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May Flowers – Cheat River Festival 2015

April showers bring May flowers. This old adage to me has always felt like a way people would just try to justify weather that they don’t like.  When you live in Ohio, springtime weather doesn’t make sense.  From somebody who has monitored the weather on a daily basis for years as a pilot, I will preach this til I die.  I think some people are tired of the winter and just want warm sunny weather, and rain puts a damper on their plans, so they justify it with the metaphor of flowers blooming in May.  Realistically, though, who cares about flowers?

For whitewater kayakers, however, April showers can create some fun times.  In many areas, the spring snowmelt (and associated higher flows) is over.  Now, we are starting to rely on a combination of rainy weather and dam releases to have some fun.  Sure, rain isn’t as predictable as snowmelt, and sometimes involves stopping whatever you are doing in order to grab your boat and drysuit and go make a run for it.  Any kayaker in Ohio who has paddled Tinker’s Creek knows what I mean by this.

Every year, the first weekend of May is the amazing event that we call Cheat Fest.  Hundreds of experienced boaters pile down to Albright, West Virginia to set-up tents and cots, drink beer, eat greasy festival food, and enjoy the many miles of paddling that the area has to offer.  Cheat Canyon, Cheat Narrows, Upper Yough, Lower Yough, and multiple sections of the Tygart are all within a reasonable distance.

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Cheat River Campground

Cheat Canyon is a beautiful and exciting run.  A Class IV run with a Class V+ shuttle (pick your lines and don’t bottom-out your car), there is nothing like it this weekend.  As an added bonus, the campground is at the put-in.  Literally.  Carry your boat 100 feet, and in you go.  I am a huge fan of big water, something we don’t really have in Ohio, so needless to say this run is worth the trip.

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Decision Rapid, the “entrance”

A nice thing about the Cheat is how it begins, with a rapid named “Decision.”  For most paddlers, this allows for a nice little warm-up, finding tongues and working our way around holes.  For some, it is a reality check, giving them the “decision” to hike out if they need to.  The entire river is read and runnable, although I’d recommend following someone’s lines (and/or scouting) a few rapids, notably High Falls. Very fun rapid but it can get shallow and sketchy.  Let’s not forget the other good ones, such as Big Nasty, Coliseum, and Pete Morgan, the latter two being my favorites on the river.  Some correct lines are also a little intimidating (“Wow I should not be this close to that rock/hole”), but hey, that just adds in to the fun factor.  The holes in this river can give you one hell of a beatdown.  Not only that, but good luck hiking out the river after Decision.

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Pete Morgan Rapid. Hug the rock and land the drop!”

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Riding the initial tongue into Big Nasty.

The only photo I have at the moment (until I get around to some video screen-grabs) of Coliseum is a first-person shot taken while approaching the top of the rapid.  I’m not posting it because it does not do the rapid any justice.  The line through Coliseum involves finding a tongue between two holes, a tongue which is not much wider than your kayak.  Extremely fun rapid, but I would not want to be in those holes, especially Recyclotron on the right.  Oh, and don’t fight too hard to make a path around one of the holes, because if you do, you are setting yourself up to quite possibly just be going into the other one.  Immediately following Coliseum is Pete Morgan, and extremely fun line that involves hugging a rock while riding over a drop, all the while not getting surfed at the bottom.  Caught a beautiful eddy right after the drop; just another reason why I like a boat with edges.

Cheat Canyon is a blast, especially if you spend most of your time read and running.  Plus, then you might get to spice it up with a few not so great lines, all the while side-surfing and fighting your way into a trashy pillow of water or fun wave train and bracing and punching your way down.

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Great playspots and great lunch spots

Pete Morgan is also a very fun rapid to run, eddy out, and watch other people drop through while standing and videotaping from a rock.  I’ve seen some pretty funny carnage there.  This is also a very good river to remember to throw yourself into a rock if you get pushed into one.  Some of them can be kind of funky, but in a fun way.

This river is a very good warm-up for the real excitement, which is the shuttle out.  Very rocky roads, wide enough for a single car, alongside drop-offs.  All-terrain vehicles are not a bad idea here.  My Honda Civic? Forget about it. I’m catching a ride with somebody else, even if I have to bribe them with a six-pack.

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As far as the festival goes, it is a very chill time.  All of the main camping, even if off festival grounds, is within an easy walking distance.  In my memory is correct, there are less food, gear, and souvenir tents than Gauley Fest, and it’s a little more difficult to buy and sell used boats, but the food is amazing, and if you enjoy bluegrass music, this is the place for you. 10845849_10206874859372908_7605201688295985085_o

If you want to buy new boats, open canoes, or squirt boats, you are in luck.  All of the aforementioned were available for sale, and in large numbers.  Piles upon piles of boats were out for adoption, of every make and model.  Liquid Logic was showing off their new Braaap, Blackfly Canoes had a few different models available, Russ’ Ribs had a food truck with some outstanding food, and probably every 2014 boat model from any of the major manufacturers was available, in a multitude of size and coloring.  The festival attracts many non-kayakers as well.  WVU students, locals looking to check out the festival, artists selling their work of all kinds, the list goes on.  To top it off, they even had a smoothie stand.

