Monday, May 24, 2010

The Dirty Bird Sans Water and The French Broad

Pigeon River with no waterNo Camping Required

A paddling friend of mine Leonard invited me to go paddling with him in the North Carolina mountains the weekend before Memorial Day weekend. Leonard has access to a house west of Asheville we could stay at. The house is centrally located to many different rivers and is close to Asheville. It has incredible views of the Blue Ridge mountains and there are horses that go along the property. I like to camp, but not having to haul the gear made loading up for the trip go a lot faster.

The Smoke Monster - A Puff of Black Smoke
Before I left for the mountains, I needed to mow the grass. We didn't have any rain for weeks, then finally we had several inches of rain. What grass survived was getting leggy and was going to seed.

The mower has been very reliable for years. Even after sitting in the garage for the winter, it usually starts on the first or second pull. I had already mowed the grass several times this year, so I wasn't expecting any trouble. I pulled on the starter rope and got a pop, a puff of black smoke, then nothing. The mower refused to start. Janyne said I needed a new spark plug, but of course I didn't have the socket you need to remove spark plugs from small engines.

I made a quick dash to Sears, but didn't have my manual in hand nor did I know the mower's model number. Since I didn't have the spark plug tool, I couldn't bring in the old plug. Who would have thought there were so many spark plus sizes for mowers?! Of course I chose the wrong one and I didn't have time to go back before the store closed.

The next day at lunch I went back to Sears, manual in hand. I got the correct plug, a new air filter, and a new blade for good measure. I asked where the starter fluid was. They had no idea what I was talking about. Stop number two was at an auto parts store, which had a huge display of starter fluid on the counter as soon as you walked in.

I removed the old plug, and it was in bad shape. I sprayed a small amount of starter fluid and installed the new plug, the air filter, and new blade. I yanked on the starter rope. There was a puff of black smoke. Sputter. Sputter. Choke... a little gas... not too much... It's ALIVE! the mantle of "scary yard" now passed to our neighbor.

Peeps! I've got Peeps!
Since we only had two people in our group, our plan was to paddle the Pigeon (the dirty bird) on Saturday. We have both paddled the Pigeon numerous times and it was close to where we were staying. Leonard called the Nantahala Outdoor Center to see if they had rafting trips that day (to see if there would be a release of water from the dam). They said yes, but it turns out that didn't mean anything.

We headed out and parked Leonard's car at the take out. While I was standing in the parking lot, a couple of vehicles pull in. From one car, a woman yells out "Peeps, I've got peeps here!". It was Becca, a Facebook friend I have paddled with before and two of her friends. She invited us to join their group, which was great since it would be more fun and safer.

Where's the Water?!
When we got to the put in, we could see that there was hardly any water in the river. The release must be late. Progress Energy operates the Walters hydro plant on the Pigeon. They guarantee a Saturday release from 12 pm to 6 pm between Memorial Day and Labor Day, but it was the weekend BEFORE Memorial Day. It turns out that the lake behind the dam was low by several feet and they were generating power at night. One rafter from the area claimed that there would be a 2:00 pm release. A C1 kayaker on the river claimed there was enough water to get down. We had three choices:
  1. Wait for the 2:00 release, which may never come.
  2. Pick our way around rocks and go down river and run it again if the water comes on. The shuttle is short as is the run, so there would be plenty of time.
  3. Drive another 1-2 hours to a different river.
Len and I chose #1. It turned out to be a good river reading and boat control exercise and we only got stuck once. I led most of the way and Len complimented me on the routes I chose.

It was odd seeing the large rapids with no water. Lost Guide, for example, was a rock maze and the big hole at the bottom didn't really exist. The upper part of Accelerator didn't look runnable, especially in my small boat. Therefore I got out and carried my boat around it. It is better to be safe than sorry.

There never was a release on Saturday.

