|Photos Copyrighted by CoosaRiverPics.com. Click to enlarge!|
Story By: Patrick Brian Miller and Paige O’Hanley
Tourism Attraction: kayaking down the Coosa River
Location: Wetumpka, Alabama
Katie Swanson never thought she would make it this far. Neither had her best friend Meg, who had bet $20 against her stepping foot into the river, much less getting as far as the first rapid. Yet here Katie was, slowly meandering in a kayak down the pristine Coosa River on a beautiful spring morning. The river had a wild, fresh scent that permeated the air like an exotic perfume.
She had looked upon scenes like this from high atop bridge overpasses before, but now she was close enough to let her hand stray through the current. The sun’s rays shimmered across the clear blue water, sending back reflections of tall rock cliffs and deep green pines towering above her left side. She leaned back and savored the warm, gentle tease of the morning sunlight on her skin. Somehow, the tanning bed’s harsh radiation just didn’t offer up the same pureness, although it sure worked well in the wintertime.
Katie took great pride in keeping up her youthful, healthy appearance. Of course, like most beautiful girls, her self-image was something like a magic mirror that magnified all of her flaws. However, she dieted like crazy after any splurges. She knew the secrets of how makeup could freshen up a puffy face after a night of wild partying. Carefully shopping for the proper clothes was a must; she had done enough research on finding the perfect pair of jeans to write her thesis. The right jeans could make her legs look perfect. Sure, maybe someday she might be forced to see the inside of a gym to get the same results. Maybe when she was thirty. Until then, she would enjoy her early twenties.
Toning up her legs for this swimsuit wasn’t easy. Katie had walked the mall for hours while shopping for the perfect fit. Jason Truman would never know the lengths to which she had gone to make a good impression on their first date.
She had handled their first meeting on pure instinct. After Jason had told her what a big outdoors guy he was, he was amazed at how many interests they “shared” in common: hiking, camping, skiing, to name a few.
Jason had been so excited, in fact, that he had immediately invited her along on this kayaking trip with the church youth group that he led. No one was more amazed, however, than Katie when she heard herself instantly accept with equal enthusiasm. Fortunately, a church youth group didn’t require a skimpy bikini, and that had given her a lot of leeway. Finding the perfect swimsuit was only half the challenge and one she was better prepared for. But navigating across dangerous rapids in a kayak? How had she gotten herself into this situation again?
Oh yes, it was those shining green eyes of his. And the athletic build didn’t hurt at all. At 6’2, he had been the quarterback of his high school football team. But the real clincher for her was that cute smile that seemed to whisper straight into her heart: “I could be the one; are you?”
Jason certainly wasn’t Katie’s typical type. For one, he was mature. He had graduated college with full honors and already knew not only where he wanted to go in life but how to get there. Instead of going to law school and then sliding into his father’s wealthy practice, he had chosen to pursue a career of selfless service. Jason Truman’s mission in life was to lead as many kids as possible to Jesus. He had started out as the full-time youth minister at a small country church, but he planned to move on to larger churches until he could eventually lead a national organization.
Naturally, Jason didn’t believe in smoking or drinking. Naturally, Jason could never know that both were regular habits in her life.
She had straightened up a little lately; after all, she still had to graduate college in a month, with Meg’s help of course. Beyond that, she didn’t have a clue what was in store for her. Finding the perfect guy seemed like a good starting point. Her mother had suggested finally coming to church again, and one day Katie had accepted. That’s where she had unexpectedly met Jason.
Keeping her vices of smoking and drinking from him for three hours was starting to seem like an impossible feat. Katie was already dying for a cigarette. Instead of steadying her nerves with a nice cold beer, she was left with a bottle of 100% pure mountain spring water. Katie cursed herself for not spiking it before the trip. What had she been thinking? Too late now. At least she could call up Meg and claim victory.
Katie pulled out her cell phone from a bag tied down to the back of her kayak. She punched up Meg’s number and grinned.
“Hey, girl, you just lost $20,” Katie said.
“No way,” replied Meg. “You couldn’t be finished with the trip already.”
“No, we just got on the river ten minutes ago. We haven’t even hit the first rapid yet, but I just had to call you for bragging rights.”
“You’re still on the river—with your cell phone? Didn’t they tell you to keep that stuff back at the camp?”
“There was some guy giving a speech or something before we left in the vans, but I was paying attention to Jason. I had to work my hair as much as possible before it got all wet. You don’t think it’ll be safe in my bag? I’m going to put it back up.”
“Honey, I hope you have some kind of Ziplock for it ‘cause you’re in for a wet ride. Nothing’s safe unless it’s in an airtight, waterproof bag.”
“Damn. I better see if anyone has one. Maybe Jason does. Hold on a minute; something’s going on. Everyone’s shouting . . .”
