Monday, July 12, 2010

Trip Down the French Broad

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Hey guys, this past weekend I took a trip over to NOC's French Broad Outpost so I could take some photos, check out the river, and report back about my overall experience. I'd just like to start off by saying, "Wow, that was a really fun adventure!"You can check out the video I made for a quick summary, or for more in-depth experience report, keep reading!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BD7EfWbrPDY

I left Thursday morning with the intent of rafting the French Broad River that afternoon, seeing a concert in Asheville at Club 828 on Friday night, and then rafting the Nolichucky River on Saturday. I drove through Asheville, stopped at the KFC for lunch to try the new "double down" sandwich (which is basically two pieces of fried chicken with cheese, bacon, and sauce in between - really healthy! ;-) ), and continued on my way to the outpost.

Once I arrived, I checked in, signed my release form, talked with the guides for a while (who were really cool people), and started taking pictures in the time I had left before the pre-trip information and gearing-up session.
Sign Outside the Outpost

Beautiful Flowers Lining the Staircase

Inside the NOC Store

Another View of the Sign and Balcony

Around 2:30, once everyone had showed up for the excursion, we all left "the fort" - the meeting area where release forms are signed and car keys are left - and went over to the gear shed where Lilly, our trip guide, gave us a humorous, informative breakdown on raft safety before we got suited up in PFDs and helmets.
Meeting Area for Safety Breakdown

PFD Storage Room

Once everyone was suited up to go, we hopped on the bus for the French Broad and listened to Lilly crack more of her jokes about "moonshine plants" (corn), the origins of Nascar, and big city life in Hot Springs, NC (pop: 645).

Lilly Crackin' Jokes

About 10 minutes later, we pulled up to the put in at the river, grabbed our paddles and boats from off the bus, and Lilly gave the "duckie" users a short tutorial about leg position, posture, paddling strokes, re-entry techniques, and other basics tips.

The trip down the river started off a little slow, with everyone getting accustomed to their new floating vehicles, but quickly picked up speed after we went down the first few rapids. Unlike the Nantahala, the French BROAD is very wide for the vast majority of it's length, so there is plenty of room for large groups (like ours) to maneuver freely down the river.
Here are some trip highlights:


After an awesome trip, we beached our boats at the take-out, loaded up the bus, and headed back to the outpost to shower and check out the photos. We got back to the outpost around 6:30, and I was on the road again by 7.

I drove down to Greenville, SC to visit some friends that I went to Furman University with last year, and stayed the night there. The next day I drove up to Asheville for an Excision dubstep concert at Club 828 where I actually ran into some old friends and danced from 10-3!

Unfortunately, due to low water levels, my Nolichucky trip on Saturday was cancelled, but I'm not complaining, because I had an awesome time this weekend regardless. If you get a chance to go down the French Broad this summer, I'd highly recommend it!

Thanks for reading guys,
-John

Monday, July 5, 2010

Learning to Kayak (Part 2/2)

(continued from part 1/2)

Sunday was quite a bit more exciting than Saturday. Since we had our basic skills down, Mark, Chris, Allan, Dietrich, Samantha, and I skipped the lake today and went straight to the Tuckaseegee at a later put-in (where you put your raft into the river) to brush up on our whitewater technique before heading to the Nantahala River. After working our rolls (I'm still not quite able to complete one, but I've got 7 weeks to work on it), ferrying, eddying, and leaning into our turns, we packed up our stuff and drove to the Nantahala to have lunch then go down the river.
Lunch by the Nantahala

After we ate, we all put on our wetsuit pants and shirts, our spray jacket, and our spray skirts, then climbed into our kayaks to start our adventure down the Nanty. The reason the water on the Nantahala is so cold (52 degrees F) compared to the other rivers is because the source of the water is the bottom of Nantahala lake, which is 250 feet below the surface, and as such, isn't warmed by the heat of the sun. I was definitely glad to be so decked out in gear once I hit a rapid sideways and flipped over in this water. Quite shocking to say the least, haha.
As we continued down the river, I started to really feel the importance of keeping loose hips and really just going with the flow. If you try to fight the current, you will generally lose. If you lean with the current, keep your boat at the right angle, and face the rapids with confidence, success will come.
When we got to "Pizza by the River", we played around in a small rapid and went "surfing". When water cascades over a rock in a certain way, the downstream current can actually change direction and start flowing upstream right below the rock. When this happens, it is possible to approach the falls facing upstream and "surf" the wave in the current, staying in the same place in the river. It was really fun!
video
Surfing the wave outside Pizza by the River

