I visited the New River Gorge in West Virginia for the first time in the fall of 2004. I fell in love instantly. Six months later I moved into a climber's only campground on the rim of the gorge and started work as a rock climbing guide. I made life long friends, I met my wife, Harriet, got married, and we had our daughter, all in the great state of West Virginia.
It is a special place. A place that features prominently in ARC's history as well. Bob Taylor, ARC owner, was canoeing in the gorge in the 70's, taking his family, working as a video boater, paddling whitewater and introducing his children to the Wild and Wonderful. He's been making trips ever since.
Last weekend, my family and I headed home to those country roads. We packed for 4 days of fun, friends and family. The truck was loaded with a Bic Sport 11'4" Dura Tec SUP, Jackson Kayak Coosa, Blue Hole Prowler Canoe, Wave Sport Project 45 Kayak and my daughter's Strider Bike.
My wife hit the Lower New on our first morning in WV. I ran shuttle with my daughter so Harriet could get her whitewater fix. She plans on writing a blog post about her weekend. Here is a shot of my wife and the girls at Cunard. Not a bad job, driving these lovely ladies around.
In the New River Gorge region you have world- class whitewater, rock climbing, mountain biking, trail running, etc. It is a true recreational heaven. For my wife and I, who lived there for 15 and 7 years a piece, it is a beloved place. After Harriet went kayaking, I took a spin around the Endless Wall Trail, so I could soak up the gorge panorama.
We spent the next morning running at Kaymoor on an old familiar loop down into the gorge. My wife and I took turns, each visiting with friends who live on the edge of the National Park, as the other ran.
That afternoon we hit Summersville Lake for canoeing, kayak fishing, swimming and climbing. Harriet and our friend, Julie, paddled the canoe with our daughter in the boat. Our friend Colleen paddled out in her Pyranha Burn kayak and I took the fishing kayak. We headed for a favorite swimming and deep water soloing spot. I paddled up to the cliff and thought, "how many times has someone rock climbed out of a Jackson Kayak Coosa?"
On the paddle back, my daughter dropped her hat into the lake. I spun my kayak around and started paddling back for it. The powerboat wake caused the twill hat to take in water and I thought I saw it starting to sink. I put blade to water and sped over to the hat. As I reached over the side of the kayak, I realized my seat was in the 'High' position. Normally, this would be no big deal, but my seat does not have the new re-enforced front legs and it slipped off the high groove. As it dropped, and my weight shifted quickly, I felt the edge catch on the hull. SWOOP! I was up-ended. Yard Sale!
I flipped the kayak over, slung my camera dry box back in the boat and looked around. My 3 fishing rods and hawg trough measuring board were sinking. I dove down, kicking frantically to catch my gear, to no avail. I still had my PFD on. I always wear it when taking pictures for work. I watched as my gear drifted down into the deepest part of the lake.
When I climbed back into the kayak, I realized I had never let go of my daughter's hat. It was still clenched in my fist from that moment I flipped. I heard her frantically calling, "daddy, daddy, daddy!" I paddled over and handed it to her. She smiled and in a softer tone, spoke my name one more time, "daddeee." The girls in the canoe paddled towards the car as I sat collecting myself, but I could see my daughter looking back, making sure I was ok.
When we got into the car, my wife commended me on how well I had handled the loss of my 3 fishing rods, and the shot to my ego. I have REALLY grown to love fishing, and I REALLY hate looking silly. But I told her, when I looked into my little girl's face, I saw a big smile. I saw a daughter who had just witnessed her daddy rescue her special summer hat, not a goof ball who just flipped his kayak. I realized that I will always, irregardless of injury or personal loss, sacrifice it all, to be my daughter's hero.
Yea, flipping your kayak is rather embarrassing, but it didn't matter.
You can get more fishing rods, but you cannot get back more time. I have a notoriously bad temper, a trait I have worked to remedy most my life. I have lost moments to that anger. I could have gotten upset about the rods and ruined the rest of the afternoon. I could have brooded into the night and ruined the awesome dinner we had at one of the many amazing restaurants in Fayetteville. I didn't. I didn't lose that time. I celebrated it, despite the mishap and I am better for it.
After Harriet got back from paddling, my friend Kenny and I headed to the Meadow River for some fishing. He had an extra pole I could use. :) Kenny is co-owner of the famed climbing/outdoor shop, Water Stone Outdoors. I worked there for the 7+ years I was in WV. Great shop and great people.
After driving down the gravel road that parallels the river, we got to his spot and found it crowded with summer swimmers and rope swingers. We started hiking down the road. After some time talking, we bushwhacked down a steep slope and found a spot between a couple of rapids and started casting lines. We had some hits, but nothing hooked.
It didn't matter.
The scenery was beautiful and the company was great.
That has been the glory of West Virginia in my life. I knew it the moment I stepped out of the car in 2004, on that first visit. Something in the air told me this place was different. I grew up a military kid. The government and my parents always picked the towns to which we would move. West Virginia was the first state, and Fayetteville was the first town, that I ever picked to call home. For the first time I felt a kinship to the people, an appreciation for a culture and a reverence for the land, of a place. Place, it is so paramount to many people's lives. I never understood that feeling until I moved to West Virginia, the one state that holds it's "local" title very seriously. I was married in WV and my daughter was born in WV. I want her to know this place.
Ultimately, my fishing trips were a big bust. I lost my fishing rods and didn't catch a single fish.
It didn't matter.
I was surrounded by family and friends, in that sacred place where my life changed, enjoying every moment.
I have spent more time amidst the grand jungle of West Virginia's New River Gorge, contemplating life's lessons, than anywhere else in this world. Something about that prehistoric canyon, with it's high rock walls and thundering river, seems to quiet my soul. Every time I enter the jungle canopy that permeates the Tri-Gorge Region (New River Gorge, Meadow River Gorge, Gauley River Gorge), I feel nostalgic for the memories made and the ones to come. I'm starting those new ones now.
Every moment lived is deposited into the memory bank. I want my account to be full of family, friends and fun when I close it out. And for those of us with children, we are responsible for setting up their account and making those first deposits. Those memories, and the subsequent lessons inherent in them, are the most important inheritance we have to offer.