Memories From The River: Learning From The Best

If you have been down the Gauley River at any point in your life, you have a Gauley memory that you carry with you. Since the first documented trips in the ‘60s and first commercial trip in the early ‘70s, the Gauley River has grabbed the attention of paddlers by way of intense whitewater and remote beauty. I am one of presumably millions that became smitten with that powerful river, and I can honestly say that running the Gauley altered the course of my life. Seriously.


Going home, going home

By the waterside I will rest my bones

Listen to the river sing sweet songs

To rock my soul” – Brokedown Palace, Grateful Dead


There are so many memories to choose, but the story that I will share until I draw my last breath is the tale of some old friends on a full Gauley training trip, from Summersville Dam to Swiss, with a true whitewater legend — the late Robin Moore.


Robin was as equally skilled in telling stories and jokes as he was with his paddle in-hand. He was a true master. I was provided an opportunity — the privilege — of taking a trip with Robin prior to my first commercial trip as a guide, and I will never forget it.




In the mid ‘90s, the hydroelectric addition to Summersville Dam had not yet been built, and it was an incredible experience. Tubes of water shooting out from the bottom of the dam were not only deafening, it created a formidable rapid at the put-in (or starting point). I remember waiting in line countless times to shove my boat into the water and watching a boat flip mere minutes after pushing off. At that time, putting-in on the Gauley was an experience in and of itself.


That day, Robin took the time to share his stories and knowledge and deftly guided our raft, seemingly effortlessly through rapids, giving us inexperienced guides the opportunity to look around and study in the midst of the waters. That is what good trainers do. 


Going through each rapid, Robin would talk us through lines, stressing areas of caution and, of course, telling stories of his past experiences. I remember him stressing, “Don’t follow the [expletive] boat in front of you. Read the water, it will tell you where to go.” So true.


As we waited our turn in the pool above Pillow Rock rapid, Robin barked, “I don’t want you to take a single stroke through this rapid.” Having run Pillow on many previous training trips and guiding it a number of times as a greenhorn, it was unfathomable to me that we’d make it through without our crew taking strokes. I thought to myself, “This man is crazy as hell!” Which, of course, he was — in the best way possible.


We began our entrance, working left, and time seemed to stand still as the waves crashed on all sides, inertia just in front, Pillow Rock looming just below on the river left. It all happened in slow motion, and it was incredible to have the opportunity to look around in the midst of what felt like chaos. We smoothly slid up toward Pillow, and down the roller-coaster ride, to the left of Volkswagen, and then silently spun around to look upstream for more study and advice from Robin. 


There were many miles left after Pillow Rock and many of them filled with laughs, and even a few unexpected swims! I am so grateful for that experience, that day with Robin, that day with some great friends. If you ever see musician Andrew Adkins, be sure to ask him about this day. I am certain he remembers it, too! 


I could continue writing for days about them, but I don’t want to fill you with more of my stories when you can be prepping to create your own. That is the beauty of the river and the events that come with it. We all experience and remember it in different ways. See you on the river!


Are you going to take on the Gauley in 2020? Book a trip now!