Mountain Biking in Tsali
After three days of paddling, I took an "off" day by mountain biking in the Tsali recreation area. Tsali is regularly cited as having some of the best mountain biking trails in the east. This is a bit controversial though since some people think they are overrated.
The Tsali trails can be used as bridal trails or for cycling. There is a schedule that identifies which trails can be used for cycling on each day.
Since it was Tuesday, I rode the Mouse Branch Loop and the Thompson Loop trails, a total of 14 miles and quite a bit of climbing. I worked my way up to the Mouse Branch Overlook, which gives you a view of Fontana Lake and Smoky Mountains National Park.
The reward for all of the climbing was several miles of screaming downhill riding at the end.
I headed back to camp to shower and have lunch.
After lunch, I headed over to the Nantahala Outdoor Center. I hung out by Nantahala Falls to watch the carnage. I enjoyed watching kayaks and rafts approach the falls and predict which ones wouldn't make it. On woman in a kayak came along and she look shaky "Oh, THIS is gonna be good". Sure enough, she went right into the top hole in the falls, flipped, didn't even try to roll, and went swimming. There are people stationed at the falls, so several ropes were thrown out for her.
Later a two person inflatable raft, a ducky, came along. Usually you can't mess up in a ducky. Well, these two people went into the top hole sideways and got stuck. They were riding the hole for a couple of minutes. The woman on the ducky seemed more concerned about their cooler than getting out of the hole. I yelled out "PADDLE!". They eventually managed to get out without flipping.
Later, a NOC instructor and a kayaking student came along. They stopped in truck stop eddy above the falls and stayed there for a LONG time. The student kept talking, talking, talking to the instructor, hanging onto the rocks the whole time. He looked shaky, so I figured there would be a flip. Finally the kayaking student peels out and is not on the right line and goes right into the bottom hole. However, he was in a large kayak and punched right through.
The Dirty Bird and Boiling Cauldrons of Goodness
Wednesday's plan was to paddle the upper Pigeon. The Pigeon is the "dirty bird" since there is a paper mill upstream in Canton, which affects air and water quality. It's still a fun section to run since it has lots of play spots and a few class III rapids. It's also a very easy shuttle to set up since it runs right along I-40. It's a short run, so it's often nice to do multiple laps.
My friend John's car broke down the previous Friday and his car was still in the shop. He needed to get a rental car since he had to go back to Raleigh to teach a class (he had a Tuesday/Friday class, which made it hard to be at week of rivers). The rental car had to be returned to the Asheville airport Wednesday afternoon. John paddled with us on the Ocoee on Monday, so we took his kayak back to the campground with us Monday night. On Wednesday I loaded his kayak on my car, drove to the Asheville airport, picked up John, and we headed to the Pigeon.
I was not able to find a group at the campground that was planning to go to the Pigeon Saturday, so it was just John and I. At the put in I was able to arrange for a ride from the take out to the put in with counselors from a summer camp for girls in Brevard. This was a three week kayaking summer camp for girls, and this was the advanced group.
We essentially had the river to ourselves. There were very few rafts and very few kayakers. It's much more crowded on weekends. This allowed us to do whatever we wanted and not be rushed.
I paid to park my car at USA Raft, which allows you to use their showers. We planned to go out to eat in Asheville and really wanted to get the Pigeon funk off.
John had not heard from the auto shop and hoped that his car would be ready. When we got to the shop, they said they didn't call since they knew we would be on the river. The car was not done, but would be done the next day. John really, really wanted to run the Ocoee again, so we arranged for an after hours pick up on Thursday (it's a good 2.5 hour drive from the Ocoee to Asheville).
It was over 95 degrees outside, which is very hot for Asheville. This was still better than Raleigh, which hit 102. Janyne said it was "hotter than the surface of the sun".
We then headed into Asheville to eat at Salsas, a Mexican/Caribbean restaurant. We started with Jalapeno poppers, which were incredible and very, very hot. I washed it down with a very spicy bloody Mary ("Do you want your Bloody Mary Spicy?" "yes, of course"). We were both sweating like crazy.
My main course was a chicken/mushroom molcajeta. This was chicken, mushrooms, onions, peppers, etc. in a spicy, boiling chile/coconut broth. The whole thing is in a lava rock bowl, which we called a "boiling cauldron of goodness". John bought my dinner as a thank you for shuttling him and his gear all over the region.
Middle Ocoee - Unintentionally Running Double Suck
Thursday we headed back to the middle Ocoee. It was a scheduled release, so there would be more water than on Monday.
We had two Ocoee first timers in our group, a father and son who were also from Apex! It turns out they live in the neighborhood right next to mine, but I have never seen them at roll practice.
Again we put in just below Grumpies. Getting around Grumpies isn't supposed to be difficult, but if you don't do it correctly, you will have a very bad day. There was a lot of raft traffic to deal with, the rapid isn't all that interesting, and we had first timers, so skipping it was the best option.
We were going to sneak around Double Suck again. Double Suck has an evil hole at the bottom, a hole we videoed someone getting a beat down in on Monday. The sneak isn't difficult, but you have to ferry to river center and go to the left of the big rock in the river. To the right of the rock is Double Suck.
I was behind Dan, the dad in the father/son team. He got stuck on rocks while ferrying to the sneak. Do I try to go above him or below him? The water was pushing pretty hard, so there wasn't much time to decide. I went for below. Very. Bad. Call.
As our friend and Ocoee addict Rick pointed out later, there really isn't an eddy by the big rock. I was pushed right into Double Suck. To make matters worse, no one else had gotten through the rapid yet, so if I swam, it could be a long swim and no one was around to gather up gear.
I was committed. I didn't know the correct line. My "plan" was to point straight downstream and punch the holes.
I made it though the first hole. Then I was in the evil hole. I was halfway through, then lost ALL momentum. The hole had my stern and was pulling me back into the hole. My bow was lifted out of the water. I paddled like mad and made it out. I eddied out below the rapid and I was the only one there. John then comes through the sneak and says "HOW did you get here?" I pointed to Double Suck and said "Through there".
We came to Double Trouble and John set up his video camera again. I came into the rapid and saw how ugly the big haystack waves were. I skirted them to the right. In the video, John added chicken clucking sounds when I did that. However, it was good that I was still in my boat. Robert came next, was flipped, blew his roll, and was swimming. He had his boat and was getting into an eddy, but his paddle was being swept away. I chased after it and got it before it disappeared down the next rapid.
I had a very successful day on the river. I did not have a single flip all day even with running Double Suck. On the way back to Asheville, I stopped in the white water center's gift shop to buy an Ocoee T-shirt.
I drove John and all of his gear back to the auto shop in Asheville. His car was ready, so he loaded it up and headed back to Durham so that he could teach his Friday class.
Click here for video taken on the trip. I am at :15 and 2:03. The 2:03 segment is me running Table Saw. Note that I almost eat it at the top of the rapid.
Click here for more photos.