Last weekend (July 25-26, 2009) Daniel and I both went on an OASC trip to West Virginia. Whitewater rafting on the New River was the main item on the agenda, but we also visited a few scenic parks in the mountains. My pictures from the trip are below; you can also see more, including some beautiful botanical close-ups, at the OASC picture gallery. Captions on this page are generally placed below the pictures that they comment on.

The drive out through western Virginia and up into the Allegheny mountains was very scenic.

Our first stop for outdoor activities was the Cranberry Glades Botanical Area within the Monongahela National Forest.

From the Forest Service website: "The Cranberry Glades consists of four bogs whose plant and animal life is similar to that found in the bogs or 'muskegs' of the north. This life spread southward with the changing climatic conditions that allowed glaciers to creep across the northern part of our continent. Several species ended their migration here, and the Cranberry Glades are now the southern-most point in North America where some of these life forms are found."

Indeed, I found that the place reminded me a lot of New England.

Very nice, well-maintained boardwalks are provided to allow visitors to walk through the Cranberry Glades without disturbing the delicate ecosystem.

There were a lot of interesting flora in the bogs. I didn't get very good pictures, partly because of the limitations of my camera, partly because of my limitations as a photographer, and partly because it rained on us most of the time that we were there, so I had to put the digicam away. You can see many more (and much better) closeups of the flowers and pitcher plants at the OASC picture gallery linked above.

I did take out the camera near the end of the walk to take this shot of a rather damp Daniel.

Our next stop was the Falls of Hills Creek Scenic Area, where a stream cascades over three different breaks in the sandstone rocks. There is a walkway (parts of it constructed like a fire escape) that starts from a parking lot and descends past the Upper, Middle, and Lower Falls, each of the falls getting bigger as you go down. My pictures from the Upper Falls are not much to look at, since the observation platform is awkwardly positioned above the falls, and I don't seem to have any photos from the Middle Falls. These are all photos from the Lower Falls.

A small group of guys departed from the official walkway and used an unofficial, but obviously well-traveled, path to get down behind the Lower Falls.

Here one of them gives a sense of scale to the splashdown area of the Lower Falls (which are 63 feet high).

Back in the parking lot . . . look! Outhouses!

After leaving the area of the Cranberry Glades and Falls of Hills Creek, we drove on through West Virginia to Songer Whitewater, our river outfitter, who also run a campground where we would stay the night before our Sunday rafting trip. A line of intense thunderstorms (orange and red on the radar map) swept through the area as we were driving. We drove through some very heavy rain, and waited out part of the storm in a gas station parking lot where a few pieces of chick pea sized hail hit the windshield. At one point, we drove up to an intersection on top of a ridge and saw this stunning cloud ahead of us. It was black-bottomed and piled high. The pictures don't really do it justice.

I didn't get very good pictures of the small cabin that Daniel and I shared, but this photo is to document that I took the cat quillow along, and it served me very well! While we were waiting for dinner I used it as a pillow for napping (even though I had also brought a full-sized pillow), and then at night I unfolded it to provide extra warmth on top of the other, not quite adequate blankets I'd brought.

The cabin, by the way, was basically a large plywood box, propped up on concrete blocks at each corner, with two small windows, two ceiling fans (with lights), one small air conditioner, and a couple electric outlets. Oh, there were also two double beds (b.y.o. bedding and pillows), a trash can, a fire extinguisher, and a built-in table between the beds. I think that was it! The overall aesthetic impression was very much plywood, plywood, and more plywood. The trash can came in handy when the ceiling started to leak in the middle of the night. There was a bath house maybe 30 paces away. The place was clean, and for forty bucks a night I thought it was quite acceptable!

And now, here are my pictures from the rafting trip on Sunday.

