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Saturday, September 16, 2000 -- Summersville, WV
Gauley River Festival
Story and photos by Beth Herr

[Details] [Coverage] [Pic Set 1] [Pic Set 2] [Pic Set 3] [Pic Set 4]

Gauley River
The best seat in the house
For two consecutive days, I sat and watched as one boater after another took their shot at Pillow Rock, one of the many roaring class V rapids on the upper section of the Gauley River. Both rafters and hard boaters alike pulled clean lines while others tumbled head over paddle, getting sucked into the toilet bowl, only to be spit out down stream into calmer flat water.

Renown for its world class rapids, thrill seekers came from far and wide to watch, and paddle, in awe as the Gauley devoured its share of adventurous spirits. Shouts of cheers and jeers resounded from the packed shorelines of onlookers. The crowd was so considerable in size that they could be heard from the summit of the gorge. The weather was perfect for one the of the few weekends a year when the Summersville Dam opens its gates to feed the hunger of some of the top boaters in the country.

Gauley River
A boat for everyone
The day turned to night, and with it, brought the annual Gauley Fest; the largest whitewater event on the East coast. Vendors came from all over to promote and sell what they had to offer. Music abounded and clowns on stilts wobbled through the swarms of people looking to find the best deals around. On a whole, there were almost as many boats to be had as there were consumers. iPlayOutside enchanted passersby with a chance to win a free t-shirt while pummeling them with stickers. However, the chilly night drove most participants to their tents early, but not before getting a few good rounds on the mechanical bull provided to entertain the always spirited paddle populace. All in all, the evening was yet another successful fundraising event for the American Whitewater Association.

Day broke all too soon as the last dregs of paddlers and spectators arose the following morning to another beautiful day. Not a cloud was in the sky as as one boater called across the campground, "Real men paddle on Sundays." And that they did, as I settled in to another day across from Pillow Rock. Though not as many rafters as the day before, boaters continued down the river well into the late afternoon, perhaps several of them trying out the newest addition to their boat families.

Gauley River
Downstream of Pillow Rock
As I prepared to leave my haven for the last two days, a few pangs of jealousy came over me. I had observed countless numbers of boaters get their shot at running the Gauley, only to watch as they continued downstream. I was left to contemplate what lay further ahead around the next bend, determined to find out for myself next season. Little was I to know I would soon be facing Pillow Rock again, this time from a different angle: upstream.

I returned to the campground to find my friends consumed with pleasure from another incredible day on the water. One story gave way to another, as most river tales tend to do, and I smiled along with the rest of them. However, it was obvious I had missed an opportunity that wouldn't come for another year. It was at this moment a plan was formulated for one more run early the next morning. Mid-morning on Monday, as the raft rounded the corner to the sight in which I had become accustomed to during the weekend, there was nothing but pure exhilaration. Our crew dug in hard and came through clean, leaving behind any questions in my mind as to what lay beyond Pillow Rock. Let's just say it's something you can only find out by running the Gauley yourself.