Butterflies began to fill my stomach. I’m chewing the nails on my right hand that are already way too short from the fidgety energy that fuels me. The motion of the Toyota Tacoma filled with our boats, paddles, and gear jerks me around the cramped back seat. I’m somewhat nervous, the type of nervous every boater feels before putting on the water. We’ve been en route to the river for the better part of 45 minutes when finally we start descending into the Youghiogheny River Gorge.
Jess is in the front seat, and our good friend Jess Hartmann is driving. We are in Maryland, just over the Pennsylvania border. The weather is cool and damp, a typical spring in the Mid-Atlantic. For a kayaker, you couldn’t ask for better weather. Any river or creek we wanted to run was running. Our sights were set on the Top Yough though, the section of the Youghiogheny River directly above the famous Upper Yough. Jess hadn’t been in her boat for months. She was skeptical when agreeing to tackle a continuous class IV run. Though I knew she was apprehensive I tried joking around to lighten the mood.
Our plan was to meet one of Jess H’s friends at the takeout using his car to help with shuttle, and paddle down together. “Easy enough…” I thought. Wrong. There is always a challenge when you have multiple parties meeting at the river. How do we want to sort boats, whose car will be at the bottom, whose schedule am I on, where will my dry clothes be for afterwards? All of these are question stoked kayakers don’t want to have to answer. Pulling into the gravel lot, cars were lightly scattered, the rain was slightly misting as we greeted the other member of the party. Frantically, he was pacing back and forth expressing to us how late we were and why he thinks he shouldn’t make the trip down the river. “My wife will be waiting for me, we are supposed to work out together at 6 and it’s already 4:45pm!” I was so confused. What’s up with this guy? His convoluted panic was making me edgy.
Jess looked at me, I looked at her. I could see the nervous energy crawling on her as plans began to take form. “Here’s what we are going to do” Jess H said. “Adam you go with Mark, go a little faster so he can be with his wife by 6, and I’ll take Jess down, break down each rapid so she can relax a little.” Mark looked at me and said “go down this run with somebody I’ve never met?” I looked at him, somewhat offended. We were clearly on this guy’s schedule and I wasn’t particularly fond of it. I wasn’t keen on separating from Jess either, especially because she was so worked up.
Reluctantly I agreed. We all piled in the truck again, adding Mark and his gear to the cramped mix. Leaving his car at the bottom meant he could bolt just as soon as he got off the water. I was really unhappy with the rushing. I waited all day to go boating; I certainly didn’t want to be rushed. I pictured catching all of the eddies, diligently picking my way through the rapids.
We finally made it to the put-in. Just as quickly as I could step foot out of the truck, Mark was already dashing to the river with his boat. “What the hell” I thought, looking at Jess, making sure she was comfortable. I trusted Jess H and knew he’d safely get Jess down the run, but it went against what I thought was right.
I grabbed my boat and paddle and went chasing behind Mark. He was already sitting in the water when I reached the shore. I quickly ratcheted into my boat and pulled the front of my skirt around the gunnel. We were off. The only thing he said to me was “there’s a big slide first into a huge hole, some class III boogie, and then some more big boulders and holes.”
“Right on,” I said, peeling out of the first eddy. Just like that we took off. I was amazed, having never met anybody in such a rush on the water. He remained at least 50 yards in front of me the entire run. I could see him paddling like a mad man. I efficiently used the features to keep up, but refused to paddle that fast. After the big slide, I could only think of Jess and the expression on her face as she peered into the huge hole below. I was confident she’d make the right choice and Jess H would have her back.
Just as fast as we had put on, we were done. The run took only 35 minutes to straight line at race speed. Leaping from his boat, dashing up the bank, and slipping twice, Mark was done! I followed of course. I stashed my boat under some decorative Junipers and hopped into his car to go back to the top. The tires squealed as we raced out of the gravel lot. I said to him “Boy! You must really love your wife!” He just glared at me. The ride back to the top was quiet and awkward. The kayaking was awesome, but the company, no so awesome. When we reached Jess H’s truck I hopped out and Mark said, “Later, got to go.” I tipped my helmet his way, and took a huge sigh of relief. “Wow!” I muttered, shaking off his stale attitude.
Still slightly concerned, I thought of all of the potential hazard spots I saw on the run, and Jess out there paddling nervously through it. I felt dumb separating from the group. It’s not like I would have been able to control her boat if I was there anyway, so I convinced myself to relax. I pulled into the takeout parking lot excited to greet both Jess and Jess H there, but they weren’t there… My heart sank as I raced to the water’s edge. They didn’t come and they didn’t come as I paced back and forth. You can imagine what kind of thoughts went through my head. Finally, I saw the glimmer of Jess’s shiny gold helmet bobbing around the bend. I could see her white teeth through her smile; the overwhelming feeling of relief left me feeling like a puddle of water on the side of the trail. “I only flipped over three times,” she said to me. I glanced over to Jess H, he said, “Yeah she did awesome. How was your run?” I responded with a big smile and that’s all.
Happy to be reacquainted with my people, I proudly skipped back up to the truck with them by my side. Jess H asked if I was interested in taking another lap, I instantly said yes. “Perhaps we try to enjoy the scenery though?” I asked jokingly. He just shrugged, aware that I was troubled with my first paddling partner and the situation. Jess said, “I’ll run your shuttle” with a big grin.
I suppose in every situation that life throws at you, you’ll need to make sacrifices. In adventure sports the group dynamic is ever changing. Having the ability to adapt and act rationally when things get stressful will separate a good time from a bad time. Even though the added stress from the shuttle situation made the nervous tension slightly more intense, I was very proud that as a group we got through it in one piece and didn’t let Mark’s agenda ruin our trip.
Overall you couldn’t ask for a better run. Huge slide, tight technical boulder gardens, and big holes are a kayaker’s dream. I asked Jess how she felt after the Top Yough run and she simply replied, “Stressed but empowered.” It won’t be the first time I’m on somebody else’s schedule and it definitely won’t be the last. Just know, nobody will ruin my ability to have a good time on the water, even if I do have to go at mach speed.
– Adam R.