Unfortunately, due to scheduling issues, I was only able to drive down this year Friday evening (after the race), and had to drive back Saturday evening, spending a total of close to 10 hours in a small car with a Wavesport Recon jerry-rigged onto the top.  And there is no question in my mind that it was worth it.  All kayaking festivals are fun.  Cheat Fest, Gauley Fest, Stoneycreek Rendezvous, Ohiopyle Over the Falls Festival, you name it.  But something stood out about Cheat Fest.  It has an aura to it that I find difficult to describe, but worth experiencing.  Being able to lay on a cot in a peaceful nighttime environment and falling asleep while looking up at the stars is always a pleasant experience.

After some very fun time hanging out at the campground and festival, I had to unfortunately turn back and head to Northeast Ohio, arriving just after midnight, in one of the most physically-tired states I’ve been in in a long time. Nonetheless, it was worth it because I spent the following day at a dropzone doing my first non-tandem skydive, and believe me, pulling that cord and flying a canopy around by yourself, while descending a couple thousand feet and maneuvering yourself to a safe landing, is a feeling that nothing can replicate.

Every large kayaking event leaves me with the same belief: go to festivals.  If you have to take off of work, do it.  If you have to spend $100+ in gas money to get down there, do it.  If you need to bring your dog down with you because you can’t find somebody to feed him, do it.  Besides, they love the festival as much as we do.

Now, we count down the two weeks until the next one.

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-Cheat Fest

-Gauley Fest

-Stoneycreek Rendezvous

-Falls Fest

-Bridge Day (BASE festival, but might as well paddle the New River Gorge while you’re there)

The list goes on.  These are just some of my favorites; there are way more festivals than this that are worth going after.  Last but not least, let’s not forget the race happening on the Little White Salmon!

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Advance Your Life – Travel and Relocate. And Often.

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[Clockwise From Top Left: Manhattan Skyline (NY), Stoneycreek Canyon (PA), Cuyahoga Falls (OH), Great Falls Virginia and Center Lanes (VA)]

I grew up moving, all the time. I’ve lived in places all across the country, from as short as barely a year, to three years, four years, etc. As a kid, it was stressful at times.  Sometimes I moved in the middle of the school year.  Usually, I didn’t know anybody.  Sometimes I would say goodbye to somebody and never see them again.  As with anything else in life, it came with a cost.  However, it also came with its advantages.  Are the advantages of constantly moving and traveling worth the cost?  Does it create a “profit” or metaphorical “net revenue” of sorts?  Well, that’s rather subjective.  But if you ask me, it is a solid, 100% “Yes.”

It seems that wherever I go, there are people who are deadset in believing that where they live is better than somewhere else.  “I hate the city,” or “I hate the country,” or “I hate the West Coast,” etc.  In fact, I hear this all the time.  And to be honest, there is nothing wrong with having an opinion. After all, having an open mind means giving things a chance, not necessarily liking them.

Being open minded means giving things a chance, not necessarily liking them.

However, I always felt that I had a bit of an advantage.  I got to see many different geographic areas, climates, subcultures, etc. which, I feel, allowed me to judge things a little more objectively.  Personally, I’ve seen relatively few people spend their whole lives in the exact place where they grew up.  I’ve also seen relatively few people marry the first person they dated, or spend their career in the first job they’ve had.  Fact is, you probably don’t know exactly what suits you, or what is the best fit, and there is a bit of a trial and error process in place.  We’re human, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

The question becomes, why are people afraid or otherwise unwilling to give things a try?  There are multiple reasons, but one is opportunity cost.  In a lot of cases, trying something new would mean giving up something else.  And since we can’t see into the future, you are taking a risk by doing so.  Other reasons could include complacency, i.e. being happy with where you are and not really desiring anything else.  Resources can be tricky (moving and traveling are not always cheap!), economic factors can come into play, and to be honest, somebody could realistically come up with any reason they want as an excuse not to get out and do something new.

Well, I for one believe that virtually any argument has a counterargument.  Taking a risk, and possibly losing something you already have? Well that’s a reality.  And in many facets of life, success is impossible without risk.  However, that’s why risk is calculated.   I’ve kayaked over waterfalls, jumped out of airplanes, and applied for jobs I had no prior experience in.  Yes, in the end there is a roll of the dice involved.  But if you put an amount of preparation and rational thought into things, you mitigate that risk.  If the reward is therefor greater than the consequence, the risk is no longer “unnecessary.”

