Thursday, October 13, 2011

NOC River Leaders of the Month: 2011 Youth Paddling Team

For October we selected not one, but eight River Leaders of the Month. The 2011 NOC Youth Paddling Team members are recognized for their individual and team achievements, participation and development in paddlesports. So please help me give a big shout out and congrats to Zac Agnew, Wylder Cooper, Carter Davis, Bernie Engleman, Shelby Johnson, Julia Kendrick, David Perrin and, last but not least, Anne Marie Pilcher for becoming the first team recognized as NOC River Leaders.

The 2011 Youth Paddling Team

A Team in the Making

The NOC Youth Paddling Team, or "YPT" as the team members like to call it, was merely an idea back in 2009. NOC’s Paddling School Director Jon Clark had a goal: Start a program that will increase youth involvement in paddlesports while developing them to become the leaders, role models and ambassadors of the sport for generations to come. In October 2010, he achieved this goal and officially assembled the 2011 YPT. Jon spent many nights reviewing a stack of applications to select eight team members out of the dozens he received. Jon made his selection and the team was born.

A Year of Growth

The 2011 YPT consists of young, talented and motivated individuals. They arrived at the YPT season kickoff from all corners of the Southeast, ranging in age from 12-17 and all with differing skill levels on the water. Meeting at NOC, their first big adventure was to the Ocoee River in Tennessee. “The van ride there was very awkward,” says Jon. “But by the time they got to the third rapid on the Ocoee, they had quickly become best friends!”

Scouting a Rapid

The team continued the 2011 season with multiple river trips including a lot of firsts for some of the members on the Cheoah, Gauley and even a few made it to the Green Narrows. In addition to these fun weekend paddles, the team competed in multiple freestyle and citizen race events. Prior to these competitions the team joined together on multiple occasions for afternoon freestyle training sessions with Jon and NOC Instructor Andrew Koch. Their first competition as a team was in April at the NOC Shootout. It was high water on the Nanty that day, the hole was washed out and the air was frigid. Jon recalls team members “standing on the bridge shakin’ in their boots” that day. They continued to compete throughout the season at Hometown Throwdown’s on both the Nantahala and Nolichucky rivers.

Pre-Competition Coaching

Developing More than Paddlers

Jon’s vision was to develop the YPT to be more than excellent paddlers. He expected more out of them and provided opportunities to the team to become well-rounded and highly skilled leaders and role models for paddlesports. The team spent two weekends completing Swiftwater Rescue training and Wilderness First Aid certification. The intent of these programs was to further their skills and abilities developing a responsible and educated paddler. They also joined together for a weekend in Atlanta at the Outdoor Nation Summit as ambassadors of the sport. At Outdoor Nation they were awarded a $2500 grant to further a project they developed, participated in round-table decision-making and even led kayak demonstrations introducing the local community at Sweetwater Creek Park to the sport.
2011 YPT - Who We Are
Courtesy Wylder Cooper
The team has also done a great job representing themselves and the sport by creating team videos of their excursions (as seen above), documenting their experiences in blogs and being active members in their communities. So be on the lookout for these eight paddlers. They are a team of skill and determination. And don’t hesitate to say hello when you see them out paddling next season. They love what they are doing and want to get more youth involved in a sport that is changing their lives.

Do You Want to be a Part of the 2012 YPT?

The 2012 YPT team is now in the making. Due to the success of this year’s team, it is going to be even bigger in 2012. There will be two different tracks to accommodate more youth participants ranging from age 6-18 and all skill levels. The online application and details can be found here. Don’t miss out on this amazing opportunity. Apply now!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

GAF 2011 Recap

GAF 2011 was a hit, featuring cool activities, tons of sale items and fun for the kids. But what really stole the spotlight this year was the weather. As you can see in the photo above, GAF Saturday was one of the five best weather days we've had so far in 2011. This was a welcomed change from the waterlogged events of the past three years.

What did this mean for festival goers? Life was just really pleasant, and many guests spent a good portion of their non-shopping time enjoying the activities occurring up and down the Nantahala. From River's End Restaurant to the driving bridge there were paddlers enjoying SUP demos, the beginner-friendly Surf School Wave, the citizen's slalom course and the Hometown Throwdown going on at the big wave.

The scene by the river was lively, but it began to resemble a three-ring circus when the folks from Durham, NC's King BMX Show started performing aerial BMX tricks on the bridge above the wave. The folks from RideGarden also supplied a pump track for the river-left bank, adding to the activity there.

Young festival goers were in hog-heaven too, with the BMX show, live snake and raptor shows, character-based storytelling, free rock climbing and the ever-popular bouncy castle. Next year we're going to do a raffle for the amount of folks that climb the rock wall; it must have offered up 1,000+ climbs in just one and a half days.

The live music line up was excellent, and all the performers had great shows. Blue Eyed Girl, the Freighthoppers and Chalwa gave especially energetic performances this year, and the tent/stage location was probably the best we've had yet.

The overall verdict from the organizer's point of view? It was the most solid, well-oiled GAF we've had in a few years; we didn't seem to have any major hiccups at all. Perhaps that's a signal that it's time to shake things up for next year...

My favorite part of GAF? The return of the popular GAF T-shirt. You can count on that re-establishing itself as a permanent fixture of the event for years to come.

What would you like to see at GAF next year? We've already got some fresh new ideas up our GAF t-shirt sleeves.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Parking and Camping at GAF

GAF 2011 is here, and it looks like it's going to be another awesome event! We just found out that our featured attraction, the King BMX Stunt Show, is actually the halftime show for Sunday night's Steelers/Colts NFL game. The weather looks like it's going to cooperate, and the music lineup features five excellent bands. So it's a bummer to focus this blog on the mundane logistics of parking and shuttles, but since we're in a remote river gorge, it's just necessary.

We anticipate Saturday morning and mid afternoon will be the only times when remote parking will be necessary. Friday, Saturday night and Sunday should be like busy summer days; parking may still be challenging, but it shouldn't require a shuttle. (We'll start running shuttles if necessary though.)

