Cheat Fest 2010
Click on (most of) the photos for the full-sized version.

I pulled up next to Barry Adams and claimed, “The good news is that there isn’t any water in my boat—not a drop!”

The bad news, of course, was that I wasn’t in my boat, which was atop Brandoon Hendren’s van. I was in Chuck Singer’s Mirage, sitting in a healthy 2” internal pond.

Welcome to CheatFest 2010. We were racing, somewhere before Coliseum. Barry was in an old glass Phoenix boat, and there was some other guy in a Jefe. Our Keel-hauler’s team had Cliff Wire, Chuck Singer, Michael Duvall, and Your Humble Reporter. Butt I’m getting ahead of myself.

I got permission to head down South, and met Brad Farster in Grand Island, a skipping stone upstream of Niagara Falls. (He hasn’t run it; I asked.) A long drive got us to Kobak’s cabin soon after ten PM Thursday, ready to hit the Upper Yough on Friday.

Michael and Cliff had had some adventure on the way to the race: they hit a deer. For the whole weekend, they were in a vehicle with a smashed headlight held together with duct tape and bungee cords, and with bits of deer hair sticking out of the bumper.

Michael points to some deer fur in his bumper.

Friday: Old Phartz in Big Boats

The Upper saw Kobak, Brad, Elliott Drysdale, Brandoon, and Ron Whitney. Ron and Sue hadn’t been boating much at all over the last couple of years. They were running shifts; one would paddle, and the other would babysit Clarissa, their two-year-old. Sue was looking for someone to Cheat with in the late afternoon. I knew that Brandoon and Brad were often up for unconventional runs, so I figured they’d be amenable to “racing” the Cheat—they’d pay their entry fee and start with everyone, butt they wouldn’t be trying to beat anyone. They’d simply paddle together all the way down, bringing up the rear.

Brandoon and Brad didn’t have a lot of experience on the Upper Yough, so the rest of us gave them some beta on the way down. Good and experienced boaters, they didn’t need much. Brent Laubaugh, Dave Broer, John Garcia, and Alan Watson ran out ahead of us and got on the rock at National Falls. They were hoping to see Ron Whitney and me blow the boof and get chundered in the hole. I was in a demo Prijon Karnali, having recently cracked my Jackson Super Hero (good riddance—I hate that boat). The river was at a high-ish level (2.4’), and I hadn’t been boating much. That gave me three good excuses for wussing out and running the non-boof line. Ron hadn’t been paddling for two years, and he was in a playboat. So he had two good excuses. Brent’s posse was disappointed, which was okay with us.

Meat Cleaver provided the best action of the day. Your Humble Reporter ran first and caught the eddy on the opposite side, so you, Loyal Reader, get the play-by-play from the Catbird’s Seat. Elliott ran first, with Brandoon and Brad to follow. They all got slowed down in a squirrelly eddy just upstream of the Cleaver Brothers, two pointy rocks that stick up at river level—woe to the sorry paddler who gets upside-down there. “Looks like they’re getting bunched up,” I thought.

That’s when the fun started. A raft trip didn’t wait and came barreling down on top of them. Two rafts and a dozen kayaks were instantly jockeying for position. One kayak speared Brandoon in the ribs and then hit him again. Everyone made it through okay, but trust me—this was one of the most impressive fusterclucks you’ll ever see on the river.

Brad and I were assisted in getting quickly to Albright by Kobak’s map of the back roads. For some reason, the back of Kobak’s map was a hen-scratching mess of a solution of the Quadratic Equation, which many of us hadn’t seen since High School. Kobak figures he was trying to figure out a river gauge correlation.

Knowing that I was out of paddling shape, I nevertheless committed to running the Cheat Race after the Upper. I’d had swims during my last two Cheat Races (2006 and ’08), and I didn’t want a repeat performance. A bad sign was that I was growing blisters on my hands halfway down the Upper. If you’ve been paddling enough, you certainly don’t get blisters after four miles. I resolved to be marginally sensible: I’d run the race, in Chuck’s Mirage, butt I wouldn’t paddle really hard, and I wouldn’t fight the crowd from the starting line.

Chuck and I were talking to someone upstream of the old rusty “Wild Wonderful” bridge which is the start, just downstream of the Rte. 26 bridge, when the starting horn blew. We quickly started downstream.

I figured Chuck knows the Cheat, so I was happy to follow his line—until he perched on a rock fully six inches out of the river. Rocking and scraping off that pointy peak would be a tall order, and not too kind to Chuck’s old glass boat. Half a minute later, the guy in front of me caught a glance back and said that Chuck was off the rock. I fully expected him to catch up and motor on by me, butt it was not to be.

A river geek’s idea of fun.

Somewhere after High Falls, I realized that the glass boat I was following was being piloted by none other than Barry Adams. When I caught up with him and we began talking, he told me that he was tired. I was actually feeling pretty good, so I thought that I just might beat this turkey. This felt even better when he ran down the waves at Pete Morgan. I knew that skirting just left or right of the waves was faster, so I built up a lead of a couple of boat lengths on him.

Then the sun came back out. It was in our faces, casting a blinding glare on the river. I stopped, took off my helmet and put my sunglasses back on. Big Mistake. Barry and Jefe Guy passed me, and it was all I could do to get into their wake and try to draft a bit. I never did catch them, and when I tried to cut the corner just a bit at the last turn, the eddy slowed me and Barry beat me by several boat lengths and 15 seconds. “You knew better than that!” he scolded me with a beer in his hand. True dat, butt I had to throw a Hail Mary—I wasn’t going to catch him by following. Barry did give me credit, however, for sticking with him after having run the Upper Yough earlier.

