Here in Fayette County WV outdoor adventure abounds, and just when the weather starts to cool off is when things start to heat up around these parts. September means Gauley Season, and that means big whitewater, big fun, and big personalities. Some of the industries best and biggest characters gathered at the dam on Monday morning for The Animal Race on the Upper Gauley River, and it proved to be just as fun and adventure filled as ever! There were titles challenged and defended, egos boosted and bruised, and victories lost and gained, and it was so much fun to watch!
I arrived at the dam around 10:00am in time for the slow caravan of colorfully covered vehicles boasting kayaks, shredders, and rafts of various sizes, filled with boaters wearing nervous smiles and brightly contrasting river gear that could make the most serious of competitors crack a smile. While I was walking around taking pre-race photos I find some ACE races stretching and discussing the competition and just a mere 50ft away I find another group of ACE racers laughing and mainly focusing on the blowing up not of their raft, but of the pink seahorse that was to be their mascot. A little farther down the parking lot I find a very serious defending R-1 champ Brad Atkins prepping his boat away from the crowds, and pauses long enough to tell me that he is more interested in staying upright during the race this rather than solely focused on the goal of winning. I think this is a smart line of thought as this year the water level was a competitor in it’s own right. Recently there has been a large amount of rainfall to our west and that has resulted in the traditional level of 2800 cfs for the Animal Race on the Upper Gauley to be altered. This year the competitors began the race with a flow of 2,000 cfs coming out of the dam but once they hit the confluence the level jumped up to around 4,000 cfs. This added an element of unpredictability to the race that I had not witnessed before. The energy was buzzing with nervousness before the race meeting.
The race was anything but ordinary this year, well other than Brad Atkins taking top prize 3rd year in a row in the R-1 category with a time of 1:20:52. We here at ACE are proud to boast this year’s ANIMAL RACE 2013 #1 team over all, team KICK ASS! They came in with a time of 1:04:24. This is thrilling for us at ACE because we love and support them, but it is especially epic because the team had 5 men and 1 woman and we are especially proud of Shanna Crompton for being a part of the winning team that left boats filled with men in their wake. A huge congratulation is also in order to Guide Matt Dotson, and paddlers Jimbo Tourje, Daniel Reiger, Tim Slatton and Johnny Newman. Another exciting moment this year was watching our former video boater Moose drop Sweets Falls with the entire female race team of Paddle Me Happy dropping right in their with him. It was an epic end to a long race for those guys, but certainly a photo finish!
Farther down the river just below Sweets Falls it was quite the scene on video boater’s rock when the team made up almost entirely of ACE girls, WET DREAM made a great time of 1:13:04.They killed it out there, even through the loss of their pink seahorse mascot! They ran great lines, and made great time. You could feel the energy and relief when they paddled past Postage Due to a chorus of cheers and a waterfall of Yuenglings from the play boaters and friends gathered above. Postage Due quickly became the spot to be. Within several minutes the rock was covered in the brightly colored boats and the even more colorful characters that paddle them. Seeing so many people so happy doing something they love so much feels intoxicating. Seeing one of ACE’s favorite guides named Smiley earn his nickname after killing it out there (2nd place 1:27:42) was joy in the making. Watching Phillip Groseclose (1:31:11) style Sweets Falls and then promptly stand up and show Sweets (or more likely the rock called dildo) what he thought of it was hilarious and understandable from this bloggers perspective. She is a tricky 14 ft. waterfall after all.
The Animal Race 2013 was a day that I will remember for a long time. Taking photographs and speaking with people about what they love to do while they are doing it is an honor and an experience that is not wasted on me. Thank you racers ACE and otherwise for making Monday one of the best days of Gauley Season for this girl. Watching you all prep, paddle, play and celebrate was too much fun! Thank you Burrito Bar for a great after party for all the competitors and volunteers, and thank you Donnie Hudspeth for all of your hard work and dedication, this race wouldn’t happen without you. Can’t wait to see what happens next year!!!