The Best of the Best
THE BEST OF THE BEST
Maybe it was just me, but for my money there was no trip like the Canoe Trip on Lake Rabun. I got my first taste of the joys of Lake Rabun by going on the lesser trip… the ten man war canoe trip, or I should say ‘11’ man trip, since an AD or Sup sat in the stern and steered as we did the heavy lifting. I first made the trip as a Prep. I believe that my year as a Prep was the first year the War Canoe Trip was ‘reinstituted’, because ‘Pop’ had bought two of those giants over the winter. While it wasn’t the ‘long canoe’ trip by a long shot; it was, at least, our chance on Lake Rabun, like the big boys. I made the first of those trips with Coach Mike at the helm my Prep year; then Coach Inman was our skipper my Junior year. We put in at Hall’s Boat House, paddled all the way to Lake Seed dam, portaged the canoes over it, and paddled across to Bowden’s Lake house where we spent the night. The next morning Georgia Power let water out of Lake Seed to power the generators in the power plant, so we were able to shoot the rapids.
(Yesterday, I was with friends and we went by where we put in for the rapids. In the distance I could see the bridge with those massive concrete abutments. A hilarious vision came to me. I remember watching a War Canoe negotiate the rapids; I was waiting in a two man canoe for my turn. They had almost made it through when for some reason the canoe spun out of control… Maybe Monte Allen was steering? We watched them spin around and around, until they finally hit that abutment broadside. They were going really fast in the rapids and campers shot ten feet in the air and landed at various places in the river. Canoe and campers survived!)
The year with Coach Mike we made it through unscathed, but the next year a boy in our canoe shifted too quickly and we capsized and had to float to a point down river where we could unswamp. That caused us to get behind the other war canoe and we never caught up with them. Since the two war canoes always raced each other, we slunk back into Hall’s a distant second while the kids on the other boat (with drinks and candy in hand) taunted us from the deck. Like I said; it wasn’t the ‘big canoe’ trip, but it was better than nothing. But enough of the ‘little boy’ stories… on to the big stuff!
The ‘big stuff’ began when I wasn’t such big stuff. I was thirteen, it was Two Week Camp (old precursor to the four week sessions). We sort of played by ear in that session and for some reason, known only to God and him, Coach Poss decided the oldest unit would take the Long Canoe Trip. In those days (and it proved to be the last year), a swimming test was required… one mile of continuous swimming: Translation-six laps (up, one; back, two) of the lake. I was scared to death. I was not a great swimmer, but I managed to convince two buddies who were to swim with me… I guess I thought they would inspire me. Billy Gordon was one; he later swam at Chapel Hill in college. Burrhead Erwin was the other; Burr is now deceased but he was as good a swimmer as Billy at that time. I guess they both inspired and had mercy on me, because we all swam together and finished together and made it in the morning free time. It was June and I remember being very cold and at the point of cramping… but feeling darn good about myself. Y Camp and peer pressure are miracle workers!
All I remember about that first trip is that I went with Burrhead and we formed an alliance with the biggest two boys, so we didn’t get swamped… and it rained. About halfway up the narrows, past the big basin a ‘trash moving, frog strangler’ hit us, replete with lightening. We beat it to shore and turned those metal canoes over for a covering. I remember Dink Donnely (one of the big boys) laughing and reading the head line: ‘Eighteen campers, frizzle-fried’. I was so cold at that point, fried was beginning to seem like a good option. One good thing about that trip, at least for a skinny thirteen year old; Sonny didn’t completely take leave of his senses. He had the boats delivered to Halls, so we didn’t have to portage from camp, only over Seed Dam. Later when I was given the option of going with the LIT’s during regular camp, I puffed out my chest and said, ‘Been there, done that,’ neglecting to mention I had done that without doing the hard part of that. What they don’t know, won’t hurt me!
Next year, I was fourteen and I was ready. I was playing JV football, lifting weights and for the first and probably only time in my life was one of the bigger boys. We must have had all ‘shrimps’ as LIT’s that summer. While I didn’t have to swim the mile (nobody did; Coach Poss had stopped that test). I did have to carry the canoe over the mountain. I wisely picked Joe Law, who though only thirteen was a great athlete from Millen, GA. Joe was a college football prospect as a quarterback, until he broke his neck his senior year of football. Joe and I dominated the other boys, swamping whom so ever and managing to finish first to Bowden’s house. The first four LIT’s got to sleep in beds. Coach Poss and Jerry Matthews had two and we got the other four. I suppose the high light, besides jumping off the top of numerous boat houses (that and we never wore a life preserver make me know that God loves AYC… how did we survive some of the dangerous things we tried?), was that we carried our canoe over and back without putting it on the ground one time! But we were probably the only ones; I could hear canoes being dropped all over the mountain… wham! Wham! And some guys dragged their canoes all the way down the washout. It is hard for me to believe that a one of those canoes made it back in one piece; and yet, we still have a few of those old ‘Grummans’ even now!
