts diagonally, which is kind of odd and leads some to believe the New predates the Appalachians (which would, incidentally, make the New River old indeed, as the Appalachians are considered by some to be one of the oldest ranges in the world)--and the greenery rises ruggedly around you and the rapids grow ominously larger. From Hinton to Gauley Bridge is about 66 miles. Abandoned mining communities from the late 19th early 20th century coal boom pepper the gorge and offer some historical insights for those willing to do a little scrambling and exploration. At one time there were thirty towns pumping coal and money out of the New River Gorge. Today, only a few remain, and none of them produce coal.

Anyway, to shorten an already lengthy, pointless, rain and sassafras and ginseng soaked ramble, Mr. Mechanically Inclined Boatman A.F. and I had quite the time navigating some slightly tumultuous water and paddling up some slightly amplified waves and scrambling to miss some slightly intensified holes, but for the most part the whole trip was uneventful. Sort of typical West Virginia ish. We sailed through in sort of a mad grin of a rush and spoke briefly of efficient engines and the pattern of a river, as if hoping for or digging out or smashing down the great symbolic machinery of the experts to find the great thing at our feet yawning in the display of its own commanding presence. But at least my suspicions were once again affirmed: there is really nothing like gliding downhill in an open canoe.

Nothing.

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Oh, hell yes!....but seriously, now your slumming with oar boats haha Good Grief, sharing the river with Paco Pad Pilots? :- )

I'm a hardcore; born again, resent convert hammocker :- )

I've got a Hennessy double bottom 'Deep Jungle' XL. What else would you use in the desert? haha
I like the double bottom, makes it easy to use a cut to fit closed cell pad. I've slept down to 30° in hammock bliss. I subbed the big hex tarp when I bought it and it makes an awsome solo camp.

Only problem is waking up early. I bolt upright at 0515/0530 everyday, boots on the floor and ready for the day. Out soloing I wake up 0730 or eightish. I have to set my watch if I want a early start :- )

I'm dangerously close to to being a hammock snob :- )
 
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Thanks all for the reads. But shame on you for wasting such valuable time reading trashy drivel! For certain edification and amusement, you should be reading up on the American political scene.

As for slumming with the oaries, Jag, you're right! What the hell am I doing? Sleeping on the ground in the rain with Paco Pilots? I'm losing my mind.

(By the by: I'm a hammock snob myself. Though I'm trying to find my ground system for the GC, as I'm not certain they'll be enough resources for a hammock.)
 
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Excellent read, I really enjoy your style. From my limited exposure to American politics, I can safely conclude that none of the candidates could string together words as well as yourself. Skwid for Pres!
 
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Hammock on the GC is no bueno' for the most part. The wife and I put our two Paco's under the floor of our free standing tent, makes the mattress, protects the tent floor and keeps it up off the wet ground. Speaking of tents, those that have a lot of bug net in the tent body with a fly over it let in a LOT of sand when the wind blows across the beaches you'll be camping on :- )

Going solo in a canoe, I would probably use one of our Paco's under a bivy or solo tent and store the Paco under an air bag. Most nights you don't need overnight shelter anyway, even in the winter. We take a small freestanding 2 man tent on group trips, for privacy as much as anything and it's nice when the wind is kicking up the sand. When I go dutch I sleep on my cataraft.

Lots of folks like Rolo-Cots in warm weather but you would need a close cell pad to stay warm in tbe winter.

One of these GC trips I'm going to run Lava on my Paco pad fish-eyeing a GoPro :- ) Was going to do it last trip but the TL got a little wiggy about it haha
 
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