Wherein I squeal like a pig
Along Highway 76, better known as Longcreek Highway, there sits a bridge that goes nowhere. It’s covered in kudzu and branches out from the main asphalt in such a way that even a first-time traveler can tell it used to go somewhere. Now, if you were to guide your car in that direction, you would plummet into a ravine and end up the Sunday afternoon’s work of Longcreek Volunteer Fire Department. It’s the first thing I see that reminds me I’m on the right track.
I tried to remember today how I’d ended up on that highway in the first place. It used to be my news beat, the backroads and back country areas of Oconee County, South Carolina. Longcreek, however, is about as far northwest as you can go in South Carolina without crossing over into Rabun County, Georgia. One ends up there only to reach the Peach State by some backroad means, to reach one’s house, or to find the Chattooga River.
Even now, a few hours after my latest return, I don’t remember why I went to Woodall Shoals the first time. The only news story I remember with any clarity was the time the two wading guys got pulled into a hydraulic and couldn’t get out. One body churned against the rocks for days before getting torn apart and spit out like a fish bone. It was a terrible reality of the river and one nobody could rightly put it into words without actually thinking about how horrible it really was. That was probably what took me to the Chattooga River the first time, but I wouldn’t put big money on it. I only know what kept bringing me back.
Woodall Shoals is a forbidding place. That’s what makes its attraction so curious. I’ve taken my wife, parents, brother, friends, dog, and child there. I don’t know why exactly. Even before I knew it was a famous place, I was going on a regular basis.
If you’ve seen the movie Deliverance, you’ve see Woodall Shoals. Back when Burt Reynolds was headed into the back country, few people save the locals ever went there. That section of the Chattooga has names like Screaming Left Turn and Surfer Rapid. It also has a deadly history at the Class VI keeper hydraulic (a term I didn’t know until I looked it up, but have since come to appreciate as a fascinating way to describe a death trap).
Like many people, I have seen Deliverance more than a few times. Some people watch for the inbred banjo picking scene. Some people watch for the rather terrifying “squeal like a pig” part. I simply watch for the river. It’s pure nature and as intriguingly frightening as just about anything you’ll ever see.
There are warning signs along the short hike down to the river that try to scare people away. They uses the phrase “scenic and wild.” Deliverance histories are now legendary tales of how many people drowned trying to navigate Woodall Shoals after the movie came out. People haven’t stopped dying there since.
I took the wife, kid, and dog today. This region is in the middle of a pretty serious drought, so Woodall Shoals is not nearly as rough as it could be right now. Still, I can’t help but stand in awe of it. Even when the water isn’t high, it’s a place where someone like me could seriously hurt himself. As I scaled the rock slide, I hopped up onto a rock and nearly fell into this deep hole.
I love a lot of things about where I live. Woodall Shoals is one of them. In a lot of other places, there would be huge billboards guiding people in to see “WHERE DELIVERANCE WAS FILMED!” There would be sno-cone stands in the parking lot. Somebody would be selling tickets and somebody else would be selling giant smoked turkey legs with Burt Reynolds’ image burned into the side.
Instead, it takes a good GPS, a little local knowledge, and absolutely zero fear of skinny, two-mile, gravel roads to reach this place. Right now, it’s not scary at all. We saw a dozen people paddling or swimming today after we hiked down into the small valley. We let our boy throw rocks and wade in the shallow, calm part of the water. After we’d been cooked by the sun, we climbed back up to our car and headed for home.
That’s what this area has become for me. I grew up on Bull Creek in southwest Missouri. I climbed the bluffs over the Missouri River in college. Now, for the past decade, I’ve called this perfect part of America my home and I don’t think—no matter whether I stay or go—I will ever stop thinking of it as such.
Just look at the pictures. If you had that view within an hour’s drive of your house, would you ever want to leave?
For more photos, check out my Flickr account.