Monday, June 14, 2010

A Weekend of Padding and Fine Food

French Broad River, North CarolinaA paddling friend John and I planned a weekend of paddling in the Asheville area. We really wanted to go to the Nolichucky, but it was too low. We settled on going to the Pigeon on Saturday and the French Broad on Sunday. However, we would do the entire French Broad section down to Hot Springs. John and I had only done that section once, and my run included a good beat down in the Frank Bells rapid. But I was in a bigger boat this time and should be able to punch through holes more easily (it's also more stable and has more volume).

Our preferred campground The French Broad River Campground was full. In fact, they laughed when John called them and asked if they had any sites available. We ended up camping in Hot Springs, which is also on the French Broad. It turned out that there was a Blue Grass music festival in Hot Springs on Saturday, but we didn't have a chance to see any of it.

John and I carpooled. I picked him after work on Friday and we headed to the campground. Our friend Rick would meet us at the put in on Saturday as would other paddlers.

We arrived at the campground just as it was getting dark. We found out that the campground did have one major flaw: the bathrooms and showers were easily a quarter mile schlep from our site. Next time, we have to be sure to get something closer! However, there were people playing blue grass music well into the night, which was nice. We didn't mind music being played after quiet time of 10 pm.

The Dirty Bird with Water - Twice!

We agreed to have everyone meet at the Pigeon put in at 11:30 am on Saturday (the release doesn't start until 12:00). There were people coming from several different places. The group consisted of: Liz from Winston Salem, Glen from Black Mountain (the only open boater in the group), Ian from Johnson City, Lee from Asheville, and Rick, John, and myself from the Triangle. Neither Ian and Liz had paddled the Pigeon before. There truly was a release and we were happy to see the water level rising. It's a lot more fun running the river when there is water.

On the road along the river to the put in, a tree had fallen over a what we hoped was just a telephone line. The line was dangling low over the road, traffic was restricted to one lane, and there wasn't enough clearance for the rafting buses since they put rafts on top. On our second run down the river, we saw a bus with rafts on top had run into the line.
Raft bus hitting overhead line
The only carnage on the first run was Glen in the Lost Guide rapid. John had his HD video camera and took videos of people running the major rapids on the Pigeon. I asked him how good the microphone was. On the last rapid, Accelerator, I had to brace to keep from being flipped.

There were quite a few rafts on the river and John had his first ever run in with a raft. Rafts are called floating undercuts since they can be a hazard.

At the take out, I offered everyone some great homemade brownies Janyne had baked. Everyone loved them. Lee pipes up "I thought you were a health nut and would try to give us granola or something." I answered "uh, no. We eat healthy, but I ride bikes and paddle so that I CAN have brownies, beer, ... ".

John, Rick and I then did a second run on the river. The shuttle was already set for us since no one else wanted to run it a second time. The shuttle is easy and the run is pretty short, so it made sense to do it twice.

Culinary Tour
Asheville is not a large city, but it is known for having many good restaurants, many of which use local ingredients. When we were setting up the trip, John had one request: "I'd really like to go to my favorite restaurant, Salsa". On kayaking trips, I don't cook dinner, so this was not a problem.
Since we had a lot of time to kill Saturday morning, we headed to Sunny Point Cafe in west Asheville for breakfast. Sunny Point Cafe is rated as one of the best places for breakfast in America. We knew the restaurant was popular, so we arrived before they opened.

I had amazing multi grain waffles with all sorts of fruit: banana, cherries, raspberries, water melon, black berries, pineapple, and strawberries with a side of chorizo sausage.

Saturday night after paddling, John and I headed into Asheville. We were able to get a table right away at Salsa, which is unusual since there's normally a long wait.

To start, John had a habanero margarita. I don't normally drink tequila, so I went with a mohito. As an appetizer we had chips and fire roasted tomato and chipolte peanut salsa. For dinner I had one of the specials: a pork shank with several different salsas, beans, and rice. I think there was bacon on the shank as well. Everything is better with bacon!

