Pure Screaming Hell
(Where the Hell is that Clam Shell?)

By Ken Gustavsen

Well here I am on my way to West Virginia for a weekend on the water with Pat, Kim and Eric Montagne. A couple of weeks earlier on the ride out to the Stonycreek Rendezvous, Pat had extended the offer to take me down the Upper Yough. For the last two years I had been reading about the stories of the Caballero's and didn't know if I would ever work up to the skill level required to paddle along with them. Once when I was growing up I rode a pony all by myself, so with an air of false confidence I squeaked out, "sure I'd like to go", but I had the feeling this was going to be something entirely different. The plan was to paddle the Upper Yough on Friday, drive back to the campsite at Teeters to relax and celebrate, and then Saturday and Sunday paddle the Cheat, sounded like a good plan to me.

After saying yes to going on this trip I went boating as much as possible, trying to tune up and sharpen the necessary moves. All was going well but I could feel the tension building, it was time for a phone call to Pat. Now that our little talk was over I was doing much better and felt like I was back in the game again. So here we are on our way to the Cheat fest for a blast of a weekend boating and visiting with friends. Friday morning I woke up just laying in bed thinking of the events this day would bring about. After a while I catch Pats eye and give him the thumbs up and a smile. Now Pat thinks I'm smiling because I'm ready and feeling good, but I know I'm smiling because I have just come up with a plan. Plan "A" to be exact is getting out of bed, standing in the doorway of the camper, stretch and yawn then stumble out onto the ground, roll around a bit then mutter something about spraining my ankle. Well standing in the doorway I was greeted by a beautiful blue sky and the soothing music of Muddy Creek behind the camper, and that quick I forgot about my plan. Oh well there should be time for another plan as we weren't going to put on until noon. The rest of the morning was spent eating a delicious breakfast and getting our gear ready, then off to the put in. As we got out of the truck I could see that some folks were grading and smoothing out fresh gravel in the driveway, that's right not a pot-hole or dip to be found anywhere to trip in. There goes another perfectly good sprained ankle opportunity down the drain, so much for plan "B". So we're getting dressed and ready and I'm actually starting to feel good about going down this river, dry throat and all. However I would have felt more relaxed if I had my special, paddling with Pat outfit, that I had put together for just such occasions as this. Basically this is the plastic bubble wrap that's used for shipping fragile items. You wrap it around your helmet, PFD, elbows, knees, pretty much your entire fragile body with a couple of extra wraps around your neck to top it off and you're golden. (Any body that would like to borrow this before going with Pat, just give me a call and I'll be happy to lend it to you.) Regrettably, having so much confidence in the sprained ankle plan, the special outfit was left back at the camper. Well, I guess it was time to cowboy up, good thing I rode that wild pony when I was a boy.

The start of the Upper is right up my alley, a long stretch of flat water to loosen up in and do a couple of rolls. Then some good boogie water to warm up in before the main course starts. Here we are in an eddy before the first big rapid, I can remember thinking, its OK, after all I have confidence in my swimming abilities. (You've heard of Dances with Wolves, well my Eskimo name is swims with seals). Pat gives me a run down of the line and after I grill him a couple of times, off we go. So far so good, made it down that rapid, catch another eddy for more instruction and more grilling, (can't be too careful you know), and off we go and I'm on Pat like stink on sushi. By now I'm trying to bring to mind all the trip reports I had memorized in the last couple of weeks, where is that clamshell tombstone anyway? "Hey Pat, is this the rapid where the tomb stone is"? "No, not yet" comes floating back over the din of the water. More eddies and more instructions, I hear somebody mention Bat cave, "hey Pat, what's Bat cave"? "Is that another name for that clamshell, tombstone"? "No, we're not there yet and off we go. So far, so good, oops, missed a brace and flipped and a roll, don't know where we are but that was pretty exciting. More eddies, (you got to love those eddies) and more instructions, wait a minute, Pat seems more intent here, I think this must be it, THE CLAM SHELL!!!!!! A vision of Tarzan stuck under water in a giant scalloped edged clam shell pops into my head, I just have to know, so for the 4th or 5th time, "HEY PAT is this where that tombstone is"? Above the turbulence his patient voice comes back, "no, I'll tell you when we get near it". I can't help it, my heart rate is up and I'm inspired with plan "C", "HEY PAT I think somehow I sprained my ankle in this boat, too late, Pats off and running, (he says he didn't hear me screeching at him).

You're probably starting to wonder, what kind of a boating article is this? There's no description of the rapids or nothing, just a bunch of thoughts and mushy feelings. Well, you're right and there is a perfectly good reason for that. I don't remember, most of the details of this 1st run are just a blur. It would be nice to tell you the lines at every rapid but I just don't remember. I can tell you every scratch on the back of Pats helmet, but that's about it. I do remember plowing into Mike Shallenberg as he was surfing in a hole that I was just happy to be able to punch through, (sorry Mike). I remember smiling back at people when they looked at me to check on how I was doing, (thanks everyone). I do somewhat recall National Falls and Heinzerling, I had another flip there and a roll as I shot through some sort of a curler, wave, vortex, ramming into a rock kinda thing! I don't know what that was, but it was fun. And finally, I do remember the dreaded clamshell Tombstone, which following a good guide who knows the line turned out not to be so bad. However, if you were on your own and not knowing the line, I can see the very real potential for a lot of pain if you messed it up. The one word that would best describe what this river was for me is, INTENSE, there is a lot going on and you don't have time to let your guard down, even on the easier places. This river requires a lot of focused concentration on exactly were the lines are and where not to go. I remember telling Pat somewhere near the end that I was glad there wasn't another hour of this intensity to have to deal with because my limited powers of concentration was beginning to burn pretty thin. There was some faster that normal heart beating going on and even a little stress now and then, but all and all I had a lot of fun the whole way down and am looking forward to doing it again.

I would like to thank everybody for looking after me that day and also say thanks to our club for the instructional courses that are offered and to the instructors who volunteer their time to help people get started and bring them along. To my buddy Pat, "thanks man for all of your help and the time you have shared to get me going in this boating journey. Well I'm getting mushy again, so back to the river. YES, I SWAM, there I said it. After the intense stretch was over, in some of the boogie water I messed up and had a minor incident and had to bail ship. Also, I'd like to point out that if you don't want to bring attention to yourself, when you get to the take out, don't crawl up the bank ripping up handfuls of grass and throwing them up into the air while rolling around yelling, I'M ALIVE, I'M ALIVE. This will tend to draw quite a crowd, most of whom are pretty good natured and will even offer you a variety of drinks, but some will give you a dirty look and mutter things under their breathe as they walk away.

The rest of the weekend was a blast; the Cheat was a lot of fun, the festival was great and hanging around the campfires with friends in the evening all added to a wonderful weekend. If you haven't been going to the campout weekends, you are missing out on a lot of good times; it's a great chance to get to know everybody. You'll be seeing more of me out there, see you on the water.


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