Monday, April 19, 2010

Nantahala Kayaking Weekend

The Nanty - Cold fun

Garrick, a fellow Carolina Canoe Club member, organized a Nantahala club trip for mid April. I have paddled with Garrick many times. The Nanty is a class II-III river that you can have a lot of fun on since it has quite a few play spots. It also has great places to practice boat handling skills like catching eddies, surfing, and ferrying across the river. However, the Nanty is always cold. Should I wear Neoprene (wet suit material) or my full dry suit? I could boil alive in the dry suit and I haven't practiced rolling in it. I chose Neoprene. I did get cold at times, but no one else in group wore dry suits either.

On Friday I worked at home so could load up gear during lunch and be ready to go as soon as possible. Leaving from home also helps me shorten the drive a bit and avoid some of I-40.

I posted on the club's list that I would like to carpool if someone was interested. Bret responded and we determined that our schedules would be compatible. We both would leave after work Friday and both wanted to be back fairly early Sunday evening. Bret is a local kayaker I had never met before. Of course we knew a lot of the same people and it turned out we BOTH also work for IBM. We decided to take my Civic since it gets much better mileage than Bret's big van. Having someone ride along made the five drive more pleasant and cheaper.

Ian, a new kayaking friend of mine from Johnson City Tennessee, met us at the campground. He wasn't going to paddle but wanted to check out the events at the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC). The NOC was having a freestyle shootout where amateur and professional play boaters competed. Gear vendors would also be there with boats, paddles, etc. you could try out on the river.

We camped at Turkey Creek Campground, which is a very nice campground. We camped next to a babbling brook that runs through the campground. We were close to the facilities, but not TOO close. This was convenient for when you wake up in the night and hear the running water.

I got up in the morning and made my coffee with my Jet Boil and French press. I gave Ian some coffee (he packed VERY lightly). He then decided that HE needed the French Press for his Jet Boil.

I started packing my lunch, which usually includes a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. PBJ is good since it's still edible if smashed and you don't have to worry about food safety. On Friday I picked up a loaf of whole wheat bread from Whole Foods. When I opened it up, I saw that it was MOLDY.

The group was meeting at the NOC to set up shuttle. The group consisted Garrick, Garrick's daughter Aly, Wendy, Bret, and myself. It was a perfectly sized group and everyone had been on the river numerous times.

Setting shuttle was easy since we had three vehicles plus I could haul four boats.

We had a nice time going down the river. It was overcast, so I wasn't going to roll on purpose. I did practice catching eddies, ferries, etc. Every time I got splashed by a big wave, I'd say to myself "yup, that water is COLD".

We had lunch at surfer's wave. It was good to get out of my boat since my ankles were hurting. My Happy Feet were not so happy.

Third Time's a Charm

On Saturday Endless Rivers was sponsoring a competition for running Nantahala Falls (The Nantahala Open). They made up all sorts of different categories. People ran the falls on an air mattress, in an empty kiddy pool, in a kayak seated backwards, on a boogie board, purposely going into the top hole (and having a hard time getting out), etc. I should have won the "persistence" award. As is typical for me, I flipped in the bottom hole. I was shocked by the cold water and rolled SO hard, the boat came out of the water and I flipped over to the other side. On my second roll attempt I rushed and brought my head up (which makes it near impossible to get upright). The third time was the charm. All of this is on video. I'll work on my form at roll practice. Keep...the...noggin....DOWN....

Garrick and Aly ran the falls before I did. Aly flipped and rolled before the falls, so they didn't stop in truck stop eddy before going over like they originally planned. Garrick went over, Aly came up and bumped him. Aly flipped and then Garrick flipped, then both rolled up and went on their way. Garrick and Aly cleaned up on awards at Endless Rivers. I think they won three nice prizes. Garrick got a new helmet, Aly got a new spray skirt, and they got a nice paddle bag.

The McNasty and Getting the Straight Shaft

We were all off the river by about 3 pm. We changed into dry clothes and went to get the cars parked at the put in.

On the way to the put in, we picked up a kayaker that needed a ride. He was very grateful, and I said it was karma. We would all need a ride at some point.

Endless Rivers was having a party after the shootout, and they advertised that Nantahala Brewing Company would provide beer, Pizza by the River would provide pizza, AND great prizes would be awarded. They were also raffling off a brand new boat to raise money for a program that gets wounded Iraq and Afghanistan vets into whitewater kayaking. If you won the raffle, you could choose ANY boat in the store, and it was only $10 a ticket. At most a couple hundred people were at the party, so the odds were not too bad since you had to be present to win.

The party started at 6, so we decided to watch the shoot out and go to Endless Rivers after the shoot out. The professionals were the the last group, and we needed to see what they could do. It's amazing what flips they can do and most of them did a stunt called the "McNasty". Eric Jackson was competing and I own a Jackson kayak (he's the founder and owner of Jackson Kayak). Should I have him sign my boat?