Happy with where you are?  Well, that’s fine.  But are you always going to feel that way?  Is your good situation permanent? Have you even given other things a chance?  These answers will vary person to person, and everyone is different.

Are you lacking resources?  When people say they lack resources, I turn around and say “are you lacking priorities?”  Generally speaking, if you put your mind to it, it can be done.  Blind people have climbed Mount Everest and kayaked the Grand Canyon.  Other people have lost hundreds of pounds of weight, while others have climbed from poverty to multimillionaires.

Prioritization is a game of sacrifice

If something is important, you will find a way.  If it’s not, you will find an excuse.  I’m not telling you what your priorities are or what they should be.  Do what is important to you, just make sure you find a way.

Packing your bags and moving somewhere new is a difficult thing for anybody.  So let’s go ahead and switch gears a bit, and focus on traveling instead.

There are approximately 7.2 billion people inhabiting 57.5 million square miles of land on this planet.  Every single one of them has a unique story, and many of them possess knowledge and skills that you don’t (I only say “many” because saying “all” would be a slightly flawed and oversimplified methodology considering that some of them are recently born infants). After all, if you look at history, you will see how the spread of ideas influenced technological development worldwide.  When the Inuit were using kayaks decked with stretched animal skin for hunting, did they ever think that eventually the same craft they helped invent would be created from rotomolded polyethylene and taken over 100′ waterfalls?  Probably not.  But ultimately you could trace the genealogy of this sport back to the hunters inhabiting Alaska and Greenland that created the first versions of the vessels we used.

Ultimately, many skills and inventions are derived from necessity or convenience.  Peoples that inhabited wide areas of desert would have little need for watercraft, and peoples in tropical areas wouldn’t have the same need for extremely warm clothing than those living in the northern extremes.  Additionally, it always made sense to make the most of what resources you had readily available. In other words, some peoples would naturally be more experienced with fishing, while others would find creative ways to farm on less than fertile grounds.  Even more simple examples would come down to things such as local cuisine.  As people would move, ideas would spread, creating a wider base of knowledge and skills for mankind.

I am a firm believer that traveling and trying new things carriers more benefits than it does downfalls, and can provide many benefits to your life overall.  The following reasons in support of traveling are crafted from a combination of my own personal experiences, as well as the testimonies of others.  I firmly believe that they apply in an overwhelming amount of circumstances.

1. Breaking out of your comfort zone

Let’s face it, going somewhere you’ve never been, with different customs and ways of living, in addition to any logistics difficulties, can be daunting, especially if it is a place with near polar differences from what you’re used to.  You might make a fool of yourself, you might not like the food, you might get lost somewhere, the list goes on.  But when you are pushing through these possibilities, you are breaking out of your own comfort zone.  From my experience, breaking out of your comfort zone, and accepting risk, is a skill in and of itself.  In other words, the more you do it, the more comfortable you become with it.  Who knows, maybe over time making that big business decision or asking out that one girl may become easier, or in the least you might be able to do it in a more clear state of mind

2. Networking and making connections

Many large businesses have their corporate headquarters and various branch locations placed in all corners of the globe.  When I worked as an outdoor sales representative, I was offered a job in real estate in a city I’d never been to from a company I’d never heard of.  After conducting some research, I concluded that it was a pretty good opportunity, even though I passed it up for a better one.  Every single day, you never how who you might meet that could change your professional life forever.

3. Personal connections

Similar to the aforementioned point, but on a non-professional level.  I’ve met people out of the blue on all kinds of random trips and adventures, people that I still hang out with to this day.  I have very many friendships, and a couple past romantic relationships, that occurred as either a direct or indirect result of traveling somewhere new and stepping out of my comfort zone.  After all, how many people live on this planet?  And how many of them live in your hometown?  You get the point.

4. The stories you can tell

Experiences are worth more than physical objects.  Some of the best times of my life occurred in a living room or around a bonfire with some of my closest friends, reminiscing on the times we had.  “Hey bro, remember that time we………?” Personally, those are moments I wouldn’t trade for anything.  When you grow up, you won’t remember the times you stayed home and did nothing.  Time is a nonrenewable resource. Once you use it up, you’ll never get it back.  And the time you spend sitting on the couch watching television, does it really do much to enrich and help fulfill the adventure we call life?