So, what should you expect if you show up at 10am Saturday? The driving bridge will likely be crowded, and you'll probably have event staff directing you to a suitable spot. It could take a bit longer than normal though due to the volume of cars and our desire to use every possible inch of parking-friendly terrain. Please be patient with our staff.

If NOC gets filled up with cars, or if you just want to go ahead and park, then you can drive the 2.2 miles up Silvermine Road to our main satellite parking area. This is a pretty drive, and you'll get to see some beautiful and hidden countryside on the way. Here it is on a map:

We like this spot because it's flat, it's easy to service with quick shuttles and it's gravel, so it's weather-proof. We should have an attendant there to help maximize the parking potential of the lot. Please note that the lot closes at 8pm, so it'd be good to move your car back to NOC after mid-day when some of the GAF gridlock clears out.

Our staff will be positioned at the entrance to Silvermine Rd., and we will have signage along the way to help direct you to the lot. A handy rule of thumb is to just stay on the paved road though.

If things get really busy you may see us open an additional lot at Raging Rivers Rafting Company. These guys have kindly extended their parking lot to us as a neighborly gesture, but we're only planning to use it if necessary. (Having one lot make shuttles easier for guests and staff alike.)

Perhaps you'll recognize their outpost:

So that's the deal with parking. We're not using some of the grass lots we have used in the past, because we don't want guests to get stuck if it storms, and we don't want to tear up our neighbors' yards.

As for camping, there's just not any room for camping on NOC property during the event. We need the parking areas to remain parking areas and not campgrounds. There is abundant camping in the Nantahala National Forest and at area campgrounds for a modest fee.

NOC simply can't service the event, normal rafting operations and camping simultaneously. We recognize this is frustrating for guests who have camped here in the past or taken advantage of our usually lax policies on camping during the rest of the year. We apologize.

We really encourage guests to pursue an off-campus sleeping plan. We don't like ruining anyone's plans, but we will have security patrolling the property and ensuring that event policies are respected.

Please note that some registered vendors and event staff are allowed to stay with their property during the festivities, and this means they will be allowed to sleep on NOC's campus. That's just part of the deal, and part of how we're able to host this fun and free event.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

River Leader of the Month – September 2011: The Other Side of Pat Keller

I do realize a lot of you already know Pat Keller or at least heard of him.  You probably know him as a big name in the paddling community, may have read prior interviews with Pat or seen footage of him on the internet, maybe met him in person or even had the opportunity to paddle with him.  Pat’s well known for his many paddling accomplishments including multiple first descents, Green River Race wins, World Kayak Freestyle Championships, river expeditions and the list goes on.  You can read about all of this in his other interviews.  But I’d heard there was much more to him than just all of these wins and accomplishments.  My mission: Meet the other side of Pat, the one that’s having fun while getting others involved in paddling.

Recalling the first time I met him, I didn’t think much of it.  Simply a really nice guy at the Dagger tent one demo day.  After that I continued to see Pat come up in cool videos and articles online and hear his name around town amongst my paddling buddies.  Even one of my friends that has been showing me the ropes (as I am just beginning to paddle) was stoked about having paddled the Green River Narrows with Pat for the first time a couple months back.  I didn’t think much about it and then realized, huh, this guy’s really trying to get others out there and into paddling, opening up, sharing his knowledge and leading the way as a role model for a younger generation of paddlers. 

It all began for Pat with his first experience on the water at age 3 when his father took him down the Nantahala River.  As a youth he continued to return to the Nantahala and progressed over the years to inflatable kayaks eventually getting his first boat, a Dagger Blast.  NOC is a home to Pat having grown up visiting the gorge frequently as if it were chapel.  But Pat was an active child involved in paddling, gymnastics, karate and skiing.  At age 9, when he tore his ACL all else ceased and he turned only to kayaking.  He began attending NOC Paddling School Youth Camps where he learned to steer, ferry and turn.  This made kayaking easier and allowed him to focus his attention on fewer things at once having the basic skills coming to him naturally.  “Learning to kayak is such a fun progression. A fun dance!” as Pat likes to put it.  “It builds self-confidence and awareness even with all of the real consequences.”  He pushes himself now by blending the skills he has gained from years of paddling across disciplines, combining freestyle, slalom and creeking to create new challenges.

 A Few Fun Lines on the Green River Narrows with Pat
Good role models are hard to come by in athletes these days.  We hear it almost everyday on the news and in the media about scandals: baseball player Mike Jacobs testing positive for HGH, Tiger Woods’ infidelity, Michael Vick’s dog fighting fiasco, and many more.  Pat desired to not only further himself and his paddling career meeting personal goals but also wanted to help others get into the sport and be a role model for paddling.   In 2001, he became an American Canoe Association certified instructor and began teaching at NOC’s Paddling School.   “To not spread the love seems bad. Everyone’s welcome.”  He continues to get friends and beginners out on the water even offering his own gear for use, showing the way and giving pointers.  “The life experiences paddling has brought me and the fun of it is satisfying.  Bring others in and you see it click.”

Pat is now living his life as a chameleon: working in the “real” world and continuing to progress his involvement in the paddling world.  He is a “suit and tie” at Merrill Lynch a few days a week working toward his professional career goals.  But he has “a foot in both worlds” and feels comfortable.  His passion for paddling continues to consume his free time.  “I haven’t lost who I am.”  Pat is a Dagger Team member, an Ambassador for American Whitewater and is working on his latest venture: a creek boating safety video.  “Your level of knowledge influences perception.”  Pat has plenty of paddling experience he has gained over the years and now he’s sharing it.  This year he’s looking forward to accomplishing a few personal goals as well and continuing his “Grand Adventure” with paddling in Mexico, getting back to the Green Race and skiing throughout the winter.  “My life is good!”  So, be on the lookout as Pat’s making waves and paving the way as a role model in the paddling community. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Outside Magazine Picks NOC as the "Best Whitewater Kayaking School"

Thanks to Greg Melville at Outside magazine for selecting NOC's Paddling School as the "hands-down best whitewater school in the country." Melville was writing for the "Adventure Adviser" feature and answering the question "What is the best Whitewater Kayaking School?"

