Green River Revival at USNWC Charlotte

Every year on St. Patrick’s Day, the US National Whitewater Center hosts the Green River Revival – an outdoor festival centered around a huge artificial whitewater course with truck loads of green powder. For many locals, it’s their first chance relax outside after the cold season. So it draws thousands of people in festive green apparel, blankets, dogs, kids, and beer. Runners warm up for the Color Me Green 5K, kids ride across the park on the ziplines, people climb rock walls, boaters of all skill levels paddle the green river. And then there’s me, a dude walking to the kayak center with paddle oars sticking out of my backpack.

I’ve only seen these rapids on Youtube, which isn’t saying much, but today I’m going to run them in full color. But first I want to get aerial footage of the river. I find the zipline tower, mount my camera on a helmet, and spend 90 minutes going back and forth on the ziplines over the park. At 1:00, they release the green powder, which bleeds its way down the channels. Crowds of people cheer, and boaters in all kinds of watercraft follow the green streaks of river dye down to the lower pond.

I walk around and scout the greenwater channels. In this park there are two: A fast Class III-IV channel to the right and a longer, slower II-III to the left. Beginners go left. Nonetheless I want to at least see what the harder one entails. It is an almost continuous rapid of big Class III waves for the first half before it passes in front of the welcome center and the restaurant. Near the end it drops into a huge, thrashing hydraulic with turbulent eddies along both sides. I see kayakers run it by skirting the eddy line on the left, hopefully missing the meat of it. In a big raft you would just punch through the apples. My little boat would surely get tossed around like a new fish.

I feel better scouting the left channel. It starts with manageable Class II waves for the first half, eventually speeding into a nearly continuous series of Class III wave-holes – and one notoriously big M-Wave in the middle. More on that in a second.

I suit up and paddle to the top, dropping over a small river-wide ledge and going straight for the first of several well-spaced play waves. I pass groups of kayakers along the eddies, who typically wait their turn to flip around in the current. The channel splits around an island, rejoins and starts picking up speed. Out ahead it constricts under a bridge, creating a fast pourover that rushes straight into a snake tongue and the big ass hydraulic that they call the M-Wave. A guide told me to run it on the left so I wouldn’t get smacked in the middle. I take his advice, clearing a small wave under the bridge and charging as hard as I can along the left side. I need the right amount of inertia and balance or I’m joining the swim team for the rest of this. I slam into the wall of foam, pulling a hard stroke right through the pile.

Holy shit, I cleared it! I’m flying down the channel, fighting to keep my boat straight. I can hardly believe my little packraft can get through this. I barely have time to celebrate before I’m closing on another big swell. I clear that one with a clean lateral stroke. A hundred feet ahead is another hole that could toss me out, so I eddy out to the right, pass it, and continue down the middle. More laterals try to surprise me, but it feels like a straightforward path to the bottom. A big lateral wave at the very end sends me headfirst into the glassy, Jolly Rancher colored greenwater. I wash out and recover in the bottom pond.

I swear I have a love-hate relationship with this sport. These kinds of swiftwater rivers have created some of the most amazing, memorable trips I’ve ever had – yet I’m often equally as frustrated after capsizing and washing out. My excitement is just as real as my uncertainty, and I can never seem to get my head around it. How the power of water can create this dangerously amazing way of life. But this is what I do. #thisispackrafting

I sit at the restaurant as the day is starting to wind down. Boaters are still hitting that mean looking Class IV that I’m definitely not running today. I drink an IPA because the menu says it’s from a brewery in Charlottesville. I’m heading that way on a train later because I’ve never hiked Old Rag before and now is as good of a time as any. My life has had a lot of firsts as of late.

So yeah, greenwater rafting. Come out to USNWC Charlotte next St. Patrick’s Day to see it for yourself. I enjoyed it, though my only real serious complaint was that I didn’t see any green beer. Nonetheless it’s a fun river trip, and you can even bring leprechaun sunglasses if you’re feeling festive.