Katie’s arm dropped a little in surprise when she heard a loud gurgling noise up ahead. She saw the smooth water downstream breaking into frothy white waves, and she was heading straight towards them. Katie gripped her paddle in terror while still clinging to her cell phone.
“Katie? . . . Katie?” came Meg’s voice, but the assuring sound of her friend on the other line was quickly drowned out by the roaring rapids.
“Here we go, kids!” shouted Jason not far away. “It’s River Falls, our first one!”
Katie’s stomach lurched as her kayak fell a couple of feet down into a swirling mass of cross currents. The waves snapped up and shocked her with a huge splash of cold water, which knocked the cell pone right out of her trembling hands.
The currents then whipped her small, light kayak one direction, then another. She desperately flailed her paddle into the river, hoping to stop herself from spinning. The guides had talked about how to steer, but whatever she was doing wasn’t working. Her kayak only started to spin even faster, whirling her into several dizzying 360° high speed turns. Katie’s eyes swooned as both banks of the river sped by her field of vision before her gaze finally evened out straight ahead. Her kayak slipped right back into a smooth, gentle current, leaving her heart racing with fear.
“That was awesome!” yelled out one of the many kids who had been watching.
“You’re amazing, Katie,” added Jason, paddling over to her. “You didn’t tell me that you knew how to do tricks.”
“Will you teach us how?” hollered out several of the kids.
Katie’s wide eyes slowly turned left, then right, before finally settling on Jason’s face, which was beaming with newfound admiration for her.
“Sure,” she whispered in a breathless voice. “Maybe on the next one.” Katie suddenly realized that her phone was gone. At least she was alive.
“Kids, that was some real skill,” pronounced Jason. “River Falls is only a Class 1 rapid, but she made it look like a Class 3!”
“Class 3?” asked Katie. “How many classes are there?”
“Oh, the highest is a Class 5,” said Jason. “What am I saying? You probably know that already. You must mean on this river. The highest class on this part of the Coosa is Moccasin Gap, which is a three. That’s the next one!”
“How far away is it?” asked Katie.
“About halfway down the river,” said Jason. “Maybe an hour.”
Now Katie definitely needed a cigarette. She had brought an emergency pack just in case her will power got too weak. She started scanning the river for some spot to sneak away for just a few minutes. Fortunately, Jason started paddling back to wait for the rest of the group coming over the first rapid.
A thin, long island up ahead looked like it might offer up the perfect hideaway for her secret mission. Katie slowly paddled towards the left side, hoping to get away from the group of kids surrounding her. She soon discovered, to her dismay, that her performance had greatly inspired all of them with her skill.
“We want to go with you, Katie!” they all shouted with glee.
“Hey, kids, let’s race!” she said. “I’ll go down the left side; you all go down the right side. First one to the end gets to ride with me on the next rapid!”
“Yea!” they shouted.
Katie watched in relief as the entire group splashed away like little water bugs skipping across the water—and away from her. Now, to find that place . . .
Katie looked down and saw the rocky bottom of the river just a few feet below her in the crystal clear water. She was suddenly all alone on the other side of the island. With a quick few strokes of the paddle, she slid into a rocky cove covered by ferns and trees. After a guilty glance around to make sure she was hidden, Katie dove into her bag and pulled out a . . . sopping wet pack of cigarettes. All of that splashing and turning must have soaked her small bag and everything inside. She tried in vain to click the wet lighter into a flame, hoping to perhaps dry out a cigarette enough for at least a drag or two.
The lack of nicotine in her body was quickly breaking up her ability to concentrate. She continued the rhythmic pattern of clicking the lighter, losing all sense of her beautiful, scenic surroundings. That is, until she suddenly noticed Jason pulling up beside her. She looked up in surprise. His face had fallen as he stared at her holding the lighter and half-empty pack of cigarettes.
“Oh . . . I didn’t know you smoked,” he said.
Katie glanced down at the incriminating evidence in her hands, and her brain suddenly jumped back into full speed.
“Oh, no,” she said. “I was admiring how pretty everything was when I saw these just laying out here on the shore. Can you believe how some people will dirty up such a beautiful river by just tossing their trash around? I was going to take these with me and throw them away when we got back.”
Jason’s face lit up again with incredible joy, as if he was a lost, broken-hearted puppy who had just found his master again.
“That’s so great that you care about cleaning up the environment like that,” he said. “I’m a little ashamed of myself. We’re all out here just to have fun, but you’re still willing to stop and do your part to clean up, even though nobody’s around to see you do it. I’m supposed to be setting an example for the kids, but you’re the one they should follow.”
Katie shrugged and returned a faultlessly humble smile.