Previously the magazine has noted NOC as a "Top School"and a "Best Place to Learn" in its "Zero to Hero" feature that runs early in the calendar year. This feature encourages outdoor enthusiasts to pick up a new pursuit as part of their new year resolutions.

Upon hearing the news Jon Clark, Director of NOC's Paddling School, commented "It's great to be recognized by an authority like Outside. Our instructors are always refining their techniques, developing new programming and simply working hard to help their students improve. I'm proud that we're contributing to the tradition of excellence this school has built over decades."

For a list of NOC Paddling School programs, including a brand new Stand Up Paddleboard program, click here.

Congratulations to Jon and all the NOC instructors!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Three Generations of Nantahala Paddling

While working on a company history board for Slow Joe's Cafe last week, one of my favorite NOC questions came up: what NOCer has the earliest run of the Nantahala? Here's what I know.

The earliest confirmed run was by Aurelia Kennedy, namesake of Relia's Garden and one of three company co-founders. (The other two being her husband Payson Kennedy and their friend Horace Holden.) Relia first paddled the Nantahala in 1954 with a group of fellow counselors from Camp Merrie-Woode and other counselors from nearby Camp Mondamin. The trip was a wedding present from her friend Ramon Eaton.

Relia and Ramon ran the river in a wood and canvas canoe, and Relia remembers being impressed by Ramon's ability to stand in the boat and scout the rapids. According to Ramon, Relia was the second woman to ever run the river behind one of Frank Bell's relatives. (Frank Bell or "Chief" was the founder of Camp Mondamin and the early pioneer of Western North Carolina whitewater. Frank Bell's, the Class IV on the French Broad is named after him.) Relia was 19 on her first Nantahala trip, and she would marry Payson in September of the same year.

This isn't the earliest NOC first descent of Nantahala Falls,
but it may be the "youngest". Just shy of her first birthday
Jennifer Holcombe runs the Falls with her brother Andrew
and mother Cathy in 1984.

The only current NOCer boasting a descent in the 50's is NOC CFO John Burton, who ran the river in 1959 with his buddy Frank Shell. The tandem was on a canoe trip led by John Delabar, the namesake of Delabar's Rock rapid about midway down the Nantahala. Unlike Ramon's wood and canvas canoe, John was in a tougher aluminum Grummun canoe. It is rumored that Delebar's Rock is so named because Delabar destroyed two wood and canvas canoes on the rock in one trip. If that's true, it's understandable that Camp Mondamin would have been early adopters of the more durable aluminum boats.

Cathy guides Payson's Godmother Teresa Greenfield down
Nantahala Falls in 1993. The trip was to celebrate Teresa's 80th
birthday. Teresa wanted to do something special, as her mother
flew in an open biplane to celebrate her 80th.

Payson's first Nantahala run came five or six years after John's. He and Relia were in the area and they ran into their old friend Ramon embarking on a trip with a camp group. They asked if Payson could tag along with the group in a one-person canoe. Ramon obliged and that was the first of countless Nantahala runs for Payson. By 1971 he would be quitting his "day job" as a librarian at Georgia Tech and running rafting trips and paddling instruction on the Nantahala and the Chattooga.

Payson and Andrew compete in open boat nationals in 1992.
This is not a first, but it's a good homage to the
the original Nantahala watercraft.

Payson and Relia's daughter Cathy (our current Director of Rafting Operations and likely the Nantahala's all time leader in river trips) first ran the Nantahala sometime in the late sixties with Payson. She also was in an aluminum Grummun canoe, and her trip was memorable because it was raining on the Nantahala. As it often does, the river fogged up in the rain, and Cathy remembers her fatherwho was wearing glasseshaving to ask her where to go. Cathy remembers thinking: "Shouldn't dad know where we're supposed to go?"

In the summer of 1981 Cathy's very young son Andrew Holcombe (the third family generation on the Nantahala) rafted the river with his mom and dad. Cathy recalls Andrew sleeping through most of the trip. Cathy's second daughter Jennifer would also log her first trip before her first birthday. Unlike their mother and grandparents, Jennifer and Andrew were in a raft, not a canoe, but they wouldn't have been able to make the trip at such an early age in a canoe. Note that on commercial trips the youngest permitted age is seven, but there are no rules on private family trips.

After hearing all these stories I'm reminded of why there's a tandem canoe in the NOC logo. It's such a central part of how the Nantahala was first run and even today it's likely the best canoeing whitewater in the Southeast, especially in a tandem boat.

By special request Andrew Holcombe guides Wendell through
Nantahala Falls on his first run after years of driving buses by the rapid.

While the Kennedy's family paddling history is impressive, by now there are probably many NOC guests who have had three generations of family run one of our rivers. Let us know with a comment or an email ( if your family is one of these. We're always interested in getting our guests' stories on paper and meeting other paddlers.

My first run of the Nantahala was in 1999, and it's not terribly romantic. I had already paddled the Ocoee and a few other rivers closer to my home, so while I was impressed with the river, it wasn't a totally new experience for me. To be honest, I was really excited I could get a club sandwich at River's End and do another lap on the river in the afternoon.

I've grown up a bit since then, and now I really enjoy sharing the Nantahala with guests on their first whitewater trip. Hopefully they'll share it with their friends and families and start their own whitewater traditions.

Friday, July 22, 2011

River's End and Relia's: A Taste To Remember

Coming from a large, loud and deeply Southern family I would be lying if I said that most of my childhood memories and existence wasn't centered around food. Every family gathering, whether a wedding, funeral, or anything in-between was an excuse for the women in my family to cook and for the rest of us to eat. To this day, a golden piece of cornbread still tastes like a Sunday afternoon in my great-grandmother's kitchen. Windows thrust open to sweltering late summer, the smell of roses and baking bread, my great-grandmother up to her elbows in flour and cornmeal.

