October was falling fast and the Ocoee season was drawing to a near close. With the change of seasons it was time to go kayaking, and where better to do that than in a geographical location completely new to my friends and I. With this as our mission, Kevin Palmer, Jordan Sherman and I were Central America bound. It was the rainy season there and we did not want to miss out on the prospects of a good time, or on the promise of a lot of worthy whitewater. We were not fully aware of what we were about to get ourselves into, but the adventure unfolding before us would soon become one of the most epic stories of our lives thus far. A spectrum of experiences spanning from perfection to near chaos was most certainly bridged during our action packed trip and we are glad to say that Costa Rica knows how to deliver great adventures. Amazing rivers, dense jungles, good times, and awesome people all come to mind when I think of our time spent living the “Pura Vida”.
This was my first Pro Am and it was on my birthday… I can’t think of a better way to celebrate! This event is a perfect opportunity to get some great coaching and it’s also a freestyle event for everyone to strut their stuff… But most importantly, it raises money for a great cause… First Descents! In the Pro Am, top freestylers are paired with amateurs to form a team, and for one day, they are transformed into personal mentors and coaches who encourage aspiring amateurs to new heights. I was honored to be a part of this, considering the World Championships is in 1 week, so there were top athletes from around the globe available for the choosing. Being chosen as a coach and team mate by a young paddler (Sierra Wainer) who was also taught kayaking by my personal mentor, Jeff West, was truly a heart melting experience!
“It will change your life”….and so Jeff West and I began the planning of an 8 day paddling/back packing trip to Cataract Canyon and the Needles District of Canyonlands in October 2012. Cataract Canyon is the Colorado River as it flows through Canyonlands National Park in Utah. A permit for a trip through Cataract is not as involved as a trip to the Grand Canyon; you just apply for the permit, pay $20 per person, and get ready to go. The permit holder is the only person who must go. We opted for an 8 person permit. Now… to pick a group. Invites were extended and finally we had our group. We opted not to go with facebook, since the backpacking will be challenging and “not for everyone”.Two weeks later, the permit was in hand and the group was ready to go. Jeff West, Joseph Gudger, Joseph Gordy, Bridget Gordy, Allie Barth, Chris Pesce, and I made up the group.
Sitting in front of the computer after 3 days of steady rain looking at a bunch of purple coded gages, a thought occurred to me that maybe now was the time to try a run that I had in mind for almost a decade. The Cohutta Wilderness Area in Georgia is full of beautiful creeks that feed into the Conasauga River drainage. These creeks are relatively unexplored by southeastern standards due to the difficult access. I had previously hiked in to the largest of the Conasauga’s tributaries, the Jack’s River, on a few backpacking trips. There is a popular waterfall you can access via the approximately 3 mile long Beech Bottom Trail. In 2005, I toted my boat and gear down the trail and did a solo run from below the falls to the confluence with the Conasauga. It was enough to know that the run needs a lot of water and there was nothing bigger than the class IV ledges right below the falls on the bottom 6 miles of this gorgeous canyon. A few facebook posts and texts later and we were in the car on our way to the Cohutta Mountains.