Endless River Adventures pledged support to the newly formed Augusta, GA chapter of Team River Runner. After some initial gestures of support, ERA finally got to have a hands-on weekend with the group kayaking the Tuckasegee River and rafting the Nantahala River. When the TRR-Augusta chapter arrived at ERA they were ready to do some whitewater boating! And we were psyched to help make that happen.
The newly formed chapter has hit the pool hard this year with Thursday night boat ball and rolling sessions. So everyone of the thirteen that arrived Saturday had been in boats and had the paddling fever. A mix of vets and volunteers, this group was made up of experienced kayakers, one fly fishermen and a whole bunch of enthusiastic newbies.
For most of the group of new inductees into the sport of kayaking, this was to be the first time on actual whitewater. All but Ryan were experienced wet exiters (and it took Ryan one dunking to gain his wet exit badge—and we think he was down scouting out the fish for some fly fishing later on!) so we made a bee line to the river.
To make sure everyone had fun, the option of first trip down the river being done in a ducky was available—and more than a few took us up on the option. Loaded with high performance inflatable kayaks, hard boats, and some personal boats (including Wayne’s vintage Overflow) the ERA van headed to the Tuckasegee.
Team River Runner (TRR), was established by kayakers in the Washington, DC, area. It is an all-volunteer operation. TRR helps recuperating veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars find health, healing, and new challenges through whitewater boating. In working with group leader Eric Gray, one of the goals we decided on for the day was to help coach the volunteers on the responsibilities of being out on the river with vets. The Augusta Chapter volunteers have already spent time with amputees, soldiers with TBI (traumatic brain injury), and forms of paralysis. So helping the volunteers—many whom have never really “run” kayak trips, work through the responsibilities of being on the river is really important.
What was great with our group was that many of them were beginners, so they were experiencing first-hand what goes on once you make the transition from the swimming pool to moving water. In the first rapid we had boats missing their ferry moves, not going exactly where they needed to be going, and spacing issues—all important issues to deal with when working with a group. So the day was great hands-on experience for down the line. And it was a real pleasure paddling with volunteers Eric, Wayne, Doc, Sue Ellen and our own Sara—all whom helped keep everyone together on the river and made sure to share their own technique advice with the new paddlers.
After an awesome afternoon on the river, the group headed back to the Gorge for some r&r before tackling the Nantahala River the following morning. Our own Sarge led the rafts, duckys and fellow kayakers down the river; and as a vet himself, he was a great inspiration to the group on how much fun the river can be.
Of course the number one priority for the weekend was to make sure everyone had fun so they want to do it again!! Feedback from the group was:
The weekend was fantastic thanks to you and ERA. Although it didn’t turn out as originally conceived, it was wonderful. Everyone left wanting more. Super Dave kept repeating how he was going to brag to his fellow patients and rub it in what they missed. Teia, a therapist, is totally committed to spreading the word to the VA patients, and is excited about sending her own kids to your kayak camp. Dave, the bus driver, is a vet and runs the recreation rehab portion of the VA (works with Eric). On the way home, we spoke at lengths about how to promote the program. Hopefully the spark will catch. The lady who was active duty Navy is thoroughly stoked and plans on spreading the word. Wayne, Doc, and Eric kept talking about how over the top ERA is and how extraordinary you are. Everyone had nothing but praise for you, Sarge, and Sara. I just hope that their enthusiasm spreads.
As the group headed back to Augusta with their new sore kayak muscles, Smiley nose clips and great stories, we here at ERA were already trying to figure out when we could get them back again. In the meantime, thanks to Sara and Pat King, we have a great collection of photos from the weekend.