Gauley Camp

US women's rafting team trains on the Gauley in preparation for Worlds

Photo courtesy Scott Martin
Photo courtesy Scott Martin

The 2013 International Rafting Federation World Rafting Championships come to New Zealand Nov. 18-24, and the U.S. women’s rafting team—called the Red Lady Raft Racing team—has been training hard in preparation for it. Early in September, the teammates stepped up their training on the Gauley River in West Virginia, where they hoped the river’s bigwater rapids would mimic the terrain where they would compete in. They got their wish, as heavy rains caused the Gauley to spike to more than 8,000 cfs, about double the normal flow.

Last week, got in touch with two of the team members to see how they fared on the Southeastern whitewater classic. Here’s what they had to say. You all are from Colorado. Why did you travel that far to train on the Gauley?
Avangeline Lambert: The Gauley has the combination of a lot of flat water to paddle through and technical rapids. Paddling strong through the flat water can shave off a teams' time and give that team a huge advantage if they are conditioned to do so.

Julia Sutton: The single most important thing that we got out of training at the Gauley is that we were all in one place for 10 days. The hardest part of our training is that while we all live in Colorado, we all live at least 2 hours away from each other. When you pack in driving and work schedules it makes training, even in the same state, extremely difficult. Being at Gauley, we were all camping together, we were all moving like an amoeba on the water and off. We also came out to Gauley to meet and inform people about Raft Racing at Gauley Fest.

What did the Gauley offer that you think prepared you most for the championships?
Sutton: Downriver big water helps us learn to communicate as one and hone our river reading. We also explored other rivers besides the Gauley. One of our teammates used to guide on the Youghiogheny, and she wanted to show us her old stomping grounds personally. So, we went there as well. We also made a trip to the Whitewater Center in North Carolina. There, we were able to work with very fast, very powerful water and to just do everything at once: practice slalom, downriver and sprint over the course of four hours.

Lambert: The Gauley is also very different than other rivers in that it has the combination of technical paddling skills that are required in a high volume of water yet it's also a forgiving river to a degree.

Aside from training, how do you like paddling the Gauley, for fun?
Lambert: I love paddling the Gauley for fun. When rafting on the Gauley, its more than a rafting trip, it's an experience and a memory you won't forget. When a person experiences the Gauley, she is experiencing more than just the river, she is experiencing the West Virginia small town community, the welcoming yet strongly opinionated culture and a wildly fun adventure. This is my second trip spending a little over a week paddling the Gauley with fellow raft guides and every time I've come back with an amazing experience and stories that I'll never forget.

Sutton: One of the things that has become important to us is to remember that we all love being on the river, being in nature, the thrill and excitement in the unknown. We got all of that out here with the unexpected raise in flows in addition to new water for most of the team. I’ve been a guide out here for 9 years during Gauley, and the 5000 cfs, 8000-plus cfs days, well, you want to make sure you have a good crew. Essentially, training isn’t always running rivers and having fun, and that is another reason why we came out here, to experience new rivers and remember our love for nature, rivers, the unexpected, living in the moment and just being able to bond even more with each other. It’s a very powerful feeling to be able to go down a river at top speed knowing that everyone is doing what they need to do to get us where we need to go.

Photo courtesy Scott Martin
Photo courtesy Scott Martin