“It’s nothing really. I just believe that every little bit makes a difference, even if it’s a small thing.”
“Small things add up,” Jason said. “I should organize a clean up for the next outing. I would have never thought of that if it weren’t for you. Thanks, Katie!”
Katie gratefully shoved off as quickly as she could after putting up the cigarettes and lighter. Things didn’t get any easier down the river. The more Katie paddled, the more her lungs cried out silently for nicotine. But she had to endure.
Temptation struck again when a large group of fraternity brothers passed them by. Unlike Katie, these guys were well-organized. They even had a special netted float in tow that carried a large cooler filled with ice-cold beer. When one of the frat guys noticed Katie eyeing the cooler like a cat ready to pounce, he quickly introduced himself as “Brad” and offered her one. That’s when Jason swooped in to decline for her.
Brad sized up the situation and politely wished them a safe trip, but he turned around one more time and noticed Katie’s mournful eyes as she watched the beer cooler drift away. As luck would have it, Katie ran into Brad’s group again about forty minutes later at Moccasin Gap.
Moccasin Gap was a large rock island in the middle of the Coosa River. Just below it and to the side were the best rapids on the river, but the island was also an ideal place to pull in and have lunch. Katie almost slipped while getting out of her kayak, but Jason was there to catch her. She fell into his arms a little too eagerly as he pulled her up, but he didn’t seem to mind.
Although Katie’s bag was still drenched with water, Jason and his kids had listened to all the safety tips given by the staff at Coosa Outdoor Center before they started the trip. They had packed a delicious lunch that Katie devoured in pieces whenever the kids distracted Jason’s adoring gaze away. After the quick lunch, she started to explore the island while Jason was giving a speech. She met Brad and his friends on the other side.
“Hey, there,” said Brad with a smile. “I was hoping to see you again. Are you guys traveling with Coosa River Adventures? I didn’t see you at the boat launch.”
“No, we’re with Coosa Outdoor Center,” she said.
“Oh, they’re great, too,” said Brad. “Are you having fun?”
“I can’t talk for long,” said Katie. She gazed directly into Brad’s eyes and spoke slowly and deliberately. “I’m going to set this water bottle down here. Then I’m going to walk away for a couple of minutes. When I come back, it would be great if it were filled up with beer instead of water. Do you think that’s possible?”
“Sure,” said Brad. “No problem, sweetie. Hey, you sure you don’t want to come with us? You might have a better time.”
“No, I gotta finish out this trip,” said Katie.
“You think maybe I could get your number?”
“Sure. Do you have anything to write with?”
“No, but I’ve got a great memory—especially when it comes to beautiful girls like you.”
Katie quickly recited her favorite pizza delivery number and made her way back. Sure enough, when she returned to get her water bottle, it had the delicious, soothing taste of beer inside. She swigged it all down in several long gulps before building up enough courage for the next challenge: taking on the rapids. Watching the other kayakers and canoers run the Gap wasn't soothing her nerves at all.
The winner of the island race was a cute little thirteen year-old girl named Denise. As Katie and Denise paddled out together towards the entrance to the rapids, Katie felt the powerful effect of the beer on her exhausted body. She had never exercised so much in her life, and her brain began to blur.
“I’m scared,” whispered Denise.
“You want to know a secret? I’m scared, too,” said Katie.
“Really?” asked Denise.
“You bet,” said Katie. Denise would never know just how scared Katie was. The first rapid had been a lucky break, but this one seemed a lot tougher. Katie watched in terror as several kayaks and canoes flipped over after going down the wall of water. Katie squeezed Denise’s hand one last time before the current whipped her in between the rocks. Her kayak splashed down nose first, sunk halfway into the water and then shot back up. A wave of water smacked her from one side and then another until she was finally knocked off the kayak and into the raging water. Katie squeezed up into a ball and allowed her life jacket to buoy her body until the waves stopped.
Before she knew it, it was all over and she was floating gently down the river again. She twisted around and saw Denise floating alone behind her with a huge grin.
“That was so fun!” yelled Denise. “I wish I could do it again!” She sounded like a kid that had just come down a roller coaster.
Katie grinned back and swam towards her kayak. She was still holding tightly to her paddle. Somehow, she managed to climb back on. By the time Katie was seated firmly again, adrenaline had exhilarated her body with a sense of accomplishment. That wasn’t so bad, she thought.
She paddled over to Denise’s kayak and pulled it towards the laughing girl. Once Denise was back on, they both paddled back to watch the others come down Moccasin Gap. Out of twenty kids, only six made it through without falling off, but everyone had a blast.
Jason, one of the ones who made it, finally paddled over to them.
“Did you have fun, Denise?” he asked.