To me birthdays will always be homemade chocolate cakes, the chlorine of our backyard pool, fireflies at dusk, butter cream frosting dripping off my aunt's fingertips in the candlelight. Pecan pie is a family reunion tradition. Homemade stuffing is for Thanksgiving. Tortilla wraps and potato salad are Christmas appetizers. I can honestly say that every important memory I have is dripping with some sort of sauce or stuffed with some variety of cheese. Even now that I'm out on my own, I can't eat a steak without seeing my father and his two brothers circled around our grill, laughing and reminiscing about this car or that friend as the kebabs burned in the twilight, forgetting for a few moments that they were already old and that their children were hungry.

Needless to say, I've learned that good food is an essential part of a good vacation. That's why when I first came to NOC I made it a part of my mission for the summer to scout out the best dishes at NOC's two main on-campus restaurants: River's End and Relia's Garden.

At a little seaside cafe in Sorrento, Italy an Italian waiter once told me that the way to a woman's heart was through a good pizza. If that's true then River's End has been playing cupid for years, because amazing pizzas are their forte. Flip to the back of the menu and beeline straight for the Big Fat Greek Pizza with feta cheese, olives, artichokes and pepperoncinis. Opt for the gyro meat over the chicken and close your eyes as each bite whisks you away to the white sands and blue waters of Mykonos. If the Greek Pizza doesn't sound like your thing then the Veggie Delight Pizza is also a popular choice. Piled high with olives, mushrooms, broccoli, and tomatoes and bubbling with cheese, the Veggie Pizza is a great way to to make a healthy choice a delicious one. Split the 10 inch with a friend and pair it with the Greek salad for bonus veggie points!

If you need some extra protein to support all that paddling you plan on doing then choose the Bulls Sluice Burger. Smothered with mushrooms and Swiss cheese it tastes uncannily like a Philly Cheese steak except with tenderer meat and more substance. After my five year old cousin took a bite he confidently pronounced it “man food” but it has heartiness enough for both genders. Another great burger option is the voracious vegan. Crunchy as a burger on the outside, the inside is soft and melted veggie goodness with a little spice. In my opinion, the Voracious Vegan Burger is one of the best dishes on the menu whose unique flavor is enough to win over even the pickiest eater. If you're not feeling the complimentary side salad or chips then substitute the tater tots for an additional 75 cents (the best 75 cents you'll ever spend) and enjoy an old raft guide favorite.

Some other popular dishes include: the infamous Chicken Sherpa (a basmati rice dish cooked with stir fried veggies, cheese, and lentils), The Nantahala Gorge Club Sandwich, and Walnut Dill Chicken Salad Sandwich. Pair any of these options with the BBQ Whitewater Wings as an appetizer and the Homemade Cobbler for dessert and you have an unforgettable meal ahead of you.

River's End is a classic dining experience. It's a place to catch up with old friends, re-live moments on the river with family, or charm a first date. It's a place where nobody raises their eyebrows if you walk in with river gear on, where you can watch the fog roll off the river from your table, and where affordable prices meets great food. River's End is all the tradition and comfort of a family dinner at home with a unique rustic mountain flair.

And then there's Relia's Garden. Nestled at the top of a hill, surrounded by a garden filled with flowers and herbs, overlooking the river below; Relia's is truly something out of a fairytale. You walk into a scene of rustic elegance. Dark mahogany wood creates high ceilings and large windows inside and an expansive deck outside for meals. Soft lighting and candlelight makes every meal a romantic and special affair.

Throughout the whole meal our waiter Jacob was courteous, prompt and exceeded service expectations for a fine dining experience. Upon his recommendation we started out with the Black Eyed Pea and Collard Fritters appetizer. The dish was a mash up of black eyed peas and collard greens, lightly breaded and served with a sweet tangy ham au jus. Another popular appetizer is the Crab Stuffed Hush Puppies which is served with spicy mayonnaise.

We then moved on to our second course: light leafy salads with carrots and tomatoes, drizzled in lemon, ginger vinaigrette. The ginger vinaigrette gave the salad a distinctly Asian flair that was unusual and refreshing. With most of the entree dishes, the salad comes included in the cost. It presents a very nice prelude to the main event.

For the main course my friend ordered a crab cake po-boy sandwich with brussel sprouts and I had the Salisbury steak with mashed potatoes and brussel sprouts. If the appetizer and salad hadn't already impressed me, I would've been completely floored by the main dish. Both dishes were artfully arranged and presented in timely accordance with the other courses. The Salisbury steak was drenched in a succulent gravy that blended the satisfying familiar taste of Southern cuisine with the finesse of fine dining. The mashed potatoes were homemade and blended with herbs while the brussel sprouts were seasoned and cooked to perfection. The Salisbury steak was also featured as one of the daily Blue Plate Specials which allows you to try four-star dining at a very reasonable price.

I have never been a big seafood person. With my father suffering from severe shellfish and seafood related allergies, I was inculcated with a disdain for all types of fish from a young age. Needless to say, it was a feat getting me to try to the crab cake po-boy at all but I am so glad that I did. I was completely blown away. The bread was toasted and buttery while the crab cake itself was lightly battered and tender. I couldn't detect even the slightest salty or fishy taste. The crab cake po-boy sandwich was so amazing that it actually managed to convert me into a seafood person! Even, if it is just the occasional crab cake.

After our entrees it was on to the main finale, a piece of French Silk Pie. Made of chocolate ganache and the slightest pinch of cayenne pepper it's served with raspberry jam and cappuccino whipped cream. Although the mixture of chocolate and pepper may sound strange, it ended up being one of the highlights of the trip. The pepper brings out the overall flavor of the dessert and adds the lightest kick to the dish. It was a wonderful end to a spectacular meal.

Relia's Garden is truly a special and unique dining experience. It's food that takes me back to the comfort of my grandmother's kitchen while simultaneously providing the cultural experience of a New York City restaurant. It is a titillating encounter for the taste buds in a place that brings an elegance and romance to Smoky Mountain dining paralleled only by the beauty of the mountains themselves.

