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Bear Creek and a Big Bang

Go to the video below if you want to skip the story.

On March 2nd, I finished work and headed to meet a group of young guns to paddle Bear creek. It was a beautiful day and the water level was a perfect minimum to run everything. The normal nerves, adrenaline, and excitement were present as I kissed my wife and son (Kat and I were trading paddling days) and slid into the water to descend arguably the best creek in the southeast, and definitely one of the best day runs in the United States. We had a large group of kayakers that would be doing their first run down this amazing creek. As we paddled through the warm-up slides and drops, I was enjoying the scenery, focussing on each move as it came, and anticipating and visualizing sticking my line at Stairway to Heaven (the best and steepest combo of slide and drops on the run). As we assembled above “Knockin on Heaven’s Door”, I told Hunt that I was going to go straight into Stairway. We agreed to run close together and I peeled out and made my way to the bottom. Soon after, the group was back together excited and energized from running one of the most rewarding series of bedrock rapids on the river.

A few minutes later, we arrived at “Big Bang” which is a 20-25 foot waterfall that has a very narrow and shallow landing. I waited on the group to get out of their kayaks and walk to the lip to scout. I decided that I remembered where to line up, I visualized and talked through the crux move, and made my way to the right wall. As I backferried away from the wall, I told the guys to watch how I was lining up for the narrow launch pad. I located the pad, took a left stroke to get left to right momentum, and then one more left boof stroke to propel myself into the landing zone below to miss the rock on the left at the bottom.

This is where everything went wrong with a “BIG BANG”. I immediately knew when I landed that I had hurt my back. I didn’t flip but my left but cheek hit the rock, and I let out a yell as I paddled through the pool to the rocks below. I grabbed onto the shore, pulled my skirt, and realized that I was in too much pain to get out of my kayak without help. Within seconds, Grady paddled up and I told him that I thought I broke my back. He quickly pulled me up on the bank and helped me get out of my kayak. Hunt was there next and I knew that while I was injured, I was in good hands. The rest of the group ran the drop and quickly helped get a plan together to help me hike out of the gorge. I knew that I had to paddle across the river, walk over loose boulders, cross Daniel’s creek, and eventually get on the trail to the takeout. I joked with Hunt that if I started complaining or whining too much that he needed to remind me to “suck it up”!

After a very slow and methodical walk to Daniels creek, I saw my wife and son waiting on the other side. The group quickly and efficiently roped me across the creek in a kayak, and then returned to kayaking down the boulder garden. Hunt and Kat walked with me to the takeout and I immediately headed to the emergency room where the x-rays confirmed I had fractured two vertebrae in my back.

Kat encouraged me to share my thoughts and help others avoid a possible injury on a creek that I have many laps and a lot of great memories from. At first I was hesitant, because I do not want other paddlers to be afraid or discouraged from enjoying running class V. We all reach a point in athletics where mistakes and injuries are part of the journey. I will let others take away what they want to from my missed line.

I did get many questions about what happened. My normal response was “I don’t know but the video won’t lie”. After reviewing my line, I know that I probably moved right a little too hard, too soon, which deflected my kayak moving right to left, instead of left to right. Also, I was leaning a little too much over my left edge and I did not have my eyes spotting my landing. In retrospect, I should have hopped out and scouted. I usually have a tree limb that I line up with and I didn’t do it as intentionally as I normally do.

There are many people I want to personally thank for helping me that day. I especially want to thank Hunt, Holt, Grady, and Keith. The entire group (Noah, Jackson, Bernie, and James) were incredibly helpful, patient, calm, and encouraging! I am always grateful for my wife and family for always supporting me. Thank you to all my friends who reached out to me. I will be back on the water soon!

The following video will give you a visual of what happened. Enjoy and have fun.