Running Gorilla was great, but the feeling of knowing I had achieved my goal at the bottom was even better.

July 20, 2022// Leave a comment

My family first moved to Asheville, North Carolina, in the summer of 2008. My whole life
before that we had lived in flat areas with no whitewater, first in Tallahassee, Florida, then Carry,
North Carolina. My father had been a kayaker well before this and still had an old Pirouette
from that time which he ended up selling when we moved back to the mountains. The person that
quickly bought this boat was one of the paddlers in the earlier years of the Green Race and
acquired it to be his new boat for training and racing. Along with cash, he gave my dad a poster
of the rapids on the Green River Narrows because he was featured paddling in it. My dad placed
it on the wall of our basement, where it is still displayed fourteen years later.

I remember spending lots of time looking at the poster as a kid and being interested in the
complexity, diversity, and difficulty of the rapids. I became more fascinated with it when I was told
that the river was less than an hour from our house, and fed into the Lower Green which was one
of the rivers that allowed me to build fundamental skills for paddling. While I would not see the
Narrows in person for many years after first seeing the poster, I knew it was something I would
want to experience for myself if I ever became qualified.

Over the years I progressed, moving up from the Lower Green, to the Nantahala, then the
Pigeon, Ocoee, Tellico, and so forth. I began running the Upper Green which only fueled my
desire to one day run the Narrows, as I had now run two out of the three sections of the river.
In my early teens, my dad finally hiked in with me to watch the Green Race. This was my first
time seeing the section in person and I thought it was awesome. The rapids were steeper, tighter,
and more dangerous than I could have imagined. While I was not in a boat that day, it was one of
my most important days as a paddler as it showed me how much more I needed to improve to be
where I wanted, but also gave me a definitive goal to work towards: running Gorilla. This was
one of the rapids on the poster that always stood out to me because of how the whole river
channeled into a drop no wider than a picnic table, appearing to be unrunnable from a first

Later in my teens, I started running more advanced creeks and began the time of really pushing
my limits. I became obsessed with class V and V+ rapids, specifically those that require
precision and confidence in abilities. It got to the point where I would hop onto an adventure
with anyone I knew just to explore a new creek. I began running rivers that are much larger,
more dangerous, and subjectively more difficult than the Narrows such as Thompson Creek,
Harper Creek Falls, an Upper Gauley lap at 8,000 cfs, and high flow Nantahala Cascades.
Throughout this time I was expressing interest in the Narrows to my friends that had the ability
to take me down, but because I was so reliant on where other people were going it just did not
happen for about another two years. I had become the paddler I wanted to be, but still badly
wanted to run the Green Narrows.

In the Summer of 2020, I finally had the chance to run Narrows for the first time. The crew I was
with was great and made sure to take it rapid-by-rapid, providing plenty of beta for each drop. I
did not run any of the big three that day, but I did not care. I knew that my experience on my first
run was important because I had put so much weight into it, so running everything clean and
sticking to the lines gave me a huge boost in confidence. It also confirmed that working towards
running Gorilla was a realistic goal at that point.

Two years later in the Summer of 2022, on my fourth lap on the Green, I completed my goal. It
was a weekend lap with some of my coworkers at a nearby summer camp. I had no intention of
running it when going into the gorge, as it had been almost a year since my last time being on
that river. Things started going as well as they could though, and all four of the people in my
group were acing lines and having a blast. We got to Go Left, which I had only run once before

at this point, and I decided to send it. I had a very clean run and did not slam into any rocks,
which made me feel even better at that point. We worked our way down to Gorilla, and by then
everyone else was leaning towards running it. We looked at the notch and the drop, and decided
it was looking good so everyone else decided to run it. I made the decision to run it if I thought
everyone else felt good after giving it a go. They all went, and each made it look great by having
no issues through the notch or going off the lip. At that point, I decided to try it.

I knew that while I did not have to, there would not be many chances better than this because of
how perfectly in-tune everything felt. While my nerves were through the roof, I felt a confidence
about sending the drop that had not been there any of the other times, and I knew that because
this feeling came to me and was not forced, I was ready to run it.

I hopped in my boat, gave myself one last pep talk, and headed to the notch. I made it through
and found myself sitting in the eddy right above the drop I had wanted to run ever since I first
saw it on that poster as a young kid. After a few more moments, I sent it because I knew the
longer I waited the more nervous I would get. I made sure I was lined up at the lip and
everything else took care of itself. Going down the drop was a blur, but I felt myself skip off the
landing and through Speed Trap, which was about where I regained my ability to see what I was
doing. Running Gorilla was great, but the feeling of knowing I had achieved my goal at the
bottom was even better.

A little while after that, I was talking to a boater passing through right below Sunshine. I told
him I had just run Gorilla and was glad I did because I felt that if I didn’t that day, I may never
have. He responded with something that will always stick with me. He said that he walked
around Gorilla 199 times before it finally felt right on his 200th lap. So for anybody feeling that
sort of pressure about an intimidating river feature, just know you will feel when the time is
right, and that there is no rush!

By: Sam Fleming


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