Whitewater and underwater

Trip Start Mar 23, 2009
Trip End Jul 23, 2009

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Flag of United States  , North Carolina
Thursday, May 7, 2009

So what's to do on your birthday over here? Would you believe we were just a few short miles away from the US National Whitewater Centre - so that's where we went: http://www.usnwc.org/Whitewater-Kayaking.html I thought I would get Betsy to join in some whitewater rafting too. When we arrived we were quite surprised to see so few people, we had a wander round to familiarize ourselves with the layout and check on how scary it all looked. Turns out the facility is sort of two lakes, one at the bottom of the slope where all the water collects and the other at the top where the water is pumped up to, the water then runs down the "professional" rapids on one side and the "practice" rapids on the other. When the kayaks/rafts get down to the lower lake there is a conveyer belt lift to get back up to the top lake and start all over again. To make sure there is something for everyone there is a climbing wall, huge zip line that runs right across that lower lake, bike and walking trails, a bar, restaurant etc. check out the website. Wandering round gave us the opportunity for a few photographs too (fancy that) so no apology for the measly 60 or so on here, some of the rest are on our Picasa site (link at the end of this blog).
Watching a few of the punters on/in the rapids as they ventured down in/on rafts and kayaks gave me the urge to try it all whilst Betsy thought her chances of remaining afloat throughout would be nil. I did offer to go in a different raft to her but I don't think this helped at all. Unfortunately for both of us the zip line was closed for repairs (a bit of welding needed doing). The trails were closed as there had been so much rain over the previous few days they were waterlogged. We wandered over to the kayak booking office to sort out my birthday treat, it seems that I probably wouldn't be satisfied with the "sampler" as instruction was on a 3 to 1 basis and obviously ran at the slowest pace, there were none running that day anyway. I could have an individual lesson but again none available until tomorrow, oh well, my birthday will just have to last another day :) Lesson booked we strolled over to the bar - and we were hungry too, the Carolinas are famous for their barbeque so I opted for the baby back ribs (judging by the size of them it must have been a pretty big baby). Turned out a good choice and if you are ever here I can thoroughly recommend them. Sitting part shade part sun overlooking the rapids there is a waterside stage, this was being set up for the evening entertainment, we were in luck to catch a concert sponsored by Subaru http://www.subaruriverjam.com/  It would have been rude not to have stayed wouldn't it? I was sure that Scoobie sitting in the car park waiting for us would enjoy listening too.
So my birthday day out ended with a bit of a sing song but I had to wait until the next day to get in the water.
And get IN the water I did - eventually! My lesson wasn't until 2:30pm but we arrived in plenty of time just before 1pm. As we parked the car the heavens opened and thunder rattled the sky - I put on my "wet shoes" and as we made a dash across the car park to a shelter we heard a loud siren. It turns out that the pumps hadn't been turned on yet as this storm had been forecast and the siren was from their air static alarm. When there is a build up of static in the atmosphere they can't run the pumps as any lightning hit would do so much damage. It was a shock to see that the top lake was empty and therefore no water was running down the "rapids" - hey, just another picture opportunity. We sat under a shelter and watched the rain for about an hour - eventually it cleared and they got the all clear to start the pumps. There are 7 of these and they are so huge that if they switch them all on at once it takes out all the power in the surrounding area (learnt from the first time they switched on :) So, one at a time back came the supply of water, as it first comes up through the pump it looks brown with the mud that has settled, it doesn't look much better a few minutes later even though all the water is in fact tap water!
OK - I did get my turn, Sam, (obviously the best instructor they have) kitted me out in a very flattering buoyancy aid and vest, as Betsy observed, it looked like I was Les Dawson in drag. It seems that the first lesson in kayaking is how to be upside down, I seemed to practice being upside down in as many different ways as you can imagine. First time Sam was just going to tip me over whilst I hung on to the bit at the front of the spray deck and he would then flip me straight back (he always seemed to have a smile on his face - must have just liked his job?) The next time I was to put my hands on the bottom of the kayak, stay under as long as I was comfortable (comfortable?) then tap when I wanted to come up - well that wasn't long! Up and over again, this time I was to rock backwards so my head touched the back of the top of the kayak, the top now being the bottom as it/we were upside down, I hope you are following this. Finally I was to be turned over yet again this time I would rip off my skirt (oops getting into this drag thing again, I meant spray deck) pop myself out and surface out of the kayak. Well that all done with, we weren't going to waste time trying to perfect any rolling completely over so it was off to paddle away - you will be pleased to know I can now make one of these things go in a straight line - well near as damn it... Sam took me over to play near the pumps - good current being produced here, then it was a short walk down to the rapids. Apparently it isn't too wise to go down the first section from the top lake, even though we were going down the "baby side" as it splits off two ways from the first rapid and many people loose control there and end up going the wrong way, oh well. First off there was no gentle slope to enter the water, so I got in shore side then Sam just sort of tipped me in - I stayed upright. So this was it, all that messing about  upside down may now have to be for real, I made it, the first little "fast" bit then on to the next then a play in the eddies and currents, getting close and paddling back - it all worked. I was now getting a bit too confident and this time Sam didn't have to turn me upside down, I managed that all by myself. Unfortunately all good things must come to an end (why is that?), not only had we run out of time, we were running out of water - they were switching off the pumps (another storm on its way). So, two days at the place where the Olympians train - next time I am sure I will have progressed to the fast side (or is it the far side?)
Even though you can't see my face in the "rough water" shots I didn't employ a stunt double...
Don't forget to check out all the pictures at: http://picasaweb.google.com/on.travels/MyBirthdayTreat
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