I'm Tim Chandler, 52 and still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. It'll probably have something to do with water and boats. I first started canoeing and kayaking in the 60s, paddling back and forth across the Hudson River with high school friends. We were keen hunters and swamp explorers, and all of us developed a love for the outdoors and the animals as a result. When I lived in Annapolis, MD in the 70s I built a frame-and-skin kayak and paddled it around there but it was soon stolen. It was a lousy design, anyway! Then I never got serious about it until the early 80s when I built several more frame-and-skin kayaks (my design skills having progressed considerably) for use on the tidal Potomac. After about a year of paddling them I bought a Chinook in 1984 which I still have. I used it for touring and sea kayaking on the tidal Potomac, Rappahannock, Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean, mainly the Virginia Barrier Islands.
Some friends introduced me to whitewater in 1984 by means of a raft trip down the Upper Gauley with the KeelHaulers. It was a weird experience to say the least, as we came down the hill to the base of the Summersville dam, with 'droids in silver suits and matching PFDs holding rafts over their heads, chanting and yelling, being directed here and there by the "high priests" of Raftdom, the raft guides...it was like a scene out of some strange "B" sci-fi movie. Then the KeelHaulers were off to one side, a scruffy-looking, totally disorganized group wearing faded, torn and patched equipment, standing next to faded, torn and patched rafts. I wondered what the hell had I gotten myself into! Turns out, of course, they knew what they were doing, as opposed to the 'droids. We embarked on a two-day trip down the Upper and Lower, with the "beer raft" having most of its beer ripped loose after the first halfway-big rapid (something before Insignificant, I didn't know any of the names then).
The raft I was in, guided by the intrepid Rita, spent probably five miles chasing down cans of beer from one rapid and eddy to another! They float with only about 1/4" of the end showing, and as someone would spot one we'd ferry madly across in front of oncoming traffic, someone would lean out and grab it, and then we'd paddle away looking for the next one. I was hooked immediately. Learning on the Potomac in the DC area and cutting my teeth on the Lower Yough and other fun rivers in WV and PA followed. My first real whitewater was twisty-turny Sideling Hill Creek which I did in the sea kayak! I remember I had to work real hard to get the boat around the bends. I got to do the Cheat my first time before the November '85 flood, and many times since at all levels, and it's probably my favorite, for many reasons not the least of which is it has the flavor of almost a wilderness trip, no park rangers or regulations. The Upper Gauley was fun too, but I think I liked the Lower Gauley better, not really having to worry about Lost Paddle (the Second Drop still gives me the willies, I use a "sneak" on river right that is probably much worse than straight through!).
After trying unsuccessfully to revive a drowned rafter below Lower Coliseum (Pete Morgan's) on the Cheat in 1989, my whitewater began to tail off somewhat. When I moved to Colorado I barely did any whitewater, but more than made up for it by camping and hiking and exploring that wonderful state and its glorious mountains. Now I am living in Memphis, TN and have not yet started to explore the Mississippi, but it looks like great fun for the sea kayak and even my whitewater boat (Outburst), if I can dodge the barge traffic!