Food defines our memories. Each summer I've spent at NOC has been filled with whitewater adventures, moonlit hikes, and lakeside campfires; but what often really sticks with me are those dog tired breakfasts, lunches and dinners enjoyed afterward. And I know, in years to come, I won't be able to practice my roll, raft through a Class IV rapid, or look at a garden drenched in starlight without tasting a Greek Pizza or a slice of French Silk Pie.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Nantahala Outdoor Center: A Paradise in the Clouds

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This place just hangs onto you. It writhes its way under your skin, grows roots slowly into your heart and your mind, fills your eyes up with all that sky and rolling mist until one day you discover that you've become just as mossy green and craggy blue as the mountains themselves. And then that's it. The land has you and no matter how fast or far you try to run, you'll always be yanked back. Pulled suddenly and firmly back to dirt roads meandering through laurel and wildflowers up into cloud, to the shadow of a hawk flying endless circles against the sun, to the quiet steady ticking of water dripping onto moonlit boulders.

The Nantahala Gorge in the Smoky Mountains has had a irresistible hold on me for several years now. Blanketed in white fog and folklore the area has an effect that's both eery and thrilling. Originally the territory of the Cherokee Nation, it hosted the main trail between the Valley areas in Andrews and the busy Middle Towns on the Tuckaseegee and Little Tennessee River. Regarded with half-fear, half-wonder, the Gorge was rumored to contain a gigantic snake named Uktena and a community of wonder working little people called Yunwi Tsunsdi. The area was called Nantahala by the Cherokee, which translates into “land of the noonday sun” because the only time the sun could penetrate the high mountain peaks and reach the ground was precisely at noon. The scenery is breathtaking, the aura unmistakably occult, but my infatuation to Gorge delves deeper and finds its root in the community itself.

As the largest and one of the oldest outfitters on the Nantahala River, the Nantahala Outdoor Center serves as the main social outlet for guests, staff and locals in the Gorge. With three on-site restaurants, a late night bar offering live music, an outfitters store and a whole range of outdoor activities and lodging available; NOC has become somewhat of a self-contained mini-town filled with residents that are all passionate about the outdoors. When I first became an employee here, I had no idea just how tight knit and unique of a community I had stumbled into. Walking across Founder's Bridge you can unknowingly rub elbows with Olympic paddlers. Hanging out beside the NOC wave you can exchange banter with pro-kaykers. Raft guides from different companies salute each other on the river. Boaters of various skill levels, from all over the country come together to take on the “Mighty Nanty” and learn from each other every single day. Three summers later, and I'm still hooked.

The memories I've made during my summers here are moments I will carry with me my whole life. One of my favorite NOC memories is when my roommate and I were practicing rolling our kayaks at Fontana Lake. After watching me flail around for about ten minutes a very nice gentleman came over and worked with me for an hour until I improved. After he walked away my roommate informed me that I had just obliviously received an hour long kayaking lesson from NOC's first employee and one of the best kayakers in the area, Jimmy Holcomb, for free.

I wake up every morning not knowing where the day is going to take me or what type of adventure I'm going to have. One afternoon after work I was sitting at a picnic table by the river and I struck up a conversation with some paddlers that lived in the area. The next thing I know, I'm sitting in the back of a pick up truck, flying up a gravel road to a house on the very top of the mountain. On the screened-in-porch are three old men with long gray beards and toothless grins, holding a banjo, a stand up bass, and a washboard. Possibly the best bluegrass I have ever heard, and all from the comfort of a rocking chair.

And then there are all those nights spent up at Queens Lake. Sitting around a campfire and talking about nothing in particular as cicadas buzz all around us. Holding hands with a bunch of friends I've just met as we leap off the dock together, wild with youth and laughing in the moonlight. Moments and people I wish I could hold onto forever, but all of them as fleeting as the summer itself.

The days are hot, the water is cold, and time stands still. If you're in the Gorge a week, it feels like a month. An entire summer, feels like a year. With all of the whitewater rafting, mountain biking, hiking, and numerous other outdoor activities in the area you don't notice the time passing. In the Gorge cell phone service is limited and internet is even harder to come by. But I don't miss it. Surrounded by the people I care about and the things I love, I find that I don't actually need that Starbucks cappuccino in the morning.

The first time I rafted down the Nantahala River I was eight years old, on an end of summer vacation with my dad, my uncle, and my cousin. We ended up on a guide assisted rafting trip which meant that there was a guide in every other raft. Inevitably, my dad ended up self guiding our boat and although we had a few spills, it's an adventure that still comes up at family gatherings. The next time I braved the Nanty was on my sixteenth birthday with some friends from home. We had a lovely guide (and no swimmers this time) that led us in sing-alongs the whole way down. The summer I graduated high school I became NOC staff, and since then the area has become my anchor. The Nantahala Gorge is the place I feel most at home, and most content. It's the guiding light that gets me through each school year. My secret paradise hidden in the clouds.

Since my first rafting trip as an eight year old, I've been down the Nantahala River more times than I can count. But it never gets old. I have forayed out to other rivers with bigger rapids and greater thrills but its a love affair that never lasts. At the end of it all I always find myself leaning against Founder's Bridge, watching the sun set over a river blanketed in mist and purple in the dusk. Enjoying a glass of sweet tea with a childhood friend, having quiet conversation about the steady drip of water or the way a hawk flies. Watching an old love forge its way into my future, just as surely as it meandered through my past. And I know no matter where I go, or what I do in the coming years, the Nantahala Gorge will always be there, calling me back to this perfect place of mist and river and sky.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

River Leaders of the Month July 2011: Kristin and Sean Bierle

Here at NOC we're looking forward to the Camp Cup Challenge next Monday and Tuesday. The Camp Cup is an exciting youth paddling event that gets a dozen summer camps and about 150 kids on the water for a slalom competition and a downriver race. It's likely the biggest kids whitewater paddling event anywhere. And though we enjoy, welcome and support the event here at NOC, the fact is it wouldn't be happening without two motivated and committed volunteers: Kristin and Sean Bierle. They come all the way from Boise to put this amazing event together for the campers. Why? According to them, "It's one of the highlights of our year."

Sean, Pebbles and Kristin paddling on one of the Alzar School's recent sessions.

