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Friday, June 21, 2002

"Head for the river!"

We had a very early morning. Even with this nagging headache that just won't go away, I am determined to do this rafting trip. We have to be at the USA Raft Nolichucky Outpost by 8:30 a.m. and we have a two hour drive to get there. Early morning, indeed. Thank goodness we didn't have to clear the Outpost by dawn! LOL!

Once we arrive, everyone checks in and signs the necessary release waivers...you know the ones that say we're not responsible if you die.
We are introduced to Wayne (I don't know his last name...really cute guy, though). He orients us a bit about the day. We view a tape about the Nolichucky River and white water rafting in general. Wayne gets a count of who wants a raft and who wants a duck. What is a duck you ask? Well, a duck is a one-man funyak type deal. You're on your own in this. Whereas, in a raft you are among three other people and a guide. Guess which one I did? Yep, raft. My husband on the other hand chose a duck. Usually they put six people plus a guide in a raft but as I stated earlier, the water level is down in this area due to lack of rain. We receive and put on our lifejackets and helmets and then are given a paddle and load the bus. It's a pretty long drive to where we put in. The actual Outpost where we met this morning is in Erwin, Tennessee and where we put in is in North Carolina. While we're making our way in the bus, Wayne gives us all kinds of safety instructions, and the do's and don'ts, paddling directions, etc. He is very personable, as are all the guides and really made the trip enjoyable.

Finally arriving at the point of launching our rafts, we have to wait a bit for them to air up the ducks. Corey Brown from Nashville, Tennessee is our guide. He goes over his paddle commands and we practice a little...then we're off!

This is a beautiful place. The mountain gorge is absolutely breathtaking. The rapids are not bad, in fact, they are a lot of fun. We did the Nolichucky Day Trip, which includes lunch. Where we stop for lunch was used during the filming. Tom, who is the head honcho of the place, and Wayne accompanied the stuntmen and film crew. Our lunch spot was used as a basis of operation during filming.

We are told that Michael Mann sent his scouts about a month prior to filming to see and experience the river. Michael himself rafted the river along with his children. From our lunch location you can see the rock that Hawkeye and Uncas are laying on as they pull Chingachgook from the river. We'll get a closer look a little later.
Tom tells us they used air hoses to pump air and stir the water to make it appear more active than it actually was. One of the cameramen had to lay on his stomach on one of the funyaks with the cameral held at eye level to get the effect you are viewing this from waterlevel. Many guides and safety people were needed because the actors and their stunt doubles could not wear life jackets nor helmets.

After telling us all this we get back into our rafts/ducks and go to the rock itself. You cannot actually get on it, but Tom did for us so there would be no mistake which rock it actually was. We beach our rafts here for a bit and Wayne shows us the incline our heroes run up immediately after pulling Chingachgook from the river. He gives us a little demonstration. It was fun. When you watch the movie again, and I know you will, look beyond Hawkeye and Uncas in the background you might be able to see a railroad bank to the left of the scene. After knowing this, I was easily able to pick it out at the "big screen" showing Saturday night. Both Wayne and Tom worked closely with the production crew and actors. They said they were all very nice and they would have done it without pay.

We still have a lot of rafting to do from this point. I will tell you that this was a very long day. We were on the river for about eight hours, including lunch and stopping along the way for Tom and Wayne to tell us their stories. It was grueling, dehydrating, and I would do it again if given the chance. This is the East's deepest gorge and it was an experience I will never forget. The mountains surround you, the sky was cloudless and perfect blue.

We arrived back at the Outpost, bone tired, and changed into dry clothes, did a little gift shop buying, tipped our guides and said our good-byes. This is a class operation and a wonderful staff. I'm glad I didn't let a migraine keep me from doing this. But I fear that tomorrow might be a different story.