by Alyssa Taylor

Looking out over the rocks and seeing Bull’s Sluice, knowing that in a few moments I’d be riding down that far right tongue was a nail-biting experience for me. What was even more thrilling was the rush I got as I entered the eddy right before the Bull. Having made it in by a hair, I was already a little shaken. When my group leader (my dad) exited the eddy, I followed with sweaty palms. Paddling over that rushing current and feeling my whole boat take off through the air and land, a smile of victory swept across my face. I’d finally done it. I’d just run the Bull. My name’s Alyssa Taylor, I’m fourteen, and this is my story:

Almost five years ago, my dad discovered kayaking and set off to learn everything he could about the sport. At the time I was nine. My dad was involved in many things–from work, to kayaking, to my brother’s Boy Scout troop and I’d been trying to figure out something we could do together.   I decided to start kayaking, not knowing how far I’d end up in the sport. It was worth giving it a try.

The first time I ever sat in a kayak, I was in a red Jackson Fun 1.5 feeling very awkward in our community lake. After a few months of playing around on easier rivers like the Tuckasegee and Lower Green, my dad took me to the Dan River. The day was going well until one of the last bends on the river. Having bad eyesight, I didn’t see the strainer in the middle of one of the wave trains. I got caught on it, I couldn’t see my dad anywhere, and I thought I was going to be in trouble. Flipping over, I landed on the back of my boat, upside down in about ten inches of water. Wiggling around was no use. Opening my eyes, I began thinking about every negative thought imaginable: What if no one got to me in time? What if I drowned?…..   I lost the last bit of air I’d been holding when my dad flipped me back up.  I think I was screaming.  I grabbed onto my dad and refused to do anything else that day. I’d only been trapped for seconds, but it was long enough to scare me into leaving the water for a while.

After that I was very cautious around water.  My dad knew if I was ever going to become comfortable with kayaking again, he needed to get me to people who could help me get over my fear. Several of his friends recommended a small shop on the Nantahala called Endless River Adventures (ERA). After doing some research, my dad called and made me a one-on-one PI (Personal Instruction) day with Juliet Kastorff.

We spent a few hours on the lake and when we were through, I remember begging Juliet to let me call my dad.  I was devastated to realize he was off kayaking with his friends. I left him a voicemail that he has kept to this day, describing all of my success. After that, we went to the Tuck through Town [Bryson City]. The very first rapid scared me so much, Juliet agreed to let me hold onto her boat as we went through the waves. After that, it seemed like a huge barrier had been lifted off my shoulders, and I was ready for anything she threw my way. I remember Juliet working me until I was sore, but at the end of the day, I couldn’t stop talking about everything I’d accomplished that day, and I begged my dad to let me go back!

Since that day, I’ve progressed so much in this sport. Many people who have known me since I started don’t recognize the kayaker I am today. Because of every day of instruction, time at Kids Camp, and each visit to ERA, I’ve improved on so many levels. I can’t imagine where I’d be right now if I’d never met the ERA crew. They’re like my family and I know they really care for me, like they do for each person who walks through their doors. They help you in so many ways, and are inspiring to each customer. (In fact, I don’t think the ERA staff considers those who visit them to be customers, but fellow paddlers just trying to enjoy another day on the river.)  The staff does everything they can to help everyone out, and I owe every single one of them a lot. Without them (and a whole community of kayakers that have supported me), I could’ve never run Bull’s Sluice on the Chattooga, or Bayless Boof on the Upper Green, or Lost Guide on the Pigeon, or even Nantahala Falls. Thank you everyone for giving me the support I needed, and thanks for seeing me through. Love, Alyssa(: