Who’s The Oldest Guest To Paddle Upper Gauley?

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After reading Julia’s blog “ACE: Fun for all ages! Even Grandpa” it inspired me to relate a story about Carl, a 76-year-old gentleman I took down the Upper Gauley some years ago.OK, it was more than 20 years ago, but back then the rocks were harder and the waves and holes were much bigger. Self-bailing rafts hadn’t been invented yet! I was a fourth- or fifth-year guide full of confidence, with rippling muscles, a ponytail and a pierced ear.

In those days we would put in right at the base of the dam and try to fight through the exploding whitewater coming out of the tubes – it was the only Class IV put-in in the country. So there I was, boat rigged, waiting for my guests to walk down from the bus, mentally preparing myself for what was coming up.

When the trip leader arrived with the guests he immediately pulled me to the side to talk about one of my guests for the day, Carl. Looking at Carl I was a little concerned, after all this is the “Beast of the East,” one of the best runs in the world, and this section is world-class whitewater that isn’t for everyone.

Carl was a very skinny, little guy with deep wrinkles and a slight hunched back. He didn’t seem to have that youthful energy you expect on an Upper Gauley trip.

I walked over to Carl and introduced myself. The old adage “Never judge a book by its cover” came to mind, and my first impression changed immediately. He was a pistol! He was bright eyed and full of energy.

I tried to explain the risks and rigors involved with the Upper Gauley. I even recommended he might want to try the Lower Gauley first. Carl looked me in the eye and told me quite frankly that he was 76 years old, he had had triple bypass surgery six months before and that he lost his wife a few years back.

He said he understood the risks and then he said something to me that I will never forget. He said, “Rick, life is about living. All my life I worried about things, at my age I can’t worry about tomorrow. I’m going to experience everything I can before I go. If I die on this trip today, so be it.”

How do you argue that logic? He was right. He understood the risk of the trip and he understood the risks of life. So off we went.

Carl did great. I had tight lines. Then we dropped into Iron Ring, the fourth of five Class V Rapids on the Upper (the photo above is the top of Iron Ring rapid). We dropped in and T-boned the bottom hole perfectly. It was a hard hit. I remember watching Carl cartwheel, end over end, through the middle of the raft and disappear into the hole! He popped up directly downstream and we pulled him back into the raft. It was a big swim!

By the end of the day Carl was worn out. That night Carl came up to me and told me I was right, he said he should have done the Lower section. I felt a little guilty for letting him go and I was concerned for him. Then he winked at me and walked away.

I never saw Carl again. I have thought of him often through the years; he would be near 100 now. I always envision him skydiving or surfing in Hawaii or something. But he did teach me an important lesson. Live like there is no tomorrow!

Does anyone else know of an older Upper Gauley rafter?

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