Essay By Darcy Gaechter
It didn’t feel like there was a global pandemic raging as we pulled into the Tail Waters launch site — the put-in for the Upper Gauley River in West Virginia. As many kayakers and rafters gathered there that day as on any given Fall weekend for the last ten years.
What was different was that all of our friends wore masks while we shuttled, and donned them once again as they went into the bathroom at the put-in. No camping was allowed at the Tail Waters site either, due to COVID-19 — a far cry from a normal Gauley Season release, and certainly from the traditional raging Gauley Fest fundraiser for American Whitewater.
Postage Due Rock or Covid-19 Rock?
For the young raft guides who were enjoying a day off of work and partying on top of Postage Due Rock below Sweets Falls, it was business as usual. The 30-plus people packed onto a rock roughly 20×30 feet definitely went against social distancing guidelines, and passing the joint and sharing that can of beer wasn’t exactly keeping germs to oneself. But, then again, maybe these folks are all part of the same germ bubble and so it was okay.
For me, the 24-hour drive across the country to the Gauley River was a kind of escape. I’ve been strictly following social distancing and stay-at-home orders for the past seven months. I still haven’t eaten out, not even for take-out, and my exposure to the outside world has been minimal. My decision to head to the Gauley was fueled by pent up wanderlust angst, a deep need to go kayaking, and the perhaps foolish belief that I could be safe and self-contained in my van.
On the river, in a kayak, social distancing is easy. I surf my wave, you wait your turn. We run the rapids nicely spaced out. To breath in the fresh air, feel the warm water of Summersville Lake splash my face, watch the leaves turn color, and wave at friends from all over the country from six feet apart, brought me a tiny sense of normalcy that I’ve found nowhere else for the better part of 2020.
It’s easy to believe that life as we know it will never be the same again. The pandemic, the political atmosphere, extreme climate events from out of control wildfires in the west to flooding and numerous tropical storms in the east, combined with the global pandemic make the apocalypse seem all too real. But when I launch my kayak, all that fades away. The river grounds me. This is my normal, and it felt so good to bathe in it if only for a weekend.
—Editor’s note: Darcy Gaechter is the author of recently released “Amazon Woman” and co-owner of Small World Adventures, a kayak outfitter that runs trips all over the world, especially in Ecuador. Reach her at email@example.com, 970-309-8913
More Gauley Stories
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- Sounds the Trumpets: It’s Gauley Season!
- Support American Whitewater: Gauley, Feather Fest Ring in Fall for River Runners