Just before the finish line, Shawn Yingling blitzed past Jefe Dude and me. In a sea kayak, Shawn had had an out-of-boat experience at Big Nasty, but he did catch up with us. He missed catching Barry by 6 seconds.

(By the way, Barry: did I neglect to mention that I’d rescued two swimmers during the race? No? Well, I did. One was after Big Nasty; I don’t remember where the other one was. Anyway, congrats to you for finishing fifteen big seconds ahead of me.)

The bottom line: among Keel-haulers, Cliff Wire really smoked it and came in 5 minutes and 15 places ahead of me. Chuck Singer took third, 7 minutes (21 places) behind our leader, and Michael Duvall came in only two minutes behind Chuck in a much slower boat. (TRPC’s fourth boater came in ahead of our first.) Jim Hunt was also racing; in a fairly small Dagger Piedra, he came in less than a minute behind Michael.

Sue and her posse, including Brandoon, Brad, and their bud Kevin “Moore Carnage” Moore, brought up the rear, having enjoyed themselves on the river rather than stressing out a race. They’d ponied up their $30 bucks and run the river, thus earning a t-shirt, great micro-brew beer at the takeout, shuttle back, and entry to the Festival—a $45-dollar value, at least. The party afterwards was loud and chaotic—just the way we like’em.


Saturday: Drama at Meat Cleaver

John Kobak had to head home for a family event, so we were missing our Team leader. Elliott went over to the Cheat, so our group had nobody available to misname and misdescribe rapids. We soldiered on: Ron and I, Brad and Brandoon, Michael and Cliff, Jim Hunt, and Kevin. Kevin was an Upper Yough Virgin, so I led him down. He did well, flipping in Heinzerling and…and…Powerful Popper? I don’t remember. He and I were the only ones ballsy enough to play in Luke’s Final Insult at 2.3’, and he gave a windowshading clinic before it let him out.

Brad was determined to run the National Boof if I ran it; otherwise, he was going to go safely down the left. This time, my demo boat was a Fluid Solo. The boat handled really well, butt it was too small for me—I got out at least three times and I’m still limping two days later. I wasn’t sure about the Boof until we hung out in the eddy for awhile. Brandoon was considering it, butt he got bored waiting and headed down the left side. With Brent’s Posse of Vultures watching, I went for it. I won’t say I cleaned it, butt I made it into the eddy and avoided the big hole. Brad’s line looked smooth indeed. Sorry, Brent; maybe next time I’ll scroo up for you.

Ron had looked tentative on Friday, butt he was back to his old demented self on Saturday, trying to cartwheel in every hole and splat every rock.

The real excitement  happened, once again, at Meat Cleaver. This time, Brandoon decided to run the race line. It’s a pourover, so you need some speed. He was a little slow and got backendered. Shoved against a wall, he stepped out into the thigh-deep water. His boat lodged in a very dangerous sieve to the left. (From downstream, this looked really scary, as his boat was upstream and we didn’t know whether or not he was still in it.) Brad, Kevin, and Michael got into position to help very quickly. Ron and I were an eddy downstream, so we couldn’t make it up to help. At least I could take pictures.

Kevin was the only one with a tethered rescue vest, so they carefully lowered him from upstream down toward Brandoon’s boat. He clipped a biner onto its grab loop, and they were able to pull it to shore. Brandoon got back into the boat and ran the rapid.

Getting a line to Brandoon’s Boat.
Cliek here to see other photos from the rescue.

At Cheat Fest, Leland Davis and his wife were selling their new book, The River Gypsies’ Guide to North America, and giving away stickers as a promo. One of the stickers read “everybody swims.” I slapped one on the back of Brandoon’s vehicle; he didn’t notice it until driving home the  following day.

(By the BTW: in case you're wondering, you won't ever talk me into drinking from the bootie. I don't care how ugly a swim I might be guilty of; them booties is nasty.)


Sunday: Mop-up

Sunday was Ron’s turn to babysit, as Sue joined the crowd to run the Lower Yough. We were 11: Brad, Brandoon, Kevin, Sue, Brandoon’s dad Brent, Cliff, Michael, Carl Nelson, Nick Hlopik, Tim Reynolds, and Your Humble Reporter. Brad left our group at the Loop takeout to hike with his brother, who’s on leave from the Marines. It was a cool, raw, rainy day. When I asked Brad how the hike had gone, he said, “Great! We hiked all the way to the Falls City Pub, and then we did several laps around the pool table.” We had a good run, with no real drama. Kevin and Nick ran Jump Rock, while the rest of us watched.

Cliff Wire shows his good side at Double Hydraulic.
Click here to see other photos.

Brad’s Pontiac Vibe is a little snug for three paddlers and a passel of gear, so we loaded lots of wet stuff into our boats and made our way home.  My full boat must’ve weighed 80 pounds, taxing his roof rack. I got home a little before midnight, having completed four runs in four boats in three days.

Folks: Keel-haulers had, by my count, 10 people in the race. Let’s get three teams together next year!


Cheat Race Results:  2010  2009  Past Races
Cheat Fest Video by Dale Briggs
Cheat Race Start Video by Dale Briggs

Photos from CheatFest 2010

Click here to drop back into the Ratt Hole.


Kevin Moore at Jump Rock.