Tallulah Dreaming

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The Tallulah River near Clayton, Georgia is a classic in the Southeast paddling scene. This river is an excellent one for many reasons… proximity to Atlanta and Greenville, easy access via a massive metal staircase, five weekends a year of predictable flows released by the dam, beautiful class IV-V whitewater, and now a great festival during the spring releases.

I was fortunate to get down to the Tallulah last weekend for two days of paddling and one night of… err festivaling.  It was awesome.  I saw so many faces that I haven’t been able to catch up with through the winter, and the weather and water could not have been better.

For those of you who are not familiar with the Tallulah, its marquee feature is a rapid by the name of Oceana.  It is a beast of a rapid, dropping 50 feet down a giant slide, with the majority of the water piling against a rock shelf to create a phenomenon affectionately referred to as “The Thing.”  This shelf explodes whitewater 15 feet into the air, and reminds any prospective paddler that this is not a rapid to be trifled with.  Hitting The Thing would almost certainly result in leg and ankle injury, and there have historically been two lines: one down the center, and one down the far left.

Last fall, Pat Keller pioneered a new line from left to right, crossing right in front of The Thing, and skipping into the built-up pool above it like a jet ski.  Check out Pat’s line here:

ProLines from Isaac Levinson on Vimeo.

This line was on my mind for a few weeks before the Tallulah release, but as many kayakers know, just because Pat can do something does not mean that you can.  Upon reaching that rapid, I scoped out the line for the better part of an hour before finally deciding that I was ready to go for it.  Fortunately for me, there happened to be a 50+ person peanut gallery to witness the carnage should I come up short and crash into The Thing!

I came out of the eddy with my hair on fire and drove hard right over the first exploding wave.  From that point onward, I was running by feel, not able to see anything at all.  I felt my boat gain speed at an alarming rate, and took a stroke when I thought I would be hitting the dangerous lateral that could throw you off line.  Fortunately the timing worked, and before I knew it, my Dagger Nomad was skipping safely through the eddy to the right of The Thing, and flying off the last part of the drop in the center of the river.

As I landed, I smiled and looked around in celebration, but was immediately slapped back into the safe but powerful hole at the bottom, and beaten for a good 20 seconds!

The river will never cease to humble you, even in your most confident moments.  That line made my day, and I bombed down the rest of the river, across the lake, and jogged back up to my car at the putin still riding that buzz.

I love kayaking.

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