Before the professionals were up, we looked at gear. When were back at the NOC looking at gear, I saw Jeff and Casey, two paddlers from Knoxville I had meet two weeks previously. Our hitch hiker was part of the same group.

We stopped to look at paddles at the Werner Paddle booth. I have been using a cheap plastic paddle for years. I don't really care how chewed up it gets and I won't cry too much if it's lost. But it was time to upgrade. I talked to the Werner rep and we figured out the style, length, and blade size that would be good for me. But do I get fiberglass paddle or go all out and get the carbon paddle? The straight shaft carbon paddle wasn't that much more than the fiberglass paddle, and is SO much nicer. While mulling this, someone came up and said "I LOVE my double diamond" carbon paddle. The Werner rep insisted that that this guy didn't work for Werner. Bret didn't help by saying "Buy it. Buy it. You are DINKs, you can afford it".

We went inside to see what NOC had in stock. Aw...they only have the bent shaft double diamond ($100 more), that's too bad. A salesman comes over "I can look in the back". He came back with the 197 cm, straight shaft double diamond paddle I wanted. "This is the LAST one we have". I guess it was for me.

The person at the check out said that I needed to put my name on the paddle using a silver Sharpie (the paddle is black). "Do you sell those?" "No, but I bet you can borrow on in the bike shop". I could, and I wrote my name and number on it. When I walked passed the register, I said "I can't return it now". I then saw the Werner rep and said he should get a commission.

Where's my pizza?

We didn't get to Endless Rivers until 6:45. There was not a piece of pizza to be found! The beer was from a new microbrewery in Bryson City, Nantahala Brewing Company. The beer was good, but was the only beer style I do not like (well, not a fan of some Belgian lambic beers either): an India Pale Ale. IPA is Bret's favorite beer style and he brews his own beer. He even said he likes to chew on the hops, so overly hoppy beer is good to him. He asked if I liked the beer. I said "not so much". I did mange to get brownies. Beer and brownies, not a great combo.
They were planning on showing the video of people running the falls on the side of the building, so we had to wait until it got dark. Seating consisted of inflated rafts. Prizes were to be awarded during the video and the boat would be raffled after the video. Getting ...very...hungry...

While waiting for it to get dark, we were visited by someone who had WAY too much of the free beer. He started ranting about how much of the country is owned by the banks. He ranted about how GW Bush and Obama signed treaties that may cause the UN to take over our national parks and bring in foreign troops. "HOW many guns do YOU have? I have THREE. You're going to NEED them." We all tried to tell him that we didn't want to discuss those topics. Garrick was able to back away and escape. I was trapped. Smile. Maybe the crazy man will go away. "You think I'm CRAZY?" uh, yeah. Where's your tin foil hat? I found out later he was one of the people from the pizza place that didn't provide enough pizza!

We got to see the video of Garrick's and Aly's run, and they each won a prize. I was next in the video, but didn't win anything (sniffle). I didn't get the boat either. That's fine since it was a worthy cause to donate to.

We stayed until nearly 10 pm. Since nothing in the tiny town of Bryson City (which doesn't even have a Wendys) would be open, we headed back to the campground.

Down the Nanty in Sunshine

Sunday morning we broke down camp and loaded up the car. Jeff then walks buy. I said "It's YOU again!" Jeff retorts "Of all the cheap gin joints in the world..."

Sunday was much nicer than Saturday. We had perfectly clear skies and it was sunny. You could actually warm up if you stopped in an eddy that was in the sun.

Wendy was going to meet us at the take out at the NOC to set shuttle. She wasn't there yet, so Bret and I went into the outfitter's shop (DANGER, this could get expensive). Bret bought a pair of pogies to keep his hands warm. The salesman that sold me the paddle asked how I liked it. "We're about to give it a try now".

We setup shuttle and got on the river.

Garrick showed me how to do a trick called a "pop up". You put the bow of your boat into a wave, lean forward, and you can get vertical.

Seriously, Where's My Pizza?!

We paddled by the pizza place that is on the river bank. This was the place that allegedly provided the pizza the night before. I SO wanted to yell out "Where's my pizza?" Oh, psycho man ranted about the number of guns he had. Move along...

The new paddle is simply amazing. It is so light and you can do more with less effort. I held it up like the holy grail. I let Bret borrow the paddle, so now he wants one.

Then it was time for the falls again. I did not want to lose my new paddle! I lined myself up and was on my way. I thought I was home free. The eddy I wanted was so close...But....I must have hit the edge of the bottom hole and went into a slow motion flip. Perhaps I could have saved it with a proper brace. But over I went, clutching the new paddle. Again, I was shocked by the water. I blew the first two rolls. I was up on the third attempt and had an ice cream headache. At least there was no swimming and scramble for gear involved.

We changed into dry clothes, retrieved the cars at the put in, and loaded up the cars. The smelly wet gear went into a large trash bag for the ride home. We said our good byes, and headed home.

Click here for more photos from the weekend.

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