Afternoon of Glory, By Axle

It was almost like a Need For Speed Game taking the winding road into the Appalachians, except none of us had a ‘super car’ well MindHacker’s Tiberon came close, but a SUV, a Cavalier (4 door), a Toyota, and another of similar caliber were nowhere close. As a closing day to an already amazing weekend, the weather on this day was no different, bright blue skies with small clouds scudding by as we parked our cars along a gap in the trail. We quickly got equipment sorted out, and several inflatable rafts assembled.

Taking the first boat team on a portage with our two man boat and single man boat we headed down on our hour long hike to the outfall. The rather sizable group’s target today…a dam outfall. An outfall is a device that is basically a giant drain. The dam was constructed along with several others to both generate power and to form a reservoir for the area; this was there to control water levels. Thankfully, the levels were low enough to afford us access. Boat Team One, which we had dubbed ourselves in our nerdy radio chatter, was soon bouncing along. Inflatable rafts we quickly found out were rather bouncy when stashed above our heads. But it kept it high above any hazards that could cause a leak and leave us potentially stranded. After pausing for a photo on a fallen rock, we found ourselves at the top of the dam, and were able to provide a certain amount of over watch for the rope team that had started to assemble the gear to rappel down from the top of the hole. That group was crazy…it was a 300 foot drop to the bottom. That’s why I was opting for the boat entry.

The decent to the bottom of the dam on the dry side was not a pleasant journey either, crawling over rocks, brush, and fallen trees all while keeping your boat safe is never a fun idea, and the idea of coming back up after, was not something I cared to think about at the time. As my team reached the bottom we could see the second boat team with an identical two man boat and a single man boat start their decent. From the base of the dam I had a much bigger appreciation of the size of the thing, and the fact the entire thing was made out of rubble. As it turned out later it is the largest rubble style dam in the United States. We quickly got back on the trail, and after making a wrong turn met up with Boat Team Two by the outfall. It was hard to imagine that if the water got too high this whole area would be a rushing torrent of water. There was no turning back now for me, I was going to go into a massive drain.

There were already other people inside the place when the first group set sail. Operation “Three Hour Tour” as I gleefully dubbed out lapse into sheer insanity. The two larger boats made good time, the smaller ones were sent in first and the occupants stayed inside, it was a bit of a shuttle work bringing people in by boat. But soon I was at the Fo’c’sel of my own boat paddling always, quickly getting back into the groove of moving a canoe with only yourself paddling. I was glad I kept the jacket on, as we sailed through several waterfalls on our way in, my pants were already soaked through.

It was completely worth it, as I stood at the massive curve that went straight up as I watched one of the rope team make their way down, it was straight out of the movie Alien, as he descended a mere silhouette against the light reaching down from the surface. I took the chance to move around the area, checking out the side tunnel assisting as best I could getting at least one person over the hump, until the unthinkable happened. A rather garbled radio signal from the surface indicated trouble. As the last person was about to start the decent they had been spotted by what they thought was just curious on lookers, they thankfully were not law enforcement but were a little more nosy than we cared for and decided to do what any law abiding citizen would do when seeing a random group with ropes near public infrastructure would do, they called the authorities. We had fifteen people under ground, and no quick way up. Ropes were quickly pulled up and out, as we arranged for an underground evacuation on four boats, which could at most bring 8 people out at a time and still need at least two folks to go back in to bring out the next load.

But we got our butts into action and started moving. The first attempt to get out ended up with a few people capsizing, using single man craft, so we landed on the brilliant idea to rope the boats together, A two man in the front, a single, then another two man, then a single. This freed up all four paddles, with the two man craft acting as the propulsion for our makeshift flotilla, it meant we could bring eight people out, but only one had to go back to get the next group. The first team took the single man crafts with us and some of the gear and started making the trek up. The rope team had been scared off when there was a normal patrol of the local sheriff, but still managed to get away scot free and holed themselves up at a church at the base of the mountain we were on. As my team started our accent, the burn was kicking in. And to make matters worse, we saw someone in a reflective vest up at the top of the dam talking to some people. A second team had to dump a majority of the rope gear that had been sent down. After taking some time to dry off (a bit), we to joined the rope team at the church.

Thankfully everything went well even after it went sideways, as we all settled into a well deserved beers at Cootie’s.

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