There’s nothing like a PFD, and there’s so many of them near you..

There’s nothing quite like getting a PFD – or personal first descent.  What’s around the corner? What are these rapids I’ve heard about really like?  How long will it take?  So many questions pop up in your mind and you find yourself focusing more on every eddy, every bend as you really don’t know what’s around the corner no matter how many times you read the guidebook!  For most paddlers those PFD will the next rung up the ladder… or the next level of difficulty you are up to.   But what about when you’ve ‘tapped out’ the top end runs, do you have to pack up and move?





















No – you don’t have to move, you just have to keep exploring.  Here in Rock Island, I moved here having already run the Gauley, Russel Fork and Green so i was so fixated by class 5’s that I skipped over class 4’s in the area and moved through the 4-5 nearby

fast before settling in on a few favorites.    No 15 years later, I’m re-discovering some of these less-travelled paths and branching out to explore the runs so many of my friends talked up ages ago.  The result?  Some of my best days of paddling in years.   Recent trips to forgotten runs like Big Brush Creek, Little Brush Creek, and Bee Creek reminded me of how fun rivers can be even without a ‘big drop’ for the cameras.  There’s something special about NOT knowing every move on the river.. and not knowing the rapid order by heart.  Every eddy becomes more important, every horizon line full of wonder.  You river-signal your crew constantly, eddy-hopping and revolving the scouts downriver as a team instead of a train of solos.  You have to think to set safety, and scout so much more in detail not knowing where the rocks are.. or where the next eddy will be.  And without a Facebook page or double digit comment section on AW you have to plan for the unexpected, as that tornado or ice storm last month could send you hiking out where you least desire it.  It’s a different level of commitment and preparation when you have to plan for the unexpected.


Take that to the next level by choosing a PFD – something you’ve never run – and making sure everyone else is having a PFD as well –  now you’re onto something!    While I really enjoyed following Jim Janney and Nate Helms on Crooked Fork and Little Clear Creek,  in a way I cheated myself of a grand opportunity to ‘discover’ the river on my own.  They knew the eddies to scout from already and bombed into horizon lines and sharp bends… I was following paddlers rather than reading a river.    It it was a great time on new rapids but lacked the ‘sense of discovery’ that’s so hard to find these days when you’ve been paddling the same area for years.    So yesterday Stephen Wright and I took a new kayaker down the Piney river on Spring City TN.  We found a major Google Maps error that cost us an hour, lost another hour to the 13 mile shuttle (that was much faster on a scooter),  but were stoked to find fresh rapids with all new lines that were ours to make, and that elusive sense of the unknown that makes every bend or horizon line a mental workout of eddy catching, scouting, and signaling to each other where the clear path lies.

bee creek - more scouts than miles

bee creek – more scouts than miles

So the next time it rains and you’re deciding which of your favorite runs you’re gonna hit – or who you are gonna call to take you down what – step back and consider finding a PFD that you and your friends can call your own.  Do your own homework on the maps for gradient, hike out options and shuttle; get an early start, and just EXPLORE your way down a river on it’s own terms.    I think you’ll find it’s the very best way to have a great experience you’ll remember for years to come on the multitude of rivers in any area.  Not only that, you’ll gain the skills to continue this exploration anywhere in the world whether someone else has been there or not.

Happy venturing!  Clay Wright


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