Kristin and Sean spend most of their time supporting the Alzar School, a non-profit school that currently runs three-week programs focused on cultural exchange, service learning, leadership training and outdoor adventures. Between these programs the couple is devoted to building the foundation for the school's first full academic year in Fall 2012. Kristin works as the school's Executive Director and Sean is the school's Head Teacher overseeing curriculum development and implementation. The school's main campus will be near Boise, and students will get to embark on two international adventures a year. It is a really cool organization, and it's going to be even better when it goes year-round.

So why do these educators from Boise want to put on a race in North Carolina? Well, Kristin is a Tar Heel from Cornelius, NC who grew up paddling and going on outdoor adventures with her father. When she was 13, her father bought her a kayak, and she took a few lessons from NOC's Paddling School. She further developed her paddling with Gordon Grant at Camp Green Cove, and also at Green Cove she participated in the Camp Cup Challenge as a racer. Back then the race was organized by the Nantahala Racing Club with sponsorship from the American Canoe Association.

Though Kristin moved on to bigger rivers and now has her own kayaking students, the "Camp Cup" stuck in her memory as a wonderful event, and when she learned that the event stalled out in the early/mid 00's she decided to bring it back, which she and Sean did in 2008. Besides just executing on the event, the couple has rallied a strong coalition of manufacturers, instructors and outfitters for support, and the Camp Cup has grown very strong again over the past three years. The expectation is for another 150 kids to hit the water again in 2011.

Racers pose on the banks of the Nantahala before a run through the Camp Cup Challenge slalom course.

The event allows kids and teenagers to compete in a low-stress, supportive environment; they paddle one-person kayak (K-1), one-person canoe (C-1), open-canoe (OC-1) and two-person open canoes (OC-2). Racers get paddling experience, but also get to meet new paddling friends and practice leadership skills by rallying their camp teams.

The camp cup even brings together paddlers who already knew each other: more than once Kristin and Sean have seen kids who attend the same high school "back home" discover that they both like paddling, but they've been at different summer camps. Our hope at NOC is that the race participants will form lifelong paddling friendships and become the future leaders of paddling in the Southeast.

A Camp Cup Challenge downriver racer punches through the bottom of Nantahala Falls.

In the meantime though, we're looking forward to the riverside cheers, exciting gate runs, downriver sprints and, yes, even some of the "carnage" these boaters will provide early next week as they push and expand their abilities on the water. These guys and gals go all out.

So if you happen to be here Monday or Tuesday of next week, stop and thank Kristin and Sean for their meaningful impact on whitewater recreation and their extra effort to make an impact on the water and in the racers' lives.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

America's Most Popular River: Tennessee's Middle Ocoee

The "Middle" section of the Ocoee river flows through the far Southeastern corner of Tennessee, just over the state line from Georgia and North Carolina. It's in a wonderfully beautiful area, surrounded by lakes like Blue Ridge, Nottely, Parksville and Ocoee. The locale is part of the Cherokee National Forest, and there are some great ways to spend a weekend outdoors there.

Nonetheless it seems like an unlikely place to boast the country's most popular whitewater river, considering it's not in the Rockies, Sierra Nevada Mountains or near the highest peaks of the Appalachians. So what's the deal? Here are the two simple reasons why the Ocoee is the capital of whitewater rafting in the USA:

1) The Ocoee should be the most popular river in the country because its fun rapids, moderate difficulty, continuous action, favorable water temperatures and dependable releases constitute the ideal mix of a mass-appeal whitewater trip. The only thing missing is a true "wilderness" section, but it probably couldn't be the most popular river in the country and maintain a wilderness atmosphere anyway. Despite its popularity though, it's a very beautiful river, and morning and late-afternoon trips do control the impact of heavy summer crowds.

2) It's an easy day-trip from Atlanta, Chattanooga and Knoxville, and it's reasonably close to Nashville and Birmingham too. There are some other Ocoee-like runs out there that just aren't all that close to big cities, and therefore they're not as accessible. It's not just the fact that there are nearby metro areas though; these are scorching-hot metro areas in a part of the country that wants to cool down on the water. (See today's article in the Huntsville Times if you don't believe me.)

Ocoee Rapids
In whitewater rafting popularity, it's all about the rapids. How many are there, and how fun are they?

Well, sometimes paddlers go on a trip and they ask the names of every rapid. Don't even bother on the Ocoee. There are a few big ones you'll certainly want to know, but 75% of this river is going to be splashing your boat. There's only one five minute pause in the action, and most folks are actually ready for a bit of a break by then. As for the big rapids, the short list of "the biggest ones," if you ask an enthusiast like me (I'm not really an Ocoee guide) is:

The launch site for this trip is right below the dam separating the Upper and Lower sections, and it's a bit intimidating, especially considering that a pretty powerful rapid called Grumpy's is less than 100 yards into the run. The actual Grumpy hydraulic is tops on my list of "places where I'd like to remain in the boat on the Ocoee." You can see some footage of Grumpy's on this video from :28 to :46. Note the "hydraulic" is the big splash the raft kicks up at :36.

Broken Nose
Basically a curvy S-turn above two ledges, Broken Nose isn't as threatening to rafters as it's name suggests, though upside-down kayakers can attest to the reasoning behind its title. Footage of this rapid runs from :47 to 1:22, but the farthest-back boat in the shot beginning at 1:11 is probably the best illustration of the full length of the action.

Double Suck
Like most Ocoee rapids the route here is over a ledge and through the biggest obstructions--in this case two large hydraulics. Note the big spray coming off the first hole at 1:25. This is a fun rapid, though it's super fast. When you're at the top, the ledge is surprisingly large.

Double Trouble
Not to be confused with Double Suck, Double Trouble could be the most beloved rapid on the river. It unselfishly gives the people what they want: gigantic splashes, a fast bouncy ride and a relatively paddler-friendly environment. (If I had to swim the length of a rapid I suppose I'd choose this one.) See 1:37 till the end of the video.

We don't have great video of Tablesaw because the river runs away from the roadside at this point, but this is the biggie. Here the river channels all its 1250 cfs of water through a tight rocky slot. This means you've got a fast, bouncy, powerful straight shot through some turbulent (pleasingly turbulent) whitewater.