After a few more sections of rapids, we approached Nantahala Falls, a class III rapid right upstream from the main NOC campus. We took our kayaks out just upstream from the falls, mapped out our planned route for running the falls, and walked back to our boats. As I streched my elastic spray skirt around the edge of my boat, what I was about to do really sunk in for the first time, and excitement spread throughout my body. The six of us took the right fork in the river, and coasted into an eddy just above the falls. At this point, my heart was racing, adrenaline flowing through my veins as I mapped out my strategy for taking the falls. Samantha went first, gave the signal at the bottom that she was ready for us to begin our descent. Dietrich and Allan went first, and were both successful in their attempt. As soon as a window opened up between rafts, I dug my paddle into the water, entered the current, and started rowing for my targeted route. I got going faster and faster, hit the center route, and cruised successfully through the falls. My second day in a kayak and I nailed a class III rapid on my first try! What a fun day!
We ran the falls once more, everyone made it through this time (the first time Chris didn't quite make it over without falling), and then we surfed the main wave under the bridge by Slow Joe's on the Nanty until 5 o'clock when we packed up our gear and left. All in all, this kayaking clinic was a great experience. I'm so excited that I get to continue rafting for the rest of the summer, it's such a fun, healthy, active experience each and every time.



I'm about to go on a rafting trip with my manager Charles and some other people. How cool is it that for my afternoon breaks from work, I get to go raft down a river? I'm so happy that I've got the job that I do! Life is good.

Peace and Love,
-John

Learning to Kayak (Part 1/2)

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Hey guys! This weekend I took a 2-day kayaking clinic through the NOC's paddling school with a group of 4 other guys and our instructor Samantha. Mark (15) and his dad Dietrich are from Ontario originally, but now live in Raleigh, North Carolina. Chris (19) and his dad Allan are from Roswell, Georgia - a suburb just outside of Atlanta. Samantha is from Chile, and has been whitewater rafting ever since she met her husband Jon several years ago at the "5 teacup falls". All in all, I had an amazing weekend learning how to kayak.

On Saturday morning, we started out by getting our "5 essentials":
1) PFD (personal flotation device)
2) Kayak
3) Helmet
4) Spray skirt (what you wear around your waist to keep water from rushing into the kayak)
5) Booties (I actually just wore my Vibram Five Fingers, which worked great in the water)

After we got all geared up, we loaded the van and headed to the lake. In our group, only Allan and Chris had kayaked before (only on flatwater though), so we started with the very basics - the wet exit. Though simple, this is a pretty essential maneuver, considering that without it, flipping over in your kayak will leave you submerged upside-down with nowhere to go.
Luckily, everyone picked up on this pretty quickly, and we progressed to the basic paddling strokes - the vertical stroke, which propels you straight forward, and the horizontal stroke, which allows you to turn. With each stroke, you also must distribute your weight so that your kayak is leaning in the direction you want to go. Pretty intuitive material, but the clear instruction was very helpful, because a solid foundation is essential to long term success in anything, kayaking included. Once we practiced rescuing our flipped comrades, hip snaps, and the basics of rolling upright from an upside-down position (Chris, Allan, & Mark were able to do the roll, I'm still working on it), we went to the Tuckaseegee river to practice our newly acquired expert skills.


Once we ate our sandwiches, we went out on the river and started working on ferrying across currents, turning into eddys (the calm parts of the river behind obstacles like rocks where you can just float without paddling), and other whitewater techniques. This river doesn't get above Class II rapids (out of 5), so it was a good entry-level experience for me. I "swam" twice on Tuckaseegee (when you have to wet exit, and swim out of your kayak), but really gained a pretty good foundation from 9-5 on Saturday.

Samantha and Allan working on Rolling

I went out on Tuckaseegee on Sunday morning, then we went down the Nantahala in the afternoon. I'll post details about it in "Learning to Kayak (part 2/2)". Be sure to check out part 2 for the pictures of me going down Nantahala Falls!

Peace & Love,
-John