A Kayaking Blog By Dan Simenc

East Bound and Man Down

East Bound and Man Down

Sep 15, 2011

The rivers of the West dry up in the fall forcing paddlers to look elsewhere or turn to another sport. In many years I would simply trade my kayak for a mountain bike or some climbing shoes, but this year I decided to keep living the dream and drive out to the East Coast where dam releases and rainfall provide great fall whitewater.

In high school I was fortunate enough to be able to paddle out East several times, but I have not had the chance to return since then. I hold many fond memories of paddling the classic rivers of the East Coast, and I am very excited to make new ones this fall revisiting the rivers I paddled as a youngster and exploring the more difficult creeks I was unable to run back then.

Before leaving Boise I had a lot of work to do to prepare for an extended leave, and I also enjoyed spending some quality time with my wife, Tabbi, who has just begun graduate school. As excited as I was to begin the trip, I was also sad to be leaving home. Fortunately Tabbi is very supportive of my wanderlust, and while we were both sad to part we were also both excited for our new adventures.

Tabbi and I posing at the Train Depot with the city lights of Boise as a backdrop. The sky was a bit hazy on this night and I'm looking forward to shooting here again.

On Friday evening I left Boise ready to live out of a van for two and a half months on the other side of the country. That evening I would only drive five hours to Salt Lake City where I could stay with my good friends (and newlyweds) Ben and Tasha. As I approached the city I was surprised to get a message from my fellow Boise paddler Tyler Allyn: “Hey man, it looks like the Stikine is going to be too high this year so I’m down to head out East with you…”

Tyler graduated from college this past spring and spent the summer raft guiding on the Payette river; he was also taking the fall off to kayak. We had talked before about heading East together, but the running the Stikine was his top priority. That trip fell through and he got in touch with me at the last possible moment. I returned his call and he decided he’d try to get a ride out to Salt Lake to meet up with me for the tour. Tyler’s dad, Mike, was up for the mission; he rallied and dropped Tyler off that morning at 4:30 AM where Tyler passed out in my minivan.┬áThe next morning the two of us set off together towards the East Coast, the van now slightly fuller.

From Salt Lake City we headed East on I-80 with plans to stop and camp whenever we got tired. We stopped earlier than planned in Eastern Wyoming when we saw the beautiful rock formations known as Vedauwoo. If I had a “trad rack” we would have done some climbing, but we were happy to hike around the area instead, and we enjoyed the nice camping.

Wyoming welcomes you from Utah with a few of life's guilty pleasures on offer.

The evening view from our campsite was clearer thanks to the startling amount of chopped down trees throughout the campground.

An aesthetic boulder pile atop a cliff. Vedauwoo, Wyoming.

The next morning it was time to say “goodbye” to the West. We hit the road early, ready for a long drive through cornfields. While much of the drive was very repetitive, there was also some pretty scenery, and it was nice to see a new part of the country. We made it close to the Illinois-Kentucky border before pulling off the freeway to crash for the night on the side of the road.

A church breaks up monotonous cornfields in Kansas.

Waking up early again we could tell we were in a new part of the country. The humidity and change in flora gave off a distinct smell that I recognized from my past visits to the East. The landscape was green and lush and people’s accents had changed. We hopped back on the interstate and cruised into Kentucky where we stopped at the Red River Gorge to sample some of its world famous rock climbing.

I had not been climbing for a while and was happy to be able to “onsight” two climbs (5.10d and 5.11b); Tyler also enjoyed the climbing and is stoked to do more on this trip in between kayaking. After the two climbs it was getting late and we left the cliff to set up camp. On our way back we made the fateful decision to stop and hike up to a natural bridge.

We enjoyed taking pictures of the natural bridge, but I'm not sure if it was worth Tyler's snake bite.

We made it up to the scenic natural monument and were surprised to find the trail led directly up, onto, and across the arch. We took several photographs then hiked further out to a scenic viewpoint. By the time we started heading back down to the van, the trail was only illuminated by moonlight. We had not expected to be gone so long and neither of us had our headlamps.

Near the bottom of the trail Tyler – who was out in front – suddenly dropped his camera and let out a yell. I quickly caught up to him as he painfully proclaimed he’d been stung or bitten by something. We quickly reached a light where we saw two bleeding puncture holes on Tyler’s big toe, making it obvious that he had been bitten by a snake!

Tyler was a bit shaken up and in a lot of pain, but we continued on towards the van. I switched to walk in front through the final dark stretches of the trail now cautiously inspecting every shadow as we hobbled along. I had never before been very concerned about snakes but now felt vulnerable to the fact that we were both in flip flops.

By the time we reached the van Tyler’s foot was beginning to swell slightly and I dug into my first aid kit to get him some Ibuprofen, Benadryl, and Vicodin. We stopped briefly at the climbing joint Miguel’s Pizza where I asked what types of poisonous snakes were in the area and where the nearest hospital was. The answers were: “Copperheads and Rattlesnakes,” and “Winchester or Lexington.” From there we continued to the urgent care center in Winchester where Tyler began his hospital stint as the popular “snake bite patient.”

Tyler in the first of three hospitals still amazed at what had just happened.

In Winchester every nurse and doctor around wanted to come see Tyler’s snake bite and many took pictures. Tyler was in pain and his foot was now very swollen, but he was otherwise doing fine and was good-humored about the whole situation. After being assessed and receiving his first dose of anti-venin (yes that is how you spell it) Tyler was transferred down the road to the much bigger University of Kentucky hospital in Lexington. I followed the ambulance to the hospital where Tyler was again the talk of the E.R. After things settled down I headed out to the parking lot to sleep in the van.

The next morning I awoke to a bustling campus and tracked Tyler down to where he had been again transferred to another University of Kentucky hospital (they have two!) Tyler was still a popular guy and at this hospital many cute nursing students came in to gawk at his swollen foot, which was also quite dirty as you would expect from a kayaking, climbing, flip-flop wearing vagabond. The students didn’t seem to mind this at all, and the whole staff was extremely friendly and helpful. We were repeatedly warned not to hike around the Kentucky hills wearing sandals, and maybe we’ll consider hiking boots next time, but that’s doubtful as hiking in flip-flops is one of the hallmarks of a true kayaker.

Can you tell which foot the snake bit? The flip flops are looking guilty.

After restraining Tyler for three nights while monitoring his recovery the hospital finally permitted us to continue our journey towards West Virginia. Tyler was very pleased that the swelling in his foot had gone down significantly and that he could leave the confinement of the hospital even if it meant he’d be leaving the charming nurses behind too. I was happy to no longer have to camp in a parking garage where I had been repeatedly hassled by security guards curious of my seemingly odd doings.

We happily arrived in Fayetteville on Thursday evening, just in time for Gauley Fest weekend. We are still both super stoked for the rest of our adventure and Tyler is quickly recovering and expects to be back in his kayak very soon. Until then I will happily borrow his Project X while I work on getting a boat for myself. Hello Eastern USA!

Finally in Fayetteville!

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