Wednesday, August 27, 2008

X-Treme Stupidity

by Annette Dashofy

Ohiopyle is a quaint little town nestled in the Laurel Highlands. No major highways run through it. Or even very near it. To get to the town, you must drive down some windy mountainous roads that appear to follow paths originally used for goats. During the week, the place is relatively quiet. But on holidays and weekends, folks flock to the small town in droves. Why? Well, for me, it’s the bike trails that follow an old railroad bed along the Youghiogheny River. Scenic doesn’t begin to describe it. Most people, especially young, adventure-seekers come for something else.


Home to more than 14 miles of some of the best whitewater rafting in the Eastern US, Ohiopyle draws both young and old into its state park where you can pay any one of several outfitters to take you out, either in a raft or a kayak. This river is nothing to sneeze at. People have lost their lives. Especially at the notorious Dimple Rock.

More dangerous still is the 18 foot waterfall in the heart of Ohiopyle. Just a little over two months ago, a man was swept over the falls, his body recovered days later. The challenge of surviving an intentional trip over the falls calls to many, but alas, it is illegal to go over the falls at Ohiopyle.

Except for one day a year. The Over the Falls Festival.

Last weekend, there wasn’t a parking space for miles. Buses rolled into the village and vendors set up booths in the park.

We had the foresight to arrive early enough to both find a parking spot—in the shade, no less—AND to watch the practice runs. It was incredible.

People do this ON PURPOSE. Some made it look easy, landing right-side-up and gliding away. Others (MOST) weren’t so lucky.

There were rescue personnel and volunteers everywhere. Amazingly, no one was seriously injured (unless you count their pride) while we were there. I did witness the rescue crew tossing lines to one unfortunate soul who got caught in some smaller rapids upstream. And I heard there were others who needed pulled out from that same spot.

This guy needed a shrink.

In fact, in my opinion, that could be said about most of the men and women who participated in the event.

But somehow, I suspect most of them will be back next year. I know I hope to be there again, too. However, I will be safe and dry on the observation deck, searching for a good camera angle.

(As you read this, I am away on vacation, so I won’t be able to respond to questions or comments. Feel free to chat among yourselves and I will be back next week.)


Anonymous said...

Hmmm, if you have to be crazy to go over the falls, what do you have to be to stand in the sunshine and watch other people go over the falls?
I've never gone over the falls myself, but I have run the Ohiopyle rapids many times (in rafts, not a kayak). It is dangerous. I've been knocked out of the raft at Dimple Rock and nearly drowned a few times. But there is an exhilaration that comes from bouncing through wild water, screaming, "Paddle! Paddle! Paddle!" to your crew mates as you try to navigate the one route that will take you safely through the rocks. I expect it's even more exciting to navigate the falls solo. My hat is off to all the brave foolhardy souls who do it.

Annette said...

(On my way out the door)

I'm sure you're right, Gina. Problem is I can't swim, so the whole concept of being thrown into water (and rocks) scares the crap outta me.

However, I have often said (more or less seriously) that when I die I want to be cremated and my ashes tossed into the river at Ohiopyle as that will be the only way I willl ever get to run the rapids there.

I'm outta here. Bye!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing with us, Annette. I was in the food co-op a few weeks ago and saw someone with an "over the falls" T-shirt. I had a conflict for that day, so promptly forgot about it, but would love to see it some other year! Thanks for the tip about getting there early.

In terms of dangerous, Gina, I once went on the Guli river in West Virginia, where you have to have an experienced guide on every boat. Part of the danger at Ohiopyle is not just the river (which is no crazier than the Guli) but the idea you have someone giving directions who's had just one whitewater experience.

On the Guli, I had a guide who'd been doing it for 16 years and never had a boat go over. That gave me the confidence to keep going when it seemed impossible we'd make it past that next rock.

Dana King said...

Ohiopyle is sorta kinda almost on my way from DC to visit the parents in Pittsburgh. I'm going to have to remember this for next year.

There's a part of me that loves to see people pull off something like this. And another part that will watch a crash and say, "Dumb ass. What did you think was going to happen?"

Wilfred Bereswill said...

I never knew about that place. I'm a bit of a white water freak myself. My favorite place is Colorado and the Arkansas River. Through the Royal Gorge the sound is deafening and rapids, III's, IV's and V's non-stop for several miles.

Brown's canyon is a great run with one really big rapid called Seidel's suckhole.

Check out the YouTube video. Killer is, it doesn't look bad, but it is tough.

Of course it's not a waterfall either.

Anonymous said...

Annette -
Nobody can swim in the rapids. You just rely on your life vest and try not to bang your head on rocks and keep repeating the mantra, "Don't put your feet down. Don't put your feet down," until you get pulled back into the raft or make it through the rough patch without a raft. The reason you don't put your feet down is that, although the river is shallow, you can't stand up. If a foot gets stuck between rocks, the current is strong enough to snap your leg and lay your body down beneath the water and you drown.

Anonymous said...

Hey Annette,
those pics are spectacular. I am always amazed by people who feel called to risk and excitement that way...more power to them and here's hoping my kids aren't adventurous in that way!! It sounds like you have a yearning to ride the rapids...maybe swimming lessons are on the horizon?