A note on the challenges of shooting this story: The disposable waterproof camera I had was designed for right-handed use, with a small lever on the right front (instead of the more conventional button on top) to activate the shutter. I needed to keep my right hand on top of the T-grip of my paddle--we were told that a large percentage of rafting injuries are caused by the tops of paddles striking people, and indeed, Dan got one knee badly banged up by the uncontrolled T-grip of someone else's paddle--so I had to shoot with my left hand. It might have been slightly easier if I had thought to turn the camera upside down so the shutter lever would at least be on the left side, but I think I still would have had difficulty. Moreover, the camera was secured to my PFD on the middle buckle so it wouldn't fly up and hit me in the face when I got thrown around in the rapids, which meant that I couldn't easily bring the camera up to my eyes in order to frame my shots through the viewfinder. (The edges of my helmet got in the way of that maneuver, too.) To further complicate things, as you'll see below, in some shots there were water drops on the waterproof housing right over the lens, causing parts of the pictures to be very blurry. Finally, I couldn't take action shots while we were going through the rapids, because I needed my hands free for paddling!

Considering all these challenges, I'm not too disappointed with the results!

I really liked the scenery along the river.

In our boat we had four OASC people along each side, plus the river guide in the stern. I spent the entire time seated in the second position back from the bow, on the port side. After one round of "playing" in a violent rapid (we would ride through the rapids with everyone in the boat, and then sometimes our guide would steer us back to "play," a procedure that usually resulted in multiple people being ejected from the boat), I realized that this was a good position, because there was a strap I could hang onto--an amenity not available to every position. I refused to give up my position when we were invited to swap around! Daniel started out diagonally opposite me in the starboard bow (as seen in the picture above and the one below), then moved over to the port bow, just ahead of me, for most of the trip. He reports that being in one of the bow positions gives you quite a different perspective from being farther back. I imagine it must be that much scarier to see what we are paddling into, right up close!

Here's an action shot, of sorts. Motion blur, at least!

There were two or three rapids where our guide invited us to swim through the rapids, if we wished. A couple of guys took her up on the invitation. I did not, although I did swim in a couple of calmer stretches of the river.

There were three boats in our party: a "wild" one filled with OASC people; a "medium" one also filled with OASC people, including me and Dan; and a "mild" one filled with non-OASC people. Plus, we met up with another, smaller raft making its way down the river at the same time. I tried to get some pictures of the other rafts when they would come through rapids after us, but they were too far away, and between the distance and the flattening effect of the camera lens, the rapids which were imposing in real life came out looking like hardly anything in the pictures! Perhaps this guy, who had a waterproof housing for a regular digital camera with zoom, managed to get better snaps.

Here's what it looks like as we're about to go over a rapid.

This was our guide, Sarah. I liked her apart from her style of "playing" in the big rapids. She was knowledgeable, skilled, and a little salty, as a river guide should be. She just has a daredevil gene that I lack, and she was determined to give everyone an involuntary "out of boat experience" (something Songer promotes with T-shirts, etc.).

Sarah with two of the other OASC paddlers.

At one point we all jumped out of the raft in the middle of a calm stretch of river, then clambered back in one by one. I took this shot while still in the water, obviously. The rafts are harder to get back into than they look like: the sides are pretty high and the inflation makes them almost rigid. I could not haul myself up--I needed to be dragged partway into the boat.

After one of our swims, I made it into the boat before Daniel, then tried to help him up. I got him a little way up, but then he started going back down into the river. I asked him whether he wanted to go up or down. He replied, with admirable forbearance, "Well, UP," and I realized that the reason he was going back down was not hesitation but GRAVITY. Specifically, gravity combined with my weakling arms. DUH! I had to get assistance in assisting him. Sarah yanked him into the boat as if she were swinging a five-pound sack of potatoes into her shopping cart.

I really like this shot of Daniel in the water, grinning. Too bad there is a water drop on the camera housing causing a white fuzzy spot right over his face!

Way up ahead there is the New River Gorge Bridge, which was amazing in real life. We took out at a spot just upriver from the bridge, and were bused out of the gorge on a narrow road that went right past one of the enormous footings. That bridge is huge! Sorry to invoke a cliche, but it really is a marvel of engineering.

For the very last shot on the roll in the disposable waterproof camera, near the end of the trip, I got Daniel to take a picture of me.

Part of Songer's business is setting up cameras on the river banks and taking photos and video of the boats as they go through the rapids, then selling the pictures to the participants. Here's one of the Songer photos of our boat going through a rapid:

I turned all the Songer photos (shot rapid-fire, so to speak, at one location) into a crude GIF animation:

On the way back to Virginia late on Sunday afternoon, we stopped at Babcock State Park to take in this scenic overlook:

Dan and I posed for a picture too.