Knees Bent, Eyes Open

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I don’t get to paddle enough. Basically, my paddling consists of loading my kids on the front of my SUP and floating down the French Broad through downtown Asheville. My life could be worse. But when a chance to paddle a two-day stretch of the Toccoa in North Georgia came up, I jumped on it, throwing my SUP on top of the car and filling the cooler full of local beer before heading south. The trip happened to coincide with the bottle release of Freak of Nature from Wicked Weed. If you haven’t had Wicked Weed’s Freak, it’s a double IPA that packs a punch at 8% ABV. That’s pretty standard for a double IPA, but the problem is, all that booze is hidden under tropical fruit notes and hop zest. In other words, Freak is a sneaky son of a bitch. The beer has put me under the table more times than I’d like to count. It’s like Jager shots—one minute you’re fine, the next minute you’re out in the street with your shirt off asking strangers if they want to compete in a foot race. True story.

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So yeah, I packed a bunch of Freak for the paddle trip. But I’m a professional, so I separated the heavy stuff like Freak and Wicked Weed’s regular IPA, Pernicious, into a separate cooler and loaded another cooler with river-friendly session beers like Oskar Blues’ Pinner and Pisgah Pale. Safety first.

It’s a good thing I kept the boozy stuff in reserve, too, because the Toccoa is a bony river and it took all of my synapses firing to keep from killing myself. It’s not a tough stretch of water by any means—there’s one really long class II that runs right below an A.T.  suspension bridge—otherwise it’s just class I interspersed with long, deep pools. But it was shallow as hell, so I’d be paddling along fine and dandy and then my fin would hit a rock, slamming the breaks on the SUP and sending me forward into the water. I spent the entire six hours on the first day with my knees bent and eyes wide open, just waiting for disaster to strike.

It was still the best paddling I’ve done in God knows how long. My buddies even caught some fish. And then that night, while camping next to the river, we knocked out a handful of Freaks and set large piles of wood on fire. If that’s not just about the perfect day, then I give up.

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