Sunday morning we had a quandary: do we go to Tupelo Honey Cafe or Early Girl Eatery for breakfast? We arrived before either restaurant opened, so we looked at the menus for both. John had me pick since he requested the other two restaurants. I settled on Tupeolo Honey Cafe, which is an award winning restaurant. The line started forming a half hour before the restaurant opened.

The Tupelo Honey Cafe's employees wore T shirts that said "THC" on the front. Gotta love Asheville! I had (according to John "boring") bacon, eggs, and home fries. The home fries were simply amazing. They were diced and nicely seasoned red potatoes. We also got incredible biscuits with blackberry jam. We ogled the lunch and dinner menu. Southern fried chicken BLT? I bet that's good (don't think about the calories).

Free Beer and Parking!
Saturday night in Asheville we parked at a parking lot that would have cost us $4. The automated system that took payments was broken (must be running Windows) and a lady was working on it. She asked what spot we were in. "5". "Don't worry about it. I'll mark it as paid when the system comes back." "Thanks!"

After dinner at Salsa, we stopped at an Irish pub. The Bartender comes over with a pint of beer. "I made a mistake and poured the wrong beer. It's a Newcastle. I don't want to waste it. You can have it for free." John I looked at each other and shrugged. Sure, but I don't really like Newcastle. "Oh, did I say Newcastle. I meant a Highland's Galic Ale". I immediately picked up the pint and put it in front of me. "I have a cooler full of that in my car.".

John and I noticed that they bar had The Bachelorette on most of the TVs! Geez, even watching paint dry (I mean World Cup soccer) would be better. However, it was like watching a train wreck. We couldn't stop looking and making snide comments. We finally had enough and I asked the bartender why they were playing such crap. "Oh, we don't pay attention to what's on the TVs". Hmm...maybe you should.

When we got back into the car, the river funk from the wet gear hit us like a ton of bricks. "Windows DOWN!". It was a pleasant evening in the upper 70's, so it wasn't a problem riding back to the campground with windows down and moon roof open. River funk is MUCH worse than wet dog, especially Pigeon River Funk.

The parking sports were a bit tight, so John ragged on me for my "seven point" turn. I was just glad I didn't have the bike rack on the back.

Don't Cry, It's Only Thunder
I woke up Sunday morning to the rumble of thunder. It was an hour before my alarm was set to go off, but if it did rain, it would not be fun packing camp in the rain. We already would have enough wet kayaking gear.

I got up and started packing up my gear, which woke up John. I asked him if we should be concerned about rain "Nah, there's blue sky over there...". John made the 1/4 mile hike to the bathroom. I had all of my stuff packed except my tent. The skies opened up and it poured. Luckily I have learned to always pack my rain jacket, which I quickly put on. I grabbed everything of John's I could and threw it in the car. John then came back, soaked from this walk back from the bathroom.

Kevin's Hole
Sunday we were paddling the French Broad, but going all the way to Hot Springs. This adds two rapids: Kayaker's Ledge and Frank Bells.

We all met at the put in at 11 am. Our group consisted of Lee, Jim, Rick, John, and myself. Jim was from the Asheville area and responded to Lee's posting of the French Broad trip. Everyone else was on the Pigeon Saturday.

We went down the river pretty quickly. Rick has a habit of bombing rivers and Lee needs to stop a lot to stretch his legs because his knees get sore. John was annoyed that we quickly zoomed past some of the first ledges since they have good play spots.

The Pillow Rock rapid was quite tame since the level wasn't very high. There wasn't even much (if any) water pouring over it.

At the Pinball Rock rapid, I think I bounced off of pinball rock. That wasn't really what I had planned. You stay to the RIGHT of the rock.