Shouldn't Manicotti Have Pasta?
We loaded up the gear and headed back to hang up gear to dry (which we neglected to bring in before we went to bed, so it was damp from mountain dew in the morning), shower and have the required post paddling beer and chips. We planned to go to Asheville for dinner.

Asheville is not a very large city, but it has a very lively downtown. There are several blocks of restaurants with outdoor seating, street musicians, etc. Asheville is where a lot of the hippies have gone, so people watching is a great sport. I saw one guy with hair spikes at least a foot long.

Len really seemed to want to go to a vegetarian restaurant, which is fine since we eat a lot of vegetarian meals at home. As long as it's not vegan, we're in business. I knew I was in trouble when they were out of the pasta special. Ok, how about the manicotti? The "manicotti" came out, and there was no pasta! The "pasta" consisted of strips of vegetable and it was cold. The pesto was amazing, so it was still good. It just was not what I expected or wanted. However, I did have a great porter from a local microbrewery and I consider that to be a "pork chop in a glass".

Len then had a hankering for an apple tart dessert, which the restaurant did not serve. We were on a quest. I like almost any kind of dessert and some recon would be good. For some reason he went into a chocolate shop "Chocolate Fetish". Nope, no apple desserts there, but the chocolates looked amazing. We ended up at a bakery that had several kinds of homemade layer cakes. Do I go with butter cream or cream cheese frosting? Lemon, caramel, or coconut? I settled on a cake that used crushed graham crackers instead of flour, nuts, and caramel butter cream frosting.

The French Broad
We planned to meet a friend of mine Ian at the French Broad. Ian was going to purchase some Yakima roof rack parts I no longer needed and we would all paddle the French Broad. We were going to do the shorter trip to Stackhouse since we weren't sure if there was enough water to go the all the way to Hot Springs. When you do the longer trip, there's a long flat section called the Windy Flats. It's flat water, the wind is always blowing in your face, and you need enough water to make it bearable. The river was running around 2100 cfs, so there was likely enough water to do the full section.

French Broad River North Carolina
The French Broad consists of a lot of ledges. It's a lot of fun figuring out the best route over the ledges. There are also lots of different slots you can go down, so there's always a different route down the river. The ledges also create a lot of play spots where you can kayak surf.

We all saw Big Pillow Rapid on river left. When I came around the rocks before Big Pillow, I realized I wanted to move as far right as I could. The new paddle came in handy since I needed to ferry across the river to avoid the holes.
French Broad River North CarolinaWe had no out of boat experiences that day. Ian and I each had a combat roll.

Ian had paddled the French Broad once before, but he didn't realize that was rebar in the river near the takeout at Stackhouse. I warned him of the danger and directed him to the take out.

It was a quick trip for us since we didn't have anyone swim, we didn't stop on the way for lunch, and we didn't play all that much.

We loaded up the gear. Ian helped load up the boats on the roof rack because he is tall and has long arms. I said "I'm glad you are here to grab the straps." He replied "Well, we ARE useful." (referring to tall people). Ian didn't have dry clothes in my car, so I handed him a towel and had him sit on a clean dog blanket. He didn't mind and quipped "I could take a nap!".

We headed towards the put in. We were going to have a picnic lunch at the put in because there are picnic tables there.

At the put in, I asked Ian if he brought a lunch. He had not, which wasn't a problem since I had plenty of bread, peanut butter, beer, chips, salsa, etc. However, I did not have any utensils (like a knife) because I didn't camp. I went over to another group of picnickers and got a plastic knife from them so that Ian could make a sandwich. Ask and you shall receive.

We had a nice relaxing time sitting by the river having lunch and drinking a beer. The picnic table was in a nice shaded location. Half way through our beer, Leonard decided that he wanted to leave RIGHT NOW. We had a mad dash to rearrange gear so that Leonard could be on his way. After Leonard left, Ian and I kicked back and finished our beers.

It was time to head home. The new CR-V handled well, especially on the dirt roads and switch backs. I could load it up with a lot of gear and people. I did miss being able to manually shift at times.

Click here for more pictures.