“I was really scared, especially of falling off. But Katie made me feel better right before we went through, and then she even fell off, too!”
Jason winked at Katie, as if he suspected that she had fallen off just to show Denise and the other kids that it was okay for anyone to fall as long as they got right back up again. Katie winked right back.
They made their way down the river, going through one more less aggressive rapid before letting the swift current carry them all the way to the end. Once they neared the final landing in Wetumpka near the Bibb Graves Bridge, Katie marveled at all of the rock formations that had given the town its Indian name: “Rumbling Waters.” As pretty as the scene was, especially at sunset on the river, Katie was relieved to step onto solid ground again. Her arms and legs were numb after so much exertion. Jason stopped her at the top of the hill.
“I just want you to know how great you were today,” he said. “You really made an impression on the kids. They’ve been talking about you the whole trip.”
“Well, they’re great, too,” she said.
“I’ve got some good news. In two weeks, we’re going on the Coosa River Challenge. You’ll love it, Katie. A five mile cycling race through the woods on Swayback Bridge Trail by the lake, then some repelling down the cliff face, followed up by a kayaking tournament. But the best part is at the end: jumping off the lock. It’s three stories up! Katie? Katie?”
As he described the triathlon challenge to her, she felt the ground swirling under her feet. Then everything went black.
Katie woke up in Jason’s strong arms. Her legs were dangling down, and he had a worried look on his face.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
“I think so. What happened?”
“You just passed out. Luckily, I was here to catch you.”
“I don’t remember what happened.”
“You’ve been through a lot today. I’m going to make it up to you, Katie. I’ll take you home and let you get some rest. Then tonight, I’m taking you on a romantic, candlelight dinner at Casa Napoli. Do you like Italian?”
“I love it,” she said. “I’ll get to dress up, then?”
“Sure,” he laughed.
“I’m sooo hungry.”
“I love a girl with a healthy appetite.”
“You’re going to love me then,” she said.
For anyone who really enjoys the great outdoors, I highly recommend a trip down the beautiful Coosa River in Wetumpka. I’ve been down the Coosa several times and enjoyed each venture. My first experience with whitewater was on a church youth group trip. Later in life, my office at work went down the Coosa with our family and friends. The larger the group, the more fun the experience.
Drinking is fine, but Styrofoam coolers are prohibited. Please keep the river clean, as so many people get to enjoy it year round.
The scenery is gorgeous. For those scared of a dangerous Colorado River style trip filled with Class 5 rapids, don’t worry. The Coosa is mostly a gentle river with a few occasional rapids, Moccasin Gap being the best. Even if you’ve never been kayaking before, the Coosa promises to be a fun trip for everyone. One of the great things about this river is that you can choose to go as slow or as fast as you want by using the current.
Coosa Outdoor Center and Coosa River Adventures both provide convenient shuttle and kayak rental services for a very affordable price. Check out the links below for more information. The trip normally takes about 3-4 hours. Katie passes out more from the notion of the upcoming triathlon than her trip. Then again, knowing Katie, did she really pass out at all?
Some of the pictures posted with the "Mocassin Gap" story are courtesy of CoosaRiverPics.com, a wonderful service that specialized in photography of paddlers on the Coosa. The rest of the pictures come courtesy of Amanda Brasington, the former Elmore County Tourism and Recreation Coordinator. Note: click on the pictures for larger views, especially the one of "Katie" hitting her first rapid--the one with the red kayak and yellow life jacket. Some pictures are copyrighted by CoosaRiverPics.com.
Wetumpka offers many more attractions, both indoors and out, from art to theater to other scenic parks and trails on the water. Please stay for the weekend. For a more complete listing of entertainment, visit the county’s tourism page below. Included are a few links about local attractions. The links in the Tourism Guide are purely for information, such as hours, prices, etc. Casa Napoli is highly recommended, once you’ve had a chance to clean up from a fun day on the river. So the next time that you’re looking for a new place to get away from it all, try out Wetumpka.
Elmore County Tourism Council
Coosa River Adventures (kayak/canoe rentals, sales, and shuttle service)
Swayback Bridge Trail (hiking, bicycling-includes virtual tour!)
Casa Napoli Restaurant (with detailed review)
Key West Inn
Jasmine Hill Gardens
Fort Toulouse Park
Special Note: The beautiful bridge in two of the pictures is the Bibb Graves Bridge in downtown Wetumpka. This is a wonderful landmark and a gorgeous site when paddling down the Coosa River. Just to the right of the bridge in one picture, notice a white church steeple above the tree line. That is the First Presbyterian Church of Wetumpka and is also the inspiration for another tourism story called "The Last Confession." If you liked "Moccasin Gap," please check out "The Last Confession." WARNING: "The Last Confession" is SCARY!
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