I strapped my canoe to my jeep and packed up Thursday night. I went to Sports Academy to buy under layers for the cold and Friday morning headed north on I-295, I-95 and then took I-26 West toward Asheville.
I arrived in Hot Springs about two hours after I’d started wishing I was there already. It was dark and cold. I put on more layers, glimpsed at the instructions for my new GoPro camera and Kototat drysuit and went to sleep.
The next morning was also cold. North Carolina in December. I put on more layers, met Corey and Wade for breakfast, and then we strapped Corey’s kayak to my jeep and headed up-river to the put-in at Barnard. I canoed Wade’s Spanish Fly on the French Broad a year and a half ago, but hadn’t yet tried out my canoe.
Going white-water canoeing is a process. Getting into the drysuit itself is something to think about. Then there’s blowing up the airbags — not as bad. Then there’s checking the pump — it came with the canoe for me, but I wasn’t noticing it pumping any water out on the river. All new batteries, too, maybe it just wasn’t wired right.
Getting in a canoe again was weird. It was a distant memory of a warm summer as a raft guide on the French Broad River. Much less layers then, but more leaves on the trees. More green, more sweat, more laughter — its hard not to return to a summer like that. But this is December. And the boat is a Prelude. And every slight shift in weight that went to my knees tilted the boat. Tilt too much and it’ll tip.
It didn’t though, not through Beginner’s and the Maze, Turtle Rapid and S-Turn(…well, the slot next to S-turn, what is it called for rafts – Clam?). All the way up to Big Pillow, and then my boat bumped Wade’s and over I went. I did a deep-water reentry downstream and then floated over to dump my boat. Boy was that refreshing — but I was dry. (Thanks to my Kokotat dry suit.)
Wade says that one doesn’t count, ‘cause our boats bumped. Well if it doesn’t, then I got all the way through Sandy Bottoms and the Ledges and Pinball, Rebar and Stackhouse without flipping. But alas, I successfully went over Kayaker’s Ledge, but relaxed before I was free of it’s hold, and to the left I went, plunging into that green bubbly water.
(Good thing I tethered the GoPro strap to the inside of my helmet — it was hanging by my shoulder after that one.)
I dumped out the boat and on we went. The Windy Flats had taken ages — 850 cfs — and the drift ahead led to the impending Frank Bell’s rapid. Eek!
Well, Corey went down first. We were running horseshoe. I saw Wade get stuck on some rocks and twist around a bit at the entrance where Corey had just kayaked. I decided to go to the right of that, which turned out to be a good decision. It was pushy, but I made it through! We eventually made it down to the take-out just as Matt was pulling up to give us a lift back up to our vehicles. He brought one of the little boxer puppies along with, and it was just so cute! I was almost convinced. But then I think of travel, and how would I get back to Germany with a puppy? Or China?
We made it back and went to the Smokey Mountain Diner. I had a Hungry Hiker burger — a satisfying 12 ounces of meat to follow 9 miles of paddling in 43 degrees.
Sunday, I tried to sleep till the rain stopped. Except it didn’t. Going paddling in the cold and wet just didn’t seem as swell a deal as going paddling in the cold and dry. Plus, we were racing daylight and didn’t have a set ride back yet. So we made brownies and watched a movie.
I was much more confident in my boat the second time around. The water was up to about 1500 cfs Monday, so we ate some eggs and headed up to Stackhouse to set shuttle. We met Matt there and loaded up our boats for Barnard.
I figured out my GoPro a bit more at the put-in — the button on the front switches between video and camera mode, along with turning it off and on. The button on the top records, or takes a photo, depending on the mode. Can’t exactly switch modes while in a rapid, as the camera’s strapped to my helmet. Before it was kind of guess-and-check, or rather, push the buttons and hope the red light flashes continuously.
But I felt much better in my boat this time. Better balance, stronger strokes. More deliberate. Still could be a bit more aggressive. We went through to Stackhouse and I didn’t flip at all! There were a few close calls, but I caught them all. It boosted my confidence a bit. If only I could paddle up here every weekend — I need to find another open-boater who lives in Florida to come up, carpool and paddle with.