Tablesaw rapid with a boat full of rafters midway through.

Diamond Splitter
This gets the "editor's choice" award from me. Easily the most photogenic rapid, Diamond Splitter gives paddlers multiple route options and a splashy ride over the sticky, but not-to-worrisome Witch's Hole.

Diamond Splitter rock proudly bisects its eponymous rapid.

Hell Hole
Site of the last ICF Freestyle World Championships held in the US (1993), Hell Hole, for rafters, is just one quick splash. But when you're on the bus ride back to the outpost it's the wave you'll be remembering as 15-foot wall of water to your nodding companions. See the photo, and you can understand.

A raft stalls out briefly on its way through Hell Hole on the Middle Ocoee.

When to go:
The Ocoee runs Thursday through Monday in the three main summer months, and on the weekends from March to October. It's controlled by the TVA so releases are fairly standardized, but if you pay attention to weather and other factors it is possible to get a beefed-up Ocoee trip with some extra water in the river.

Otherwise go when it works for you. Most trips are the same, but early-morning and late-afternoon trips are a good avoid-the-rush option.

Ocoee Discount Special Trips
Also note that you can save almost 50% by booking an off-peak time on select days. Book one of these trips and you'll get the same Ocoee rafting experience for only $25 per person.

Also, consider participating in the American Cancer Society's "Fight the Rapids for Cancer" event on July 17. NOC will donate $1 for every rafter we take down the river this Saturday, and guests will also have the option of purchasing an event T-shirt that day as well. Book now to participate in this great event.

To book, use NOC's secure online reservations system or call 888.905.7238. More information is available at NOC's Ocoee rafting page.

The Ocoee's Popularity
Up until 2008 there was some confusion on what the nation's most popular river actually was. The Arkansas River in Colorado used to have more total rafters than the Ocoee, but it also has numerous popular sections: Bighorn Sheep Canyon, Brown's Canyon and the Royal Gorge are all very popular. Without a doubt the Middle Ocoee is the most popular of all these stretches of river, and though the Ocoee has a second section, the Upper Ocoee, its tight release schedule limits its runs. (The vast majority of Upper guests do the combo trip anyway, meaning they run the Middle section as well.)

Now this section-by-section analysis is unnecessary anyway. The Ocoee has continued to grow and maintain its popularity and now has more rafters than the sum of all the Arkansas's sections. So, the Ocoee can brag about being "America's Favorite" whitewater without having to use an asterisk.

There's no reason not to be gracious though; the Arkansas and the Ocoee are actually pretty similar (splashy, continuous and comfortable during peak season) even though the Arkansas's desert environs and big runoff flows are nothing like the Ocoee's. (It's a river worth experiencing if you head off to Colorado sometime.)

When You Go to the Ocoee:
If you'd like to make an overnight trip our of your experience, here are some places to stay. The Cherokee National Forest offers excellent opportunities to adventure-lovers looking for more than whitewater:

Mountain bike at the Tanasi Trail System, Old Copper Road Historic Trail or at the Jackrabbit Mountain Bike and Hiking Trail system in Hayesville, NC.

Dayhike to Benton Falls or enjoy the scenic spur hike.

Drive the beautiful Cherohala Skyway.

And, if you really like rafting the Middle, you'll probably want to consider coming back for the Upper/Middle combo trip sometime.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Chattooga Section IV: the "Ultimate Whitewater Experience?"

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Before I had a driver's license I paddled whitewater rivers two ways: 1) finding rides with driving-age friends or 2) "paddling vicariously" through guidebooks. Being from Georgia I had William Neely's illustrated Whitewater Home Companion: Southeastern Rivers Volume One, Monte Smith's new-at-the-time Southeastern Whitewater and the classic Appalachian Whitewater: The Southern Mountains. Thanks to the accounts in the books I understood the conversations of "real" paddlers, and I knew routes through rapids I'd never even seen. I read each page of the books until I knew every detail about the Ocoee, Nolichucky, Gauley and, of course, Chattooga Section IV.

Even before I ran my first Class IV rapid I knew that running Section IV was my paddling goal even though there were bigger, more difficult rivers in the books. Why? Partially because Section IV was so famous for its contributions to the movie Deliverance, but also because the authors of the books didn't write the same way about Section IV as they did about other rivers.

When authors discussed Section IV I could detect the unique respect. My copy of Appalachian Whitewater reads: "The scenery is nothing short of spectacular for almost the entire length of the river. Its excellence rivals any river in this country." The writers continue, "...the reputation of Section IV as an ultimate whitewater experience is probably what brings throngs to the Chattooga."

Southeastern Whitewater reads: "For a few years after the release of [Deliverance], this stream was the sine qua non of whitewater paddling... Section IV remains a formidable stretch of whitewater. The run is unique in many ways, and it's always a treat. Few rivers live up to their reputation. Section IV does." The latter book even tried to quantify the Chattooga's reputation, assigning it a "reputation value" of 139 on a scale where 100 was the midpoint. This was one of the highest in the book.

Part of what makes the Chattooga special is Section IV's famous Five Falls. The Five Falls are five Class IV-V rapids in quick succession near the end of the run. Monte Smith described these as, "...something else. Few other one-third mile stretches exceed it for sheer excitement... the Five Falls have to be seen to be appreciated. As the water rises about 2.0 feet, the falls progressively lose their individuality as they blend into an uninterrupted maelstrom of frothing, crashing, churning, exhilarating whiteness" (Southeastern Whitewater). I would stare at the book's photos and anticipate my own future approach to the "launching pad" ledge at Soc-em-Dog, the river's Class V finale, hoping to get my line just right.

As I grew up I progressed and made it down Section IV finally. I even started running rivers supposedly more difficult than the Chattooga like the Tallulah and the Cheoah, but I noticed that, even after a few runs on each river, I didn't get nearly as anxious or as excited about those rivers as I did about Section IV. At the other rivers' big rapids I was much more relaxed and conversational than I ever would be above, say, Jawbone on the Chattooga. Why? Probably because I didn't know as much about these other rivers, and I hadn't built the rapids up for years in my mind. But maybe this is also what it's like playing baseball at Wrigley Field or racing at the Brickyard: you just enjoy being a part of it.

