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Whitewater Home Companion. Volume 1: Southeastern Rivers. By William Nealy. Birmingham, AL: Menasha Ridge Press, 1981. 164p. $19.95. ISBN 0-89732-208-X.


Nonfiction; geography; whitewater rafting

Adults, teens.

NOTE: This review is dedicated to the memory of Lynn V. Williams: fantasy/SF critic, student of utopias, literature professor, friend and mentor, and whitewater rafter. She would have loved this book!

No, this isn't some bizarro combination parody of the Clintons' Whitewater and Prairie Home Companion, but an actual guide to whitewater kayaking and rafting in Alabama, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and West Virginia.

The book begins with an introduction, "Kayaks to Hell," in which Nealy discusses the more offbeat aspects of kayaking and his experience in the field. It's followed by "River Trip," which could also be subtitled "Kayaks to Hell" and is a four-page strip about a rather disastrous kayaking trip, from stocking up on beer early in the morning to exhausted drive home. Next is a substantial glossary of whitewater/kayaking terms and slang, including funny-but-accurate illustrations of some of the terms and just-plain-funny ones for others (e.g., "Speared Kayaker") After this is an essay, illustrated with a photograph, of hole escape techniques. Finally comes the rating system used in the main part of the book.

The meat of the book is contained in the river chapters. These are arranged alphabetically by river and cover the Chattahoochee, sections III and IV of the Chattooga, Cheat Canyon, French Broad/Big Laurel Creek, Gauley, Haw, Hiwasse, Locust Fork of the Warrior River, Nantahala, New River Gorge, Nolichucky, Savage, and Youghiogheny. Each river is first located in its state(s); some have hand-drawn road maps as well. Then the rafting part of the river is fully illustrated, with detailed insets over complicated areas. Named spots (e.g., "Decapitation Rock" in the Chattooga River) are clearly labeled. In addition to these maps, there is extensive text wrapped around the rivers that provides explanation about particular features. There is a lot of playfulness in the text and illustrations, but there is a ton of good information and personal experience as well.

Note that despite the publication date (and I have the 6th printing from 1992), this book was at least partially updated; the Cheat Canyon information dates from 1985. It would have been nice to have an edition note. I wonder if future editions had any?

According to the blurb on the back, Nealy's maps were "sought by paddlers all over the United States for their accuracy, relevance, and wild insider's perspective on those strange creatures who inhabit the exotic sport of whitewater paddling." I can believe it. This is the sort of book that even thorough mouse potatoes like myself can read and enjoy, never mind whitewater fanatics. The text is a lot of fun to read, with its personal asides and wise observations on the rivers. It's always nice to read the words of someone who knows what he's doing! The river maps are excellent: clear, funny, and detailed, and well drawn. You can see how a kayaker could maximize fun and minimize danger by paying attention to these maps and the advice in the text. The cartoons themselves are enjoyably amateurish and often very clever. For example, the page introducing the glossary shows a lecturer pointing to three pictures that depict, in sequence, an ass, an elbow, and a hole in the ground.

I found this title for sale on Barnes & (with a 1993 copyright) but not Amazon. I can't tell whether other Whitewater Home Companion books are still obtainable or, indeed, ever existed. Nealy has a bunch of other titles listed in Amazon, and a reviewer of one of those titles mentioned this book, so obviously it is known. Not being informed about any of the rivers mentioned in the book, I can't say whether the geographical/river feature information in WHC is still valid; but surely the practical advice is, and the humor is always welcome. And the book is also a good example of how to use comics to illustrate nonfiction topics. Recommended for sports collections and whitewater aficionados.

Copyright 2000, D. Aviva Rothschild


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