Seniors and LIT’s were the only groups to take the trip by mandate; but I volunteered every year. Coach Poss always wanted a couple of lower staff to run the front of the trip while he brought up the rear. Little did he know that the ‘front runners’ weren’t paying too much attention to the ones in the middle; unless it was to beat the crap out of them and swamp their boats in the middle! Anyway, I volunteered every year. I went as an Assistant Leader with Joe, a second year LIT. I went as a leader with Mike Kemp, more on that trip later. I think I went every year as a Leader. As a Supervisor I took War Canoe trips. Then I took a few Long Canoe Trips for Coach Poss and I led my LIT’s for three or four years on that trip. All in all, maybe a dozen trips and I never tired of making them…
Funny things I remember:
Joe and I paddling beside Coach Poss and Jerry Matthews; but not getting close enough so Jerry could jump out and swamp us. Jerry wanted a candy bar and as a bribe Joe threw him one, but it was about to hit the water and so Jerry stretched out and caught it, but leaned to far and swamped their boat. Coach Poss had regular clothes on, because nobody had ever swamped him… until now. Well, we didn’t actually do it; it was greed, pure and simple. Jerry came for us, of course, but we were way too fast for him swimming… we laughed about that all the way to Hall’s.
From trip one, I used to day dream about pretty teenaged girls with daddy’s boat coming out on their docks and rushing to give us tows. Little did I know when I took Mike Kemp with me that he had the girls stashed on the lake; not surprising, Kemp had girls everywhere. This time I was the beneficiary of his largesse. As soon as we were out of sight of Hall’s and the other canoes, those girls towed us all the way to Rabun Beach. It took about thirty minutes and we skied the rest of the day. On the way back we did the same thing, but this time I got more brave. I slalomed by the canoes spraying and swamping to my heart’s content. We ditched the boat when Coach Poss came into view. I never saw those girls again, but they were very nice to us that day on the lake.
Every one wondered who would take whom in a fight: Monty or Trav? Monty Allen was an offensive lineman for Wofford and Trav Paine was a back at UGA. Monty and Trav had played ball together in highschool at Richmond Academy in Augusta but Trav was older. The last summer they were at camp together Monty seemed to have finally caught up with Trav. My suspicions were confirmed. I was on the Long Canoe trip and Trav and Monty each had a War Canoe on the other trip. Near the end, right outside of Hall’s it happened as I watched from a safe distance. Trav’s boat closed on Monty’s and they crashed together. Trav jumped into Monty’s boat and began to throw his campers out. Monty started throwing his own campers out, I realized, he was heading for Trav. They met in the middle and Monty picked Trav up with his bare hands (and he had ‘em… hands. Dad once said Monty could probably pull teeth without pliers)… and he just tossed in in the lake, like you’d toss a camper in the baby pool! But, then he forgot whose canoe it was; with a shout he over turned his own canoe. So Monty won the battle, but Trav had the last laugh in the war!
Trying to emulate the ‘good ol’ days’, I asked Mr Simpson if I could take my LIT’s on the old ‘Three Day Canoe’ trip. Randy Randall was my boat mate and we had thirty LIT’s in fifteen canoes. First, we had to carry two of them’s canoes up the mountain… and down. Then when we hit the narrows, it started to rain and they began to let the water out of Seed to power the generators… it was one stroke forward and two back for about a mile. Several kids broke paddles in the current and had portage an extra mile. We went over Seed Dam and paddled to Burton Dam. I had not realized Seen Lake was so long, so it was almost dark when we got to the dam. I had never portaged that dam so we had to ‘play it by ear’… oops! Typical Y Camp planning. We spent the night at Bedgood’s dock; at least I think it was their dock; by that time it was ‘any port in a storm’ for me. We spent the night somewhere on Lake Burton. Next day we paddled back in a steady rain… remember those Y Camp rains. When Randy and I got to Rabun Beach, King Evans was standing on the dock at the grocery (he’d brought a daughter to Chattooga, I think), laughing at us. King is a great friend, and full of the usual Y Camp sympathy for a suffering brother. I felt like throwing him in the Lake. Anyway, we got back to our PM Cove and spent the night. They had brought us hotdogs and marshmallows and stuff to celebrate our journey. I remember that we ate the hotdogs cold, didn’t light a fire; couldn’t anyway with that rain and fell asleep at about six o’clock. I don’t remember ever being that tired. We made it over the mountain with the canoes the next day, but that was all a blur. And that was enough of the good ol’ days for us all!
Finally, in the mode of ‘be unprepared’ (Y Camp it antithetical to Boy Scouts, you know)… I had my campers try a rope swing way up in the narrows. It was a great swing and really high. I carefully told them to take the slack out of the rope before they swung… that was my only instruction. Randy Randall (another trip for us) and I were in the water waste deep, having already been off. A dozen campers were around us, also already off. Above us we hear a blood curdling scream, look up and a camper is dropping like a meteor right on us. He landed in waste deep water beside us both, groaned and floated up to the surface. The top part of his right leg was headed in opposite directions; he had broken his femur, cleanly in two. This was Monday and no-one was ever on Lake Rabun on Monday… we were six miles from Hall’s. We splinted his leg as best we could (none of us had instruction in First Aid), did nothing for potential shock and started to paddle. This is where God came in; at the very first boat house a young couple was spending the week, getting away from it all. We loaded the boy in his boat and made it quickly to Hall’s, then to Clayton, then the next day to Athens where Bee Tillman got him straightened out. Miracle number one: That anyone was on Lake Rabun that day with a boat, let alone at the very first boat house. Miracle number two that the boy did not die of shock… in the canoe, on the boat, in the back of the Hall’s truck, or in the Clayton Hospital. Miracle number three: that somebody did not sue the pants off of us… but that was ‘back in the day’.
I hope some bells were rung with you, when you read these ruminations. Please feel free to share thoughts with me about your trips and if you so please, I will forward them to the group. Also, all of these reflections and other things as well are posted on our Alumni Page of the Y Camp web-site.