5. The food

Let’s be real.  There are a ton of deep reasons to get out, explore, discover yourself, and try new things.  And there are also the simple ones.  Personally, I try to avoid chain restaurants when I travel, unless it’s a chain that’s localized to a certain geographic area (such as Zaxby’s down south).  This article is not an advertisement, and I receive no money for this, but I will give out some of my favorites:

  • Kilroy’s, Indianapolis, Indiana (one of my favorite pub/grill places I’ve ever been to)
  • Planet Pizza, Virginia Beach, Virginia
  • Buffalo’s Reef, Fort Walton Beach, Florida
  • La Zona Rosa, Montgomery, Alabama

I’ve probably had jerky made from every non-endangered animal species in existence as well, in addition to all other types of things that might be considered taboo or otherwise weird by our traditional culture.  As long as it won’t make you sick or kill you, try everything.

6. The ways of life

There are people that life off of way less than we do, and are very happy.  There are people that live a busy, fast-paced life (I tend to fall into that category quite a bit), and are very happy.  Some people forego cars for other forms of transportation, some people drink moderate amounts of alcohol during the work day.  It’s easy to fall into the general culture or subculture of a particular area, and forget about or disregard other options.  This, in my opinion, is huge.  I’m a firm believer that it is okay to question things, to think outside the box, and to not accept “well that’s just the way we’ve always done it” as the sole justification for the way things are done.  This open-minded way of thinking, if used properly and appropriately, can be used to reap many benefits in the workplace, community, and overall life.

7. The mystery

I like to consider myself an “interesting” person, and I’ve always liked and respected people that followed suit.  It allows for you to keep a sort of mysterious air around you, to allow people to have an intrigued interest in your life.  Even more so, it allows you to be seen as a leader or at least as a motivator and inspiration, for those that want adventure in their life.

8. The bonds that are created

It’s not about how long you know somebody, it’s what you and them go through.  Through traveling, exploring, extreme sports, etc. I’ve developed very strong bonds with people, resulting in some of the best friendships and relationships I’ve ever had.  Adventure and excitement can bring out a lot in people, and do well to bring them together.

9. The skills and knowledge

I never learned the best way to grill a homemade pepperoni calzone over a campfire until I went camping in a small town out west that I’d previously never heard of.  It was a couple days and a thousand miles of trial and error that taught me the best ways to strap down multiple kayaks into the back of a U-Haul motorcycle trailer and tow it behind a four-door sedan.  Honestly, the list goes on and on.  Some skills are minor and rather specific, some are broad and overarching to many areas of life.  This comes down to the whole concept of “there are many people out there that know things that you don’t.”

Also, if it’s safe to do so, try taking a taxi in D.C. sometime.  The drivers there have some very interesting stories, and come from all different parts of the world.  A very eye-opening experience.

10. The fun!

This shouldn’t need much of an explanation.  And it is a subjective word and different for everybody.  Maybe you enjoy four-wheeling in a golf-cart, maybe you enjoy parasailing in Outer Banks.  It doesn’t matter where you live; you can’t do any activity you want in your hometown.  Get out and go do what you want to do!

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Now, there is no “one size fits all” with how to travel, what to do, and how to use it to benefit your life.  Personally, I see somebody who travels a lot as somebody who has passion, drive, an open-mind, a wealth of knowledge, the ability to take risk, the discipline to make their dreams happen, and a will to always keep learning.  These attributes can all be played to your advantage at a job interview or on a resume, or honestly even if you’re trying to impress a woman or be the life of the cocktail party.

It’s okay to step out of your comfort zone. It’s okay to make certain decisions off of impulse.  It’s okay to take risks. The key is knowing when and what, to be able to play your cards so that the final result is of benefit to yourself.  

The final thing I want to touch on, is technology.  We live in the days where everyone’s phone is a portable GPS receiver.  We live in the days of Skype, Facetime, Facebook, mobile internet, and telecommuting.  Gone are the days where you leave friends and family behind, only to talk to them with the occasional telephone call or snail mail correspondence.  More and more jobs can be done partially or even fully while on the move or away from an office.  If you want to take a big step in your life, and relocate or travel, this is the time to do it.  Resources are out there, and with a bit of preparation and research, you can make big things happen.

Now, get out there, live your life, and remember: it’s passion that keeps us alive.

Article and photos by Matt Jackson.  If you wish to use any words or photographs from this article please feel free to contact me.  I intend for these types of articles to be open-ended, subjective, and a potential way to create discussion.  If you have any comments you would like to add, or any parts of this article you would like to argue against, by all means, I encourage thoughtful discussion.  More than likely, I will be writing a follow-up article on some ways to make travel and relocation possible, efficient, and (relatively) inexpensive, that I have learned from my personal experiences.  As I think of new things to add, or notice any revisions that need to be made, a revised version of this article may be posted without notice.  Again, as I mentioned above, if there is anything you would like to add, by all means, feel free to contact me!

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