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Kayakers take to water in Gavin Downriver Race

June 27, 2004|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

HARPERS FERRY, W.VA. - Rachael Dodson was 12 when her uncle drowned while kayaking one of the most difficult runs in West Virginia on the Upper Blackwater River.

Six years later, the Bakerton, W.Va., woman pulled on some of his old gear and raced down the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers.

When she made it to the finish line 6 1/2 miles downstream, her mother, Inita Gavin, was very happy to see her.

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"Did you freak, mom?" Dodson said.

"I'm glad, honestly, it's over," Gavin said.

Dodson learned to paddle about two years ago after overcoming her mother's resistance.

Her teacher was Mike Moore, who was her uncle Tim Gavin's paddling partner the day of his accident, March 29, 1998.

She and Moore teamed up for Saturday's race, coming in near the top of the pack of 25.

"I think Tim would be happy and proud to see all these people out here racing," said Moore, 37, of Bolivar, W.Va.

Weather and water conditions proved to be ideal for the sixth annual race, which was organized in memory of Tim Gavin as part of the Harpers Ferry Outdoor Festival.

The water was low and slow, which allowed people of all experience levels to participate. Saturday's temperature was in the 70s.

Gavin was legendary in boating circles, Moore said.

Because he worked the weekends tending bar at the Cliffside Inn near Harpers Ferry, Gavin would think nothing of going solo on some of the steepest and most challenging rapids, Moore said.

Ironically, the person who often ran solo is responsible for bringing together the scattered kayaking community.

Corrine Pierce of Baltimore only knew Gavin by reputation. On Saturday, she was clocking the racers as they came into the Potomac Wayside along U.S. 340.

Organizers of the festival hoped to raise $3,000 this year for groups that work on river protection and restoration.

In addition the kayak race, which had a $20 entry fee, there was a silent auction.

Tim Gavin's son Eric, 11, fired the starting gun to launch the kayak racers at River and Trail Outfitters in Harpers Ferry.

Mike Warren, 30, of Etters, Pa., had the fastest time at 44 minutes, 8 seconds.

Gavin and Moore became frequent paddling partners up until his death.

Moore figures they ran the Upper Blackwater together 152 times.

On the 153rd time, Gavin's kayak got stuck in a section of rapids known as Sticky Fingers.

Gavin hit his head on a rock and drowned, Moore said.

Witnessing the tragedy didn't deter Moore from continuing the risky hobby.

"There can be a lot of things going on in your life, but when you're in the river, that's all you think about," he said. "I'd be kind of lost without boating."

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