I have been guiding now for 10 years and have had many memorable guests in my boat. However, one particular crew wandered into my boat and my life. You may have noted their names on the ACE blog before (New Jersey Likes Rafting?). We affectionately refer to them as the “Russian Girls” (they are actually from Kazakhstan). In no particular order, Naira, Alla and Yuliya (Julia) first came to ACE with a bunch of friends to do the New River, got addicted as people do and came back to do a whole weekend during Gauley Season.
They ended up staying four days, doing an Overnight, a Double Upper and a Marathon. I just happened to be river boarding on their third day on the river and they stopped and talked to me that day. Not thinking much of it, I got a good night’s rest before the Marathon the next day.
I was trip leading that day and what appears before my eyes at 6 a.m. at check-in but the Russians. They wanted to be in my boat. Thinking to myself, three small women, oh yeah, and they can’t swim very well, on a Marathon – this should be interesting.
I was trying to figure out how I could have additional people in my raft, but the numbers weren’t adding up. Luckily for me, I had two rookie guides who wanted to ride along that day. I couldn’t have asked for a better crew. Highly motivated to stay in the boat, they proved to be exceptionally gifted at paddling together (an attribute that many crews just can’t get the hang of). I would like to take credit and say that I picked them, but in reality I was lucky enough that they picked me. After the trip we ate and drank and talked about them coming back the next year.
Next summer came along and to my surprise there were the Russian Girls, ready for the whole ACE adventure. They went climbing, mountain biking (Alla didn’t make it very far and has the scars to prove it), did the New and the Summer Gauley. They also came back for Gauley Season and I had the pleasure of doing the Marathon with them once again. We all made plans for meeting up that winter at Snowshoe Mountain Ski Resort and I didn’t expect to see them for a while, but I was beginning to realize they have a tendency toward surprises.
Bridge Day rolled around and as I was handing back my trip’s keys I heard a familiar accent say, “Leah, don’t be mad at us.” I was thinking what did they do and why would I be mad? When I got to their car I saw two little brown and black bundles of slobbery, stinky joy. Their names were Nick and Leah, named after my boyfriend and me. How could I be mad? So in turn, two months later, when we adopted our own black and gray leopard dog, we named it after them – NAJI.
Our friendship has continued and this past summer I think they spent more time in West Virgnia than they did in New York/New Jersey, where they live. NAJI, Nick and Leah have all met and played together, we have visited them in New York City and they have brought their parents to West Virginia. They are definitely our extended ACE family.