Words By Adam Goshorn; Photos By Shannon MacMichael
The Cheoah river remained dewatered for 77 as a victim of a hydroelectric project, but in September of 2005 first every recreational releases were restored. Through the efforts of American Whitewater and countless volunteers, future releases for recreation and eco-restoration were secured during the relicensing process that is required of all privately owned dams. Since the first recreation release the river has been an instant hit within the paddling community with hundreds showing up for most of the weekend releases.
September 2006 saw another first for the Cheoah river... 20 plus boaters racing down the final 1.5 miles of river to Calderwood Reservoir. This final and most difficult section of river sports contineuous Class IV rapids presenting a great opportunity for paddlers with the competitive urge.
Throughout the afternoon of September 1st competitors greeted each other with nods and smiles as they saw each other on their practice runs.
Here are a few shots from a couple of my practice runs on Bear Creek Falls...
At 4:00 PM competitors gathered at the forest service bridge which would serve as the starting point for the 1.5 mile race. This unofficial, loosely organized event was the product of discussions just days earlier on boatertalk.com, a popular online forum. Despite its last minute and unofficial nature, the first ever Cheoah Race had a great field of races in a wide spectrum of boats. Fighting through the overgrown vines, paddlers lined up from shortest to longest boat to prepare for the start of the race...
Once everyone was in position Shannon gave the paddle drop to get us started and it was on...
I found the race to be extremely fun and exactly the style of race I was hoping for. I felt like a got off to a good start, but a few bad choices really slowed me down. I picked a few alternate lines that I thought would get me out of the pack and allow me to pass, but in reality slowed me down. Honestly, I wasn't too fresh either. I was going on about 5 hours sleep the night before and I paddled the Ocoee and two practice laps on Cheoah before the race. After a strong start I kinda ran out of steam as I approached Tapaco Lodge was passed by several competitors between there and the finish line.
I finished a good 3/4 of the way back in the pack, but here are the Top 5 finishers as they were recounted after the race...
1. Chris Gragtmans (Dagger Tank)
2. Chris Hipgrave (Perception Wavehopper)
3. Chan Jones (Prijon Tornado)
4. Adam Herzog (Prijon T-Canyon)
5. Shane Benedict (Liquid Logic Pisgah)
Another notable finish was Joe Barkley (LL Jefe) who finished 8th overall, but was by far the fastest of the short boats, finishing well ahead of may long boats as well.
All in all the first Cheoah race was a success and lots of fun, I hope to see more races like that one (there and elsewhere) in the future. Thanks to everyone who came out to race. Also a big thanks to Shannon MacMichael for starting the show and snapping pics and to Joey Jarrell for being the finish line.
Until Next Time...