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Article added Thursday, October 5, 2000
The Real Beast of the East
Story by Julie Black with photos by Jason Black

Pillow Rock Rapid
Kayakers and rafters share Gauley Season every fall
It's that time of year again. The rumble of the water, the sheer tingle of excitement, the colors of fall, it's all here. This includes the release from the Summersville Dam, which creates...
Gauley Season.

So, what is Gauley Season?

Every year, thousands and thousands of people take rafting trips with professional companies down the Gauley River in Summersville, West Virginia. This 28 mile stretch of river below Summersville Dam has well over 100 challenging rapids including "The BIG Five." That's five class 5 rapids, class six being declared unrunnable in river talk that is.

The Crew
The New Jersey Raft Crew
This millennium, my father decided to show some of his colleagues from work what this river was all about. So, the crew who works for the New Jersey National Guard, and the state of New Jersey made their 8 hour trip down to West "By God" Virginia to take a trip with a rafting company that I personally chose... Drift-a-Bit.

Drift-a-Bit says, "The centerpiece of our operation is our guides. We realize that our guides are our most valuable resource and therefore employ only personable individuals that we feel mirror our company philosophies of giving people friendly, personal attention and an exciting whitewater rafting adventure."

Speaking from experience, guides on the Upper Gauley DO make the difference in your trip down the river. It's a challenging day of whitewater, and like our guide said, "This is not a river ride at Disney Land. This is the REAL DEAL!"


The Night Before the Trip

Joe Bertsch
Joe feels some butterflies before getting on the river
When the troops finally arrived at the local "River Saloon" where we were meeting them at, a lot of people were watching rafting tapes from the day. One of the crew asked me, "Is THAT what we're doing tomorrow?" I said, "No, that's the Lower Gauley. You're doing the Upper."

I'll have to admit, I scared a few of them with that statement, but you have to harass the "new-bees" a little bit.

The fear in the air was thick, but mostly because no one knew what they were in for except for me, my Dad, and my brother. I'm no Upper Gauley River expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I've been down 4 times. Big water is BIG water, no matter how many times you've seen it. You just have to remember that anything can happen!

It's Trip Time...

The Dam Flumes
The flumes shoot out the flow
The morning had a foggy, pea soup type of look to it, just your average Gauley morning really. It seems like the fog is always thick in the canyon.

Our troops looked psyched up, and most of us over dressed for the unseasonably warm water that was waiting for us. The meeting at Drift-a-Bit was professional, and our guide "Al", explained all the possible things that can happen on the river. The word I heard the most was, "FOCUS". He must have said it 10 times, but it sunk in I think.

Finally, after a bouncy ride on the bus, we were at the put-in. The flumes were spitting out around 2,400 CFS, and for those of you who don't know what that means it's A LOT of water. It's enough to make 8 foot waves come crashing in your face.

Carry the Raft
The carry down to the put in
We carried the raft down to the river after a brief meeting, and then our guide went over a few more things in the water.

Here's a few tips to remember before you head down into class V rapids.
The best thing to do if you're on a rafting trip of any kind is:

Listen to your Guide - Seems simple doesn't it? Well, just remember that when you're dropping down into Insignificant Rapid (Click it to see it!), and you'll see what I mean. Your guide knows best. It's what they do.

Stay Focused - The river (especially the Upper Gauley), is no place to fool around. It's big water, but I've seen folks get hurt on easier rivers just because they were goofing around. Remember, that river was here long before you... show some respect.

Try to Work Together - Watch what you're doing, like your paddle going into the water. Get some good timing going on with the other rafters, you should try to work as a team. You're not professionals, but try to do the very best you can.

(* These are just a few points, and there are more, but this is what I remember the most!)

Insignificant Rapid
Paddling hard through Insignificant
After the intros, it's was time to boogie, and we were a bit sloppy at first as I'm sure everyone is. Still, by the end of our day we were feeling pretty darn great. We did the big five rapids with BIG smiles on our faces, and we only had one casualty who was claimed by Pillow Rock. We even had the chance to do the rapids on the Middle Gauley, because Drift-a-Bit is one of the only companies that takes their trips that far downriver! The Middle section of the river is one of the most scenic parts to paddle.

Our guide was an all around great guy. We found out a lot about him during the day, and although he had to yell at us to keep the boat online, he told us that it didn't mean that he hated us. Hey, it's hard to hear over all that water and people yelling out, "Ya-Hoo!"

It's true that there's plenty of rafting companies to choose from if you decide to take a trip down the Gauley River, or the New River. Out of all those choices, Drift-a-Bit sticks out the most and I'll tell you why. They're down to earth people. Their guides are excellent at what they do, and they're serious about it. Their philosophy is simple, " Give folks the personal attention they deserve while sharing our love of whitewater rafting and the culture of West Virginia."

Sweets Falls
Going over the 14ft drop at Sweets Falls
They don't just say that, they do it! The place is cozy, with a nice campground, and a great atmosphere.

Drift-a-Bit has been a small outfitter and taken pride in remaining a small outfitter. There are other outfitters who have grown and grown, turning their customers into numbers and their facilities into "whitewater rafting resorts". At Drift-a-Bit you are not a number and they're not a resort. What they ARE is an outdoor adventure company committed to giving folks an exciting whitewater rafting experience in the scenic hills of southern West Virginia.

This must be why they have so many repeat customers every year. Repeat customers become old friends, and the reunions continue around the campfires, on the rivers, year after year. They've got some "new" old friends now, the crew from the NJ National Guard. That's right, our crew will return next year to the Gauley and all it's splendor, and we're going downriver with Drift-a-Bit.


Special Thanks... To our guide Al, who put up with us for hours with a smile on his face, to Pat Strader for introducing me to Drift-a-Bit, to Bill Bertsch (my Dad), who put this wonderful trip together, and to my husband Jason Black, who took some awesome WW pictures!