By Eric Jackson


Everyone loves an inspirational story of someone who knows how to live life, and accomplish things that most don’t, with a major handicap. Lonnie Bedwell is one of those guys. Lonnie was formerly a petty officer in the Navy but he lost his eyesight 15 years ago in a hunting accident. He was introduced at some point to a good friend of mine, Joe Mornini of Team River Runner. Joe got Lonnie into kayaking and last year Lonnie did the length of the Grand Canyon in his own kayak, a major accomplishment that got him hooked on trying new rivers. One of Lonnie’s goals is to inspire other disabled people, and returning vets, in particular, to get out there and do things, to show them that life is far from over.

This past weekend was no different, as Lonnie went from the big waters of the Grand Canyon, to the technical waters of the Gauley River in West Virginia. On Friday, Lonnie tackled the lower Gauley and other than a surf in 5 Boat hole, he felt it went very well. He told me on Friday night that he would be giving the Upper Gauley a try on Saturday. Awesome! Enough from my writing; here is what Lonnie wrote to me about his trip:


I want to thank Eric Jackson and Stephen Wright. I just had an amazing weekend at Gauley Fest. I had a dream earlier this year of trying to kayak the Gauley river. I always hear about people kayaking the Iconic Gauley and how challenging it is. I just wanted to try it. Stephen let me borrow his medium Zen on Saturday to run the lower Gauley. Sowed we set out a little after lunch. I met Ally Conner my guide for the first time at the river. What an amazing run we had, She did an awesome job even though I ended up in Five Boat hole for a little bit. After the run with no swims was thinking is the upper also really possible? I was going “Lonnie, remember you are totally blind by the way”. We talked about it at the festival that evening with every intention of running it. I talked to Eric and he let me use one of the large Zen’s for a little more stability. So, I didn’t sleep a whole lot that night. On Sunday morning we set out on my first run down the upper with Alex Neilson as my lead guide and Ally behind me for safety. Alex had previously led me down the Grand Canyon. Everyone kept talking about the five biggies. How “significant” Insignificant really is along with Pillow Rock, Lost Paddle, Iron Curtain, and Sweet Falls. By days in we did it. I managed to run all of the “biggies” clean except for Pillow rock, which I ran a big part upside down but thankfully with no swims. I can’t say enough about the courage, and skill of my guides along with the performance of the Zen. It’s amazing to me how I can feel the water in that kayak along with its stability and maneuverability.. I really just want to once again thank everyone involved. It was an absolutely thrilling and amazing time.