Surfing the Bench on the Gauley

As the alarm chirped at 05:00 I felt quite rested, but elected to snooze for an eight minute cycle, with vague dreams of surfing the bench fluttering in my head during my snooze. Here on the Gauley River if you are not on the schedule you can show-up at an early hour to fill in if another guide is late or people add-on to a trip at the last moment. Some people are intense surfers, arriving at three in the morning to secure their spot on the bench. Often times the bench will be six or seven people deep, with little hope of work for those on the distal edge. Some days, even the first to arrive will be unsuccessful.

I’m third in line today, bundled in my “river” clothes that consist mostly of Patagonia (Patagucci) clothing. I once made fun of Patagonia clothing due to its preference among the yuppy population, but converted once I realized the lifetime warranty, quality of production and relative ethical standards. During last Gauley Season I had shredded some of my clothing while wearing it on the river. Upon visiting New York’s Patagonia store the staff began to harass me for using it on the river, but quickly refrained from further harassment after I explained to them that I live in my truck, traveling to guide and eplore the continent, putting it’s gear to the use for which it was intended, and I did not have the luxury of space or the financial capability to have articles of specialized clothing for each activity. As their typical clientele entered and exited with thousands of dollars of technical clothing that would only see the urban streets the staff and I spoke of adventures in the world of wilderness.

The bench is a chilly place to dwell in the early morning hours, but easily warmed with the dilute but complimentary coffee, the stories of the previous days runs and various conversations of each guide’s area of passion. Today I have consumed a copious volume of the liquid warmth and, unfortunately, shared several stories of my run yesterday that necessitated high-siding my boat on three separate occasions, the first two of which ended successfully, without anyone falling out of the boat. The third did result in 60% (6 people) of the boat swimming. I prefer to have stories of picking up other’s messes, but as some say, “Some days you enjoy the show; some days you are the show.”

Two of my friends have surfed-on successfully and I’m now in pole position for an Upper or Lower Gauley run. The customers have begun to haphazardly flutter about on the pavers, some with inside-out wetsuits, others with backwards helmets, and yet some with about a thousands dollars worth of specialized river gear they bought for this occasion. A few are beautiful, many are quite goofy, but they all contribute to the peanut gallery’s conversation pool of the morning and all have a common bond…. the whisper of the river beckoning them in.

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