Paying forward my favorite place: Wilson Creek

Kayaker on Wilson Creek

Just over a year ago, one of the people in the video below joined me on North Carolina’s Tuckaseigee River for his first whitewater kayaking beginner course. He was certainly among the more outgoing among the class; willing to jump in and take chances on maneuvers that had given him troubles mere minutes before. There were lots of flips and not a few swims that day. There was also a spark.

I’ve seen this spark before and recognize it because it lit my flame of passion for whitewater over 15 years ago. It’s that day when most of your other avocational priorities drop a notch (or many) and your focus turns toward getting back on the water at every opportunity. Like me, this guy, now a frequent paddling partner, has paid the price of days on the water for the last year gauging and refining his skills. We’ve spent lots of days locally in informal teaching and learning sessions, gradually ramping up his exposure to more and more difficult water and complex maneuvers. I’ll give him credit: He’s stuck with it and taken some minor knockbacks, but has always come back determined to meet those challenges.

A decade ago, good friends of mine introduced me to Wilson Creek. It was then the pinnacle of my ambition as a whitewater kayaker and I looked forward to the day with great trepidation. I’ve had a slow and steady progression on more difficult waters over my career and have only been willing to make big leaps when I, myself firmly believed I had the skills solidly in place to do so. Though I had a great day on the creek that day, I came off it with nerves frazzled, but I was elated beyond measure. My wife knew how important it was to me and met my return home that night with a cake in celebration.

I think most of us have those “watershed” days in our kayaking (or life in general). That day when you test yourself and recognize that, “Hey, maybe I am good enough”. Many times, that recognition only comes in retrospect. You look back to the day and realize it was a turning point. I think for many, Wilson Creek turns out to be that place. American Whitewater lists nine class IV rapids in the short two miles of the Wilson Creek gorge. They’re stunning the first time you’re exposed to this extra gradient and complexity but in the long view, they’re also relatively manageable at moderate flows. Bring good skills and a good crew and this is an excellent spot to step up.

I always look forward to the opportunity to “pay forward” the honor of introducing people to their first time on Wilson and so far, have had good experiences and smiles in doing so. These first-timers leave with a look of accomplishment and confidence. I hope most of them will, themselves, pass the tradition along one day.

I’ve enjoyed the road of getting you here, Lou. It was a great day on the creek; as they all are.

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