In August I was invited to go paddling with Len and Barbara and stay at Barb's mountain house near Waynesville, North Carolina. Barb's family has large vacation house that everyone in her family uses. Normally I sleep in a guest bedroom downstairs, but for the first time I was assigned to the loft bedroom. The loft is very nice because above the bed there is a large picture window with a view of the mountains and the private bathroom has a chandelier! Barb and Len's friend Steve was in the downstairs guest bedroom because he had to get up early for a cycling event, the Blue Ridge Breakaway.
I enjoy staying at Barb's place because I don't have to camp. It takes a lot less time to load and unload for a trip since I don't have to deal with all of the camping gear. I always make sure to bring a hostess gift with me and Janyne will often bake goodies like banana bread to share.
Barb and Len also invited other friends to stay including: paddling friends Ron, Joan, and Joan's two teenage children.
Saturday morning Barn, Len, and I took a walk. There are a lot of horses in the area, and they all know Barb because she likes to feed them carrots. We had plenty of time since the Pigeon doesn't run until 12:00.
We loaded up all of the paddling gear and headed to the Pigeon. It had started to pour down rain, which is really only a problem when you load and unload gear. I waited at the putin while the shuttle vehicles were positioned. I tried to stay out of the pouring rain as much as possible.
The rain didn't stop until we were at Lost Guide rapid. It doesn't matter if it rains while you are on the river, but it wasn't so good for the people on the bike ride. We found out later that the park service had to close the Blue Ridge Parkway due to the rain and the fog. One of Janyne's cycling friends got hypothermia while going fast in a descent and spent some time in the hospital. The rain wasn't in the forecast, so very few of the cyclists brought rain gear.
Before Double Reactionary rapid on the Pigeon, we encountered a young lady standing IN the river. Apparently she was part of a university rafting group and she fell out of the raft. Lee had her grab onto the back of his kayak and he tried to take her to shore. She must have let go because she ended up swimming through the rapid and was really bounced around. After the rapid, Len had her grab his boat and got her to shore. She was really upset and didn't want to go though the next, and last rapid, accelerator. The problem is, there's not a good way to walk around it, so you have to be in a boat.
We stopped at Pigeon Gorge take out for lunch where Barb met up with us. Barb joined us to run the lower Pigeon. At the end of the run, Barb said that it seemed "easier". We told her that her paddling has improved and is more experienced, so it should seem easier.
After running the Ocoee quite a few times over the summer, the Pigeon seemed so much easier. Of course, any river can be made more difficult by using a play boat, playing more in features, practicing more difficult moves, etc.
We headed back to Barb's place where we later had a great grilled salmon dinner.
Getting the Bird from Roostertail
On Sunday Lee, Len, Bob, and I ran the Nolichucky River. This was my Nolichucky PFD (personal first descent). The Nolichucky is a class III-IV river and is generally considered more difficult than the Ocoee. On our run, the river was running between 1600 - 1700 cfs, which isn't a bad level for a first timer.
Len and I drove to Bob's house near Asheville and loaded up Bob's big Suburban. The Suburban is really old and beaten up, but it can hold a lot of gear and people. The air conditioning went out years ago, but we didn't need it.
We met Lee at the Nolichucky Gorge Campground. The campground manager, whom I've written about before, was on us before we even crossed the bridge. "$3 a head" he barked. Bob answered with "Well, we have three heads". The fee is worth it though since the campground manager arranged for a shuttle driver, the campground is the take out for the Nolichucky gorge, and we could use the campground's bathrooms and showers. The Nolichucky shuttle is very long and difficult, so it is worth the $20 to hire a driver to bring the car back to the take out.
The Nolichucky Gorge is beautiful because the river winds between the mountains. The run is remote and quite long. The more difficult rapids are in the first third or so of the run. The water was turbid with a lot of silt, but that was due to the recent heavy rains. It was a beautiful, sunny day, but it wasn't too hot.
My first combat roll was in the rapid "On the Rocks". I flipped and did a combat roll right away. Later Bob said that while he was watching me run the rapid and saw me flip he said "NOW would be a good time for a roll...".
We then came to the roostertail rapid. You can't see much of the rapid until you are almost on top of it. You have to go from right to left between rocks and have the proper boat angle. I wasn't quite on the right line. I flipped in the first drop and was banged against the bottom. I rolled up, caught my breath, then was flipped all the way over to the other side. I was banged on bottom again. I rolled up and I thought I was up for good! yea! But then I was pinned against the rock I was warned about (don't get pinned THERE), which then flipped me. After being banged against the bottom a bit more, I had enough and bailed out. That may not have been the best choice because I was banged against the rocks in the swim. I lost some skin on hands and knees, but I DID have my carbon paddle in hand. Lee had me grab the back of his boat and towed me to shore.
We all then had lunch since roostertail marks the end of the more difficult rapids. While talking at lunch, I discovered I was the youngest person in the group. I said how old I was and Bob said "42? I thought you said 32. If you were 32, I'd have you run Roostertail AGAIN."
At lunch Len gave me a great compliment. He said that he saw a huge improvement in my paddling skills, especially reading water and boat control. I wasn't thrilled to have swum, but everyone swims at some point.
The rest of the river is mostly read and run. Lee was in the lead and for some reason was moving really fast when we were in rock garden rapid. Rock garden is a fairly long rapid where you have to dodge rocks and holes. I tried to follow Lee's line, except for when I saw him go into holes I wanted to avoid. After the rapid, Lee admitted that he didn't have a very clean line.
When we were loading up gear, Bob mentioned that he saw me do a couple of "practice" rolls late in the run. I flipped on a couple of minor things and rolled up. I said "Oh, you weren't supposed to see those...".
After loading up the gear and changing into dry clothes, we headed back to Bob's place. The drive along I-26 in Tennessee and North Carolina is gorgeous. There are a lot of large mountains and it is mostly undeveloped.
I had a great time on the river. Lee was a great guide since he knew the river well and always explained each rapid. Bob and Len also knew the river. It will take me several more runs to become comfortable with the river and to know the lines.