At the 8:30 club meeting on Friday, we were introduced to Aidan and Mary, who were from New Zealand (Mary is originally from Florida, so she has an American accent). They were going to be he Jackson Kayak reps for New Zealand. They were in the US for a few weeks and were traveling around the east coast. Before coming to week of rivers, they went to the Jackson factory to pick up a couple of kayaks. They had small play boats since they had to fit inside the rental car.
My plan was to run the Nantahala on Friday. From 6 to 8 pm Friday evening, there would be a big sale at the NOC store and it was only open to Carolina Canoe Club members. All core paddling gear was at least 20% off. I wasn't going to miss it.
Aidan and Mary decided to join the Nantahala trip. I had room for two more kayaks and people, so they would ride with me. The trip was led by Bob, who has a teen age son Bob who would be in the group (the Bobs). There were at least 12 people in the group, which consisted of open boaters and kayakers.
We got to the put in, and I realized that we didn't get river passes for Aidan and Mary. I explained to them that the Nantahala is the only river in the area where you have to pay for a pass. If a ranger stopped them, they needed to act innocent (and Aidan would need to use his Kiwi accent). I just assumed that by July, everyone would already HAVE a Nantahala pass. When we stopped for lunch at Ferebee Park, park rangers came by checking passes. I have never seen rangers check! While the rangers were talking to Bob Sr., I signaled to Aidan and Mary that we needed to leave NOW. We were able to discreetly get in our boats and head out.
When we getting ready to start at the put in, it took awhile to herd the cats. I quickly saw that this trip could end up being a fuster cluck. Bob Jr. had a habit of cutting you off and not paying attention to other people. One of the open boaters T boned me, and yelled "watch out" only a second before hitting me. And when you have a large group, people that want to play boat (like Aidan and Mary), would get very little time to do that.
I talked to Bob Sr., and said we would peel off from the group and to not worry about us. That was a great decision since I could show Aidan and Mary many of the play spots on the river. The Nanty is a read and run class II-III river, but it is still good to know where you can make some fun moves and where the play waves are located. The only rapid we got out to scout was Nantahala Falls, but even that may not have been necessary since Aidan and Mary are very skilled boaters.
I did run the falls without being flipped, but as is usual for me, I didn't get quite close enough to the top hole and ended up in part of the bottom hole. My bow came up a bit, but I could paddle through it.
The rest of the group we were in had passed us, so I assumed that I would have to find my own way to get back to my car at the put in. You can usually get a ride, but it gets more difficult later in the day. When we realized how late it was getting, we started moving quickly down the river. Luckily we caught up with the big group, so I could use their shuttle. Whew.
Six of us needed to load into Ruth's Lexus SUV. Three people were crammed into the back seat and they had to sit on a plastic camp table cloth to keep water off of the leather seats (which is why I always have a lot of clean towels in my car). I had to share the front seat with Bob Sr. AND three canoe paddles, which prompted the following:
- Me: Is that a paddle or are you happy to see me?
- Bob: I am NOT happy to see you.
- Me: I'm not getting fresh.
- From the back in unison: We are WAY beyond being fresh.
I got my car and headed back to NOC. We loaded up gear in the rain, which of course stopped when we had everything loaded. We finally changed into dry clothes.
We were all very hungry, but didn't want to go far since the NOC sale would be starting soon. We went to the River's End restaurant for dinner and had pizza and beer. I introduced Aidan to Fat Tire and Highland's Oatmeal Porter and Gaelic Ale. Highlands is a local brewery in Asheville, and all of their beers are great. Aidan discovered that there actually ARE good beers in America! Aidan and Mary paid for dinner as a thank you for me being a river guide and for shuttling them around.
The sale at the NOC was a huge success. The place was swarming with CCC members and things were flying off of the shelves. I bought a new spray skirt since my current one leaks a bit. You want the skirt to be as tight as possible in order to be water proof and they do stretch over time. I got a small waist size, so I can't gain weight.
Middle Ocoee - Super Sized Hell Hole
On Saturday the upper and middle Ocoee were releasing water, so the middle would have even more water. I convinced Aidan and Mary that they HAD to run the Ocoee to experience some big water. Our friend Rick would be in our group, and he runs the middle Ocoee several times in a single day. Rick was a great guide since he was able to give great advice to Aidan and Mary. We had several flips and rolls in the group, but no one swam.
I was very happy being in my larger river runner kayak, a Liquid Logic Lil Joe. It saved my bacon numerous times since I could punch through a lot of the holes and waves.
The waves in Table Saw were MUCH larger. A wave towards the end essentially flung me into the eddy on the left.
Hell Hole was huge. I was flipped and rolled, but by the time I rolled back up, I was already in the next rapid: power house. The waves there were also huge, so I flipped and rolled again. At least I was to the right and avoided the largest holes.
We parked the take out vehicles along the highway to avoid having to do over a half mile of flat water kayaking in the lake that forms after the power house rapid. We were parked on a narrow shoulder, the river down below (I had visions of the CR-V tumbling into the river). We appreciated missing the flat water, but loading gear along a busy two lane highway was a bit tricky.
When you drive back to the campground from the Ocoee, you drive through the Nantahala gorge and along the Nantahala river. After running the much larger Ocoee, Aidan looked at the Nantahala and proclaimed "The Nantahala is so cute". Aidan and Mary had big smiles on their faces all day, so they were very glad that they had the opportunity to run the Ocoee.
The Carolina Canoe Club arranged for Mandolin Orange to perform Saturday night. Mandolin Orange is a folk duo from Carrboro North Carolina and they are incredible. Mandolin Orange normally performs at music festivals and in concert halls, so it was amazing that they came to our intimate setting under the club's tent (with no microphones, which they loved). They performed at week of rivers the previous year and were thrilled to come back. Just like the previous year, they performed many new songs for the first time. They are in the process of recording a new CD. It was funny to hear how excited they were to now have a mini van to tour around in. Saturday night after the concert would be the first time they were going to try sleeping in it.
The club couldn't afford to pay them very much, so we passed a basket around. I put in $10 and also bought their current CD.
Saturday night I loaded up all of the gear I could so that I could get on the road quickly the next morning. Since we were back to the campground late in the afternoon on Saturday, I was able to get most of the gear dry. That would make for a much more pleasant drive home!
I set my alarm for 5:15 am, which was actually before the butt crack of dawn. I packed up the remaining gear and took down the tent in the dark, shaking off as much of the mountain dew I could. I was quiet, but didn't stress too much about it since some yahoos were making a racket well past 2 am (and "quiet " time is 10:00 pm).
On my way out of the campground, I saw that Ian was also packing up. He waved as I went by.
I made good time, and was greeted at home by Janyne and our two dogs Hannah and Emma. The funny thing is, Hannah, a 15 year old lab, knew I was home long before our 8 year old Golden Emma did.
It was a wonderful week of paddling and getting together with paddling friends. I met/exceeded all of my goals which included:
- Become comfortable with the middle Ocoee. Since I ran it three times, I now know the important sneaks and the lines through most of the rapids.
- Run Nantahala Falls and not get flipped in the bottom hole. I never get close enough to the top hole, which had given me a beat down in the past. So I end up in the bottom hole and flip.