We went past Stack House and went into Windy Flats. Windy Flats is widely despised since it's a long flat water section, can be hard to get through if the river is too low, and there's almost always a head wind. We did have a strong head wind and it started to pour rain for awhile.
Windy Flats, French Broad River, NC
We got out to scout Kayaker's ledge. Lee describes it as a one trick pony. All you have to do is go down the correct line on the left and make a boof move. Lee, Rick, John, and I had no problems. Jim decided to portage around the rapid.

We then came up to Frank Bells and got out to scout it. It was a challenge finding the place to get out. The entire bank was overgrown, and it had a lot of poison ivy. We hacked a path through the underbrush and walked down the railroad tracks that follow the river.
Frank Bells Rapid, French Broad River, NC
We scouted Fran Bell's rapid, which at higher levels is a class IV. On Sunday it was a solid class III that required you to make some moves to make it through. Lee says "Well gentlemen, that over there is Kevin's Hole. It's where he got trashed last year". HEY! Lee has already tried to name a hole on the lower Pigeon after me. I'm not sure I like this trend!

Then the double entendres started. In kakaying, you have holes, sticky holes, you surf holes, you can ride a tongue of water (or just ride the tongue), you can play in holes. Use your imagination.

Frank Bells consists of two parts. The first part you go over a pour over, around or through a hole, then eddy to the left. This is the easier part. When scouting, we located the landmark you use for the route. Of course, it's a lot harder to find the "pyramid rock" when you're on the water being pushed down into the rapid.

The second part is trickier. There's a tongue of water, but at the bottom is a diagonal hole and reactionary wave you have to punch through. On the right is "Kevin's" hole and the left has a much larger, more evil hole you have to avoid at all costs.

I came though the first part fine and eddied to the left. John and Rick went through the second part fine, and Rick was in a play boat. Then it was my turn. I eddied out into the current, aiming for the tongue. I must have clipped the edge of "my" hole because I was on my side for a bit, then was flipped. John said the look on my face was priceless when I realized I was toast. And he left the video camera in my car! I went into the bottom hole upside down, blew my first roll, but I was up fine in the second attempt. Apparently I was still in some squirrely water in my first attempt.

Lee and Jim did the sneak on the left side of the island, which avoids the rapid.

The last rapid on the river is a ledge called Surprise rapid. I managed to get flipped and rolled. SURPRISE!

At the take out, more brownies were consumed. Since we were heading on the road, we didn't have any beer. Lee jokingly asked if we were going to have brownies and beer. I said that might actually work with a porter or stout.

We all had a great time. Lee was great to have along to help scout the rapids and to give suggestions. Lee also helped us get on the road faster by taking Rick and his gear back to his car at the put in.

Cell Phone
The previous weekend John went Paddling on the Ocoee, which is a long seven hour drive. On that road trip, the driver played an a capella song about cell phones that John thought was quirky. He described it to me and we came up with our own versions of "cell phone".
  • James Brown: Cell phone! Good God! OW!
  • Blues: ba da da dum...I've got me the the cell phone blues... ba da da dum I got a text message ... it said my rent was late ... ba da da dum I get no coverage
  • Country: (with twang) My baby done send me a text message on my cell phone.. said she was leaving me... I can't get no coverage ...
  • Classical (to the tune of Handle's Messiah): Cell phone ! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Halle-lu-jah!
All weekend we could get each other laughing by singing a cell phone song or just saying "cell phone...text message...yeah". Throughout the trip back home, we came up with new versions if a song from my iPod inspired us. For example, we came up with a swing version when a Brian Setzer song was played.

The Road Home
One the ride back home, John and I were both happy that we were coming from the Asheville area. A four or five hour drive is much nicer than a seven hour drive.

John commented on how comfortable the CR-V was, so he was happy that I did the driving.

I dropped off John and his gear (and left him some brownies) and headed home.

I unloaded everything and hung up the wet gear to reduce the river funk. I set up the tent in the garage since it got wet. Vacuuming out the sand and dried mud from the CR-V would have to wait until the morning.

Click here for more pictures.

1 comment:

  1. I wasn't in any hurry - he shoulda said something! - Rick