Sunday, December 06, 2009

One must always keep in mind that the journey is more important than the path, and the vehicle we choose is very important. Whether the trip is life, kayaking, or work; we must have faith in our decisions and stay positive through times of trial and tribulation. Most recently, Nick Murphy and myself decided to go to the Toxaway River after a good 3'' rain in Highlands, NC; whereas, Chattanooga got a meager 1/2'' sprinkle. My main veggie vehicle is currently on the operating table getting a new engine and tranny. So, I decided to do a quick veggie conversion on my older non-turbo Benz Wagon, in hopes of running on free veggie oil I had already pre-filtered. After a few hours of changing hoses, drilling holes, and tightening hose clamps, we were rolling on Vegg Power towards the Toxaway.

We didn't get very far before things started to fall apart, quite literally. One of our tires was disintegrated by an unseen evil force lurking along highway 64 near Cleveland, TN. Forgetting that my spare was in no shape to spare us unneeded time chilling on the road, I was forced to call my brother Andrew and get him to bring the spare from my rust bucket parts car. We got the spare spare (no grammatical error there) and drove to the nearest gas station to fill it up with air. However, as we were waiting on my brother's aid, Nick decided to charge his Ipod and play some tunes to pass the time. This was a bad idea because (unknowingly) this killed my battery and prevented us from cranking the old girl up. I ran across the road to Bi-Lo where there was a good-old- boy scavenging the donations at the Goodwill trailer. After realizing I wasn't there to bust his party, he gladly yanked his battery out and used his bare hands to hold the wires to the battery. Twice now, we were saved by the grace of good people helping us out in our time of despair.

After inspecting the wobbly seeming spare, I decided it was good enough to get us there. After conversing with a late-night gas station attendant, who's reliability was definitely in question, we headed towards Tellico Plains in search of so-called 'Highway' 68. We knew the landslide was going to add some time to our trip, but the detour ended up being a horror tour. Curvy, dark, slippery, and tight are adjectives I wouldn't mind using to describe a girlfriend, but not a road. Furthermore, it started to become clear that it wasn't my battery that was dead, but to our dismay, the alternator wasn't providing crucial energy to power necessary accessories such as the lights and wipers. We would have been better off with Rudolph's nose so bright, and an inner city bum stuck to the hood trying to put kids through college by wiping our windshield. Anyways, we made it back to our preferred highway 64 in the town of Ducks, much closer to Chatty than had hoped, and charged to nearest Wally world in search of a new battery. One new battery, 75 dollars poorer than before, Nick asleep the entire time, bright lights, working wipers, and we were back on the path to priceless-ness.

Re-charged by the ability to see the road well, I drove through the night to the Highlands of NC. At this point, the wobbly tire I checked earlier was now in full throttle dance mode, shaking to the groove of the road. I thought the lug-nuts needed more tightening; so, I cranked on them as hard as I could, but this didn't fix the problem. Wobbling into the Subway of Cashiers, a lady followed us in and enthusiastically informed us of our raving tire. I realized quickly that we couldn't make it on this intoxicated tire, and luckily found the Cashiers tire shop.

I filled out some forms, and went to sleep in the parking lot, in typical dirtbag fashion, seeing the waiting room full of wealthy elderly people. After being woken up by the mechanic, he brought the Benz in, and checked out our situation. Much like waiting on a doctor's diagnosis in the hospital, we sat anxiously waiting to hear how bad off she was. The look on his face when he gave us the news wasn't priceless, and said they might be able to re-thread the studs, but that they might be irreparable, which would leave us stranded. The manager didn't like the idea of 2 hippy looking kayakers eddied out in his parking lot anymore than we did, and gave the mechanic some words of ecouragement. During our layover, Drew Duvall called and said the Toxaway was at a premium level of -2''. Our hopes were re-kindled, and our prayers answered because the mechanic was able to re-thread the studs and re-balance the drunken tire, getting us back on track to kayak one of the most amazing rivers in the SE. I commented on how we passed the test and were on our way to reap the rewards of our faith and perseverance.

Drew and Baker bailed on the Toxaway, but Dustin Marquart was fully in and stoked to see us come smoothly rolling into the take-out smelling of french fries. We geared up and headed to the put-in like a herd of turtles, slowly but surely. The level was dramatically more manageable than my previous run of +2'' on the gauge, and we began Charging the incredible Cali slides section. Nick loves to run big rapids, and the satisfaction on his face was evident that he, including Dustin and I, was loving it. We all had super smooth lines and accomplished the portages in quick fashion. Arriving at the put-in for Landbridge, Nick looked downstream at the ominous horizon line and asked, "is that Wintergreen?" I quickly responded, "yea, but if you're gonna run Landbridge, you better focus on it first." Landbridge and Wintergreen are like kayaking crack. They are so big and smooth that it makes you feel so high that you're never going to come down. Luckily or unluckily, depending on your perspective, the 3 mile hike-out brings you back down to Earth, where one belongs anyways.

We made it back to the put-in, and were pleasantly surprised that the Vegg-Wagon cranked right up and began purring down the mountains towards the flatter and easier route we chose to return on through Georgia. However, after pouring another 5 gallons of Liquid Gold into the tank, with the temperature right around freezing, and lacking an in-tank heater, the vegg power began to dwindle and I realized we needed some Dino-Diesel to thin the oil down a little. So, we stopped at gas station in Georgia for Diesel, and I also realized the hand-primer was getting sucked closed along with the battery losing juice. I started asking people at the gas station to give us a jumper cable boost, and a load of mexicans in a pick-up offered some assistance. I figured since the mexicans were going to give a boost that I could shut down the engine to remove the hand-primer without spraying fuel everywhere. I figured wrong because the mexicans had put their jumper cables under their epic mound of "stuff", and the task looked to daunting to dig them out. Once again, I began asking people for help, and even asked the attendant if he had any jumper cables, but he said, "no, and you can't be soliciting customers or leave your car parked at the pump." At first I thought the guy was a jerk, but he ended up letting us use his phone to call the police to come and give us a jump. I don't know what it is about kayaks and cops, but they don't seem to get along. The cop reluctantly boosted us up, and seemed more interested in locking us up.

Back on the road, our lights began to faded to a mere flicker. Not feeling safe under these conditions, and lacking the money to buy another battery, we pulled off the highway and went to sleep with the engine running knowing that we would have no way of re-starting it at dawn. We didn't exactly awake at dawn, but started the drive feeling much more rested than the night before. The trip was coming to a close as we got around 30 miles from Chattaboogie, when another tire was disintegrated into a million shreds by another unknown evil force. We were disappointed to say the least. However, it gets darkest before the dawn, and the dawn was elusively approaching. Without cell phones or much money, I started walking through the woods next to the interstate searching for somebody who could help. Luckily, whether it be faith, luck, or randomness, I found a good soul willing to help us out. He knew the owner of a tire shop, and got us a brand new tire in less than 30 minutes. Finally, we completed this epic journey feeling as though we had been to California and back. The rapids aided in the feeling also.

Even though we were faced with great difficulties along the way, there is no doubt in mine or Nick's mind that the trip was worth it. From the words of Alfred in The Dark Knight, "Why do we get knocked down master Bruce? So we can learn to get back up again." Never stay down, and don't hesitate to charge the path you feel leads towards your enlightenment. Here are a few shots I got from the Toxaway.

Peace, Love, and Charging-- Will Pruett

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