By Eric Jackson
This was a whirlwind Gauley for the Jackson family. We left Rock Island on Thursday in time to eat at Pies and Pints that night, the Cathedral in the morning and then a Karma run on Friday for Nick and I on the Upper, while Dane, Emily, Courtney, and Alec paddled the Rock Stars. Stephen and Clay also were Rock Stars on Friday. We did the big hike out, getting our legs almost shaking and our heart rate up to top speed. Kristine and Mary met us there with beer and snacks.
It felt good to be back on the Gauley River again! We pulled the RV into the fairgrounds, made it under the temporary overhead wires for the festival that, last year, Dane took out with his van. This year they added 2 extra feet to it to make it “Jackson Proof” as they called it. A little jockeying around by Kristine while I was on the roof to protect the wires and we were in our place, and getting things set up. Awning out, kegs out, chairs out, boats off the roof, grill out, table set up, food out, lights up, and bingo, we are ready. Friday was a good mix of seeing old friends or people who have been around for a long time, like me, as well as meeting lots of new people too. Lots of excitement around the new Zen and Funs. We had people trying to claim a demo to use for the next day and did a pretty good job of getting them all out, but not double booking them. We put out PBR for our Friday night beer, saving the Calfkiller Beer (our local brewery in Sparta, TN from the Calfkiller River) for Saturday night. I got to bed pretty early on Friday night and didn’t drink too much as it was going to be a long day on Saturday.
Saturday we had our World Kayak first timers on the Gauley day. Colin had Nick, Dane, Emily, Courtney, Clay, and Alec all signed up for the Upper Gauley Run with 8 new people. My team was team Bravehearts, named by our British paddler, Mark. We also had Chuck, Nate, and Tom in my group. Clay and Dane had a different group. It was a great day on the river. We met at 8am at the put- in (early!!) and we lead our group down with no scouting, except Iron Ring, because those that didn’t have Jackson Kayak boats needed to empty out (uh- Jackson Kayaks don’t have holes drilled through the plastic hulls, while all other brands have at least 11 holes in them… each one leaks) Sorry, I digressed. We had no swims and some awesome lines, did a few slot moves, some big rolls, and finished with the big hike out. Nick and I did our daily 100 push-ups and our group joined in and did some too. Cool- run a new river, hike the boats up a big hill, and then do some more exercise!
We arrived back at the fairgrounds at 4pm and got back in festival mode, setting up boats, hanging gear out to dry, while Andi and Kristine numbered the hats and sponges for the Swag giveaway as well as the boat give-away. 352 numbers- lots of swag!
Nick fired up the charcoal grill and we had 200 hamburgers and 100 hot-dogs to cook, as well as 2.5 kegs of beer left. One of the “first timers on the Gauley” students, Kyle, got on the grill for us, and must have cooked about 150 hamburgers himself! I was on the Tap and we had the “Jay Henry” by Calfkiller on tap and it created a line-up, including some of our friends from other brands coming to check it out.
We had the first ever 4 Fun out of the mold, never paddled sitting there and Colin Kemp had the virgin run of this boat. He was in love and couldn’t stop talking about it. Luckily he let us put it back in front of the RV for people to check out. There were a ton of Fun lovers who were checking out our first re-design of the Fun in 4 years as well as the first one in 7 years that was back to the roots of this boat, the river running part.
We also had two of our Zen prototypes and it was amazing to see the reception of this boat, but more importantly how much fun those who tried it, had in it. You will seen lots more about this boat soon! The medium size will be ready in late October for sale!
I started throwing swag off the RV at 7pm and keep doing it until 10pm when we had the drawing for the kayak. It was a good group and a good mix of kids, young adults, old adults, women and men. We did the “Ladies only” throws but allowed the boys to grab the swag and the first girl to kiss them got it… that was our “riske’” thing for the night. Other than, perhaps, our big buckets of “coolaid” with a sign that said “Come drink the CoolAId” We had both spiked and non-spiked versions.
Team JK and some of our favorite ambassadors, like Wesley Bradley helped us give away the swag- 40 at a time every 1/2 hour. One fan had a fish net to catch the stuff, while others hoisted their girls or kids on their shoulders to get a leg up on the rest. I managed to lose my voice pretty early on between the beer and yelling.
At 10pm, we did our final throwout, and then drew a number from a hat. An 8 year old kid, Eli, won a boat of choice! We followed up with a second boat that was won by a young lady, Kristen, and then finally, with a big “encore” and “One more boat, one more boat” mass crowd chanting, I decided to give away one more… and a friend of Wesley’s won, George. George was so fired up as well that I was glad we did it.
A little more time talking to folks and I eventually went to bed. Clay took the late shift along with some others and did a good job keeping things going to the wee hours. Every hamburger and hot-dog got eaten, and the beer was gone except for a little bit of Sam Adams that nobody could figure out how to get out of the Keg.
We woke up Sunday and started with garbage clean up, followed by food, boats, and then all of the little stuff. Within two hours we were rolling and on our way to the put-in. Today was a Karma Unlimited run day. Nick, Dane, and I were in the Unlimited and going to do some cool long boat boofs, slots, and racing stuff. My highlight move of the day was when a raft was surfing a hole and couldn’t get out, I charged it full speed and boofed the lip of the hole, into the raft and out the other side! I didn’t get permission first, but had my fingers crossed that they would think it was cool, and not be mad. My luck was there as they were super fired up and I nailed the move clean and didn’t hit anyone. (I had plenty of margin for error, but they might have been scared that I would screw it up if they had time to think about it. ) That made my day as I neither ever thought of doing that, or tried before and it was not staged but a “hey, watch this” moment that went well.
Whew! We will be useless when we land in Austria after our past three days, our drive tonight, our lack of rest before our trip tomorrow and then our overnight “red-eye” flight.
Packing it in! Rock Stars, Zen, Funs, and Unlimited action!