Known Firsts

Before the COVID-19 quarantines started some weeks back, Souzz and I snuck in an overnight paddling trip to Hopeville Canyon in West Virginia. We’d paddled that stretch on day trips several times before, so an overnight packrafting trip was a new twist in a familiar place (and a socially distant twist at that).

On the drive up, Souzz asked if I knew anyone that had camped in the canyon before. I answered that I didn’t know anybody, that the run was a “known first.” This little fun fact added to the anticipation for me, but it made Souzz a bit anxious. She remembered plenty of those kinds of trips in the past, like the time when an escaped cow wandered through our camp, or the time when daylight revealed a giant pile of trash next to our late night bivouac. Her reaction was an amusing contrast in our partnership: one of us balances adventure with sensibility, and the other unwittingly camps next to garbage dumps.

Despite the sunshine, it was a pretty raw day, and my hands were freezing as I biked the shuttle back from the takeout (after dropping off the car).

Perhaps an hour after launching, we were sitting streamside next to a roaring fire—staying plenty warm despite a brisk wind and temps in the high 30s.

As for our camp, the shoreline was a bit rocky, the tent wasn’t quite level, and the wind was pulsing…but this place was all ours, away from the city and the lights and the people and the tension. We shared a pasta dinner as we enjoyed the sounds from the rush of the river and some passing mergansers.

We were in an area that doesn’t get much use (we didn’t see a single footprint, a rarity in the East), so wood was plentiful. We fiddled with the fire well into the night–moving a stick here and a log there—and we found ourselves wondering if this might be the last time that we got out for an overnight for a while.

The backcountry has a tendency to re-order one’s priorities, and this trip was no exception. With so much happening in the world, it was great to focus on staying warm, finding our way downriver, and pulling together a few meals. Thankfully, we also managed to avoid errant cows and heaps of garbage.

As we drove home, we enjoyed reminiscing about past trips and I let my mind wander a bit…until Souzz pointed out that we were almost out of gas. This time our reactions were in sync, perhaps because running out of gas is not a known first.