How I Won $1,000 From ACE

winning rafting photo of 2008 by Brian De Cesare
by Brian “Spanky” De Cesare

It was a Sunday. It was damp, gray, and a chilly morning as 15 of us met our guides under the big top tent for our 7 a.m. launch. Here we learned that the dam would not be releasing that day and our trip had been modified. We would not be putting in at Summersville Dam, but from Carnifex Ferry State Park, which would mean that we would be hiking down about a mile-and-a-half to the river. We would be putting in just above Lost Paddle and the always exciting Hawaii 5-O wave.

After dividing up our group into two boats, I was going to be running the river with five Gauley virgins! Three buddies from work, and a very cool couple whom we met the prior night on the mountain top rounded out the boat. Our entire trip had eight boats and my group was guided by John Cornwell and Big John.

This was my fourth year on the Gauley River and second year with ACE, and as my day started out, I will admit I was skeptical. Missing out on Initiation and Pillow Rock was a big let-down, but in true ACE form it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable trips I have had in the past eight years of rafting the river.

ACE was the only company on the Upper Gauley that day. No other outfit could run it, which meant we had the entire river to ourselves, further enhanced by the fact that we were out there on the river first. Our guides had us surfing in every pour-over, from top to bottom, and it was awesome. Fortunately, by the time we stopped at Sweet’s Falls for lunch, the sun had broken through and the rest of our trip was blessed by bright blue skies, and some of the best colors in the canyon I have ever seen.

This photo was taken just after lunch somewhere between Sweet’s Falls and Woods Ferry. I do remember Cornwell saying that on a normal release day this hole was too high and would not be possible to surf, so he was excited to share it with us. Needless to say, after stuffing ourselves at your lunch buffet we were slow to get started again, and in fact we were stuck in this surf hole. After several unsuccessful attempts to back-paddle out, it dawned on me that I had my camera and should take a photo. Everyone was having such a good time, laughing themselves to tears, that I took a few photos to capture the moment.

For me this photo shows the true beauty of the Gauley River, and admittedly, why my friends and I return every year. I am very glad that the staff at ACE are able to appreciate it as much as those in my group. Each year I look forward to my birthday weekend with ACE and another journey down the Upper and Lower Gauley River. In eight years I have never been disappointed.

Anybody else have a tough time waiting for September and Gauley Season to come around each year?

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