The golfers looked miserable in the rain, slogging through traps that were more mud than sand, wading in unplanned water hazards and splashing themselves soggy with every stroke. But the April fools were unwilling to concede another weekend to the rain.
In the parking lot of the same golf course, on an asphalt strip beside a fast-flowing creek, another group stood in the drizzle, looking as comfortable as gophers in soft dirt. River runners, they unloaded their kayaks and canoes and praised the waterlogged heavens that Goose Creek had risen.
"It's a great run," said one kayaker in a black wetsuit to some fishermen who had arrived bearing canoes. "The rain has made the water nice and high."
April has been a cruel month for most outdoor adventurers. It has rained every weekend and been gray and wet almost every day between. In the last six weeks, there hasn't been enough sunshine to twitch a solar-powered feather duster.
But for confirmed river rats, and that category includes anglers who enjoy floating small streams in search of large fish, the month has been a treat. Creeks and streams that barely trickle during the summer and fall are now high and wide enough to carry canoes and johnboats. It is magic-kingdom time, when spring rains open flood gates to otherwise inaccessible places.
Goose Creek, which begins in the Blue Ridge and ends in the Potomac after winding for 28 miles through Loudoun County, is one of those streams protected from intruders most of the year by exposed rock.
During the course of its run, the creek falls through wooded hillsides and meanders past deserted stone houses, cultivated farm fields and some of Virginia's lushest chunks of horse country, including the estate of U.S. Sen. John Warner.
The creek is also reputed to support a large population of fish, particularly of the delicious crappie.
We began our trip at a bridge that crosses Goose Creek on Rte. 15, about seven miles south of Leesburg. The first time I made the trip a few years ago, and a few months later in the year, I had to carry the canoe over rocks for about 100 yards to find enough water to navigate. Last weekend, that same stretch was covered by an exciting, but safe set of rapids.
A mile downstream, we passed a steep bank with an outcrop of rocks and a rope swing that would have pleased Huckleberry Finn. Around a further bend, we spooked a great blue heron into the sky. We never saw it again, but we did play tag for a few miles with a hawk. A pair of Canadian geese honked at us from a newly planted corn field. The only thing we didn't see was fish.
"I had one good bite, then nothing," said Joe Knight, casting from the bow of an aluminum canoe while Stu Burnett paddled. Because Burnett had neglected to renew his fishing license, the painter was delegated to the work position in the canoe. Knight, a 35-year-old with a round face and mischievous blue eyes, was kind enough not to rub it in.
Roberta Veinerman held the catbird seat in our canoe for much of the 10-mile trip. She is a 27-year-old social worker who has adopted a rural Loudoun lifestyle without giving up her deliciously wry, Brooklyn-born humor. While Rich Guralnik and I paddled, she sat on a cushion amidships and wondered why in seven years of living next to Goose Creek she had never realized it could be explored by canoe. She also wondered about other, less pleasant subjects.
"I thought you said there were fish in here," said Veinerman, after I had caught a few leaves and one citation-sized tree limb. That seemed just about the right time to put her at the bow, where she was more likely to get thoroughly wet.
A few miles downstream, we heard a roar that sounded at a distance like truck traffic. The closer we got, the larger loomed the rapids. The fish were forgotten as we pointed ourselves into the froth and paddled.
"This is a perfect way to spend a rainy afternoon," said Veinerman, wet to the bone and laughing like a kid at an amusement park.