That said, there are some objective reasons why you'd be a bit more focused at the Five Falls: first the river's been pretty friendly until you get here. Yes, Woodall Shoals, Seven Foot Fals and Raven's Chute are big, fun, challenging rapids, and then there are all the bouncy smaller rapids too, but the Falls are totally different. The atmosphere changes; the wide open, sunny river closes into a constricted gorge. Direct sunlight fades behind the raised treeline. The river gets loud toofive big rapids that close together make an impressive white noise backdrop. Plus, everyone in your group who was splashing around and jovially goofing off at the lunch spot is suddenly more focused.

Looking downstream from the top rapids you can see water splashing up from the far side of horizon line ledges, and you know there's another pretty steep rapid right after the one you're about to run. This makes you a bit more focused on getting things just right.

Despite the action at the Five Falls, I think that the river's wide range of experiences and moods is why it's the "ultimate river experience". When it's relaxed, it's as casual and benign as a river can be: you're swimming in lazy warm pools, jumping off rocks into the gentle current, walking under beautiful waterfalls and eating lunch on sandy beaches. But when things start to pick up the action gets going. The rapids on Section IV tend to drop over ledges and broken ledges, making them fast and technically challenging to the guides and paddlers, and when the rapids come in quick succession, things get intense.

At the end of the trip you float into the flatwater Lake Tugaloo, and you've got time to reflect on the experiences of Section IV. This is one more feature I love about the river; it's got a good narrative form, with solid rising action, a clear climax at the Five Falls and a pleasant denouement crossing the lake. The Chattooga doesn't easily allow you to "squeeze it into your schedule" or "just do the biggest part." You've pretty much got to experience the whole thing.

This is a big reason why the Chattooga is a true wilderness experience. Not only is it protected as a Wild and Scenic River (which means you won't see many rafts while you're out there), but it's also deliberate. The river demands that you invest some real attention in your surroundings and your companions, not just the rush and thrill of the rapids.

At NOC, where we work and play on rivers all across the Southeast and the world, Section IV is still one of our staff's most beloved whitewater rivers. It's probably the trip I'd select if I was trying to demonstrate to someone why I love rivers and rafting as much as I do. On most other rivers I'd talk about the rapids and the scenery to describe why it's so great, and I'd do that for the Chattooga too, but the reason it's so great to me is its "aura." The Chattooga just has something other rivers don't.

*See pages 32-39 in Appalachian Whitewater and pages 107-121 in Southeastern Whitewater for the sources of the excerpts above.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Going to Water: Chattooga Section III

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I have been in love with rivers for as long as I can remember. The rush and crash of rapids, hidden waterfalls pouring into shaded mountain streams, the warm lazy flow of a river too old to hurry. All provoke images of summertime vacations in the mountains, fingers sticky with strawberries from riverside picnics, my father's rough steady hands as he guided our canoe through a maze of rocks and tree limbs on to safer waters. Throughout my adolescent years I was fortunate enough to see a lot of whitewater. The mountain rivers and the adventures we had on them became a knot that tied my father and I together even when I forsook bedtime stories and stuffed animals for boys and makeup. But when I was in high school my father suddenly passed away. The family trips to the river stopped and it felt like my canoe was adrift without a guide.

The next time I braved whitewater would be years later on summer vacation with some friends from college. They managed to talk me into a full day excursion with the Nantahala Outdoor Center on Section III of the Chattooga River in Mountain Rest, South Carolina. A few weeks later I found myself seated in the front seat of a 95 Taurus watching the suburbs give way to pine trees and misty hills. Valleys and green slopes hung wet and shining with the rain from the night before as the pink light of sunrise seemed to spill over the peaks of each hill like water
breaking free of a dam.

The Chattooga River is a river that seems to be caught between two worlds. Designated a wild and scenic destination by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1974, only 15 miles of it is available for recreational use. The rest of its 57 miles are completely wild and protected by the Sumter National Forest on the South Carolina side and the Chattahoochee National Forest on the Georgia side. Originally belonging to the Cherokee Nation, the Chattooga River was a point of constant contention between the Cherokee who viewed the river as sacred and the Scotch-Irish settlers that wanted to exploit the area for logging and mining in the 1800's. Today the Chattooga runs the border between South Carolina and Georgia, as if it can't quite decide where it belongs. Its a river torn between two times, harkening back to the old world yet constantly threatened by the progress of today.

We arrived at the NOC Chattooga Outpost around 8 am and the staff were very courteous and time efficient. We watched a safety video and our trip leader gave us a trip talk before we put on our helmets and PFDs and boarded the bus for a quick bus ride to the top of the river. Everyone helped carry gear and rafts about ¼ of a mile down to the put in because of Forest Service regulations that prohibit automobile traffic too close to the river. The air was thick with the smell of damp Earth and honeysuckle. The dense pines crowded over us and the rush of the river grew louder with each step. The sound was an aching reminder that this was the first time I would face the river without my father by my side.

When we reached the bottom the trip leader assigned us our guide, a tan shaggy-haired guy in his twenties. In our boat it was the four of us and a couple in their thirties. We all piled in and then headed out. The dark cool water snaked out before us and the sun blazed just over the tree line like a beacon. I hadn't quite anticipated how isolated the Chattooga River was from the outside world. Apart from our trip, there wasn't another raft or boat in sight. A hawk sailed in low circles above us and our guide pointed out a river otter just as it disappeared beneath the surface. There was no sound of traffic, just the river pounding louder with each paddle stroke. River water filling up my veins, sunlight in my eyes. All of it reminding me of times past.

Our guide explained that the Chattooga was a “drop-pool river” consisting of ledges and drops that make up the swift rapids and brief calm pools afterward. As we went over each rapid he ordered us all to lean in and paddle. My friend Jackie and I were seated in the front and constantly found ourselves drenched by waves of water (which the rest of our boat found very entertaining). We plummeted through rapids with names like Warwoman, Dicks Creek, and Sandy Ford that ranged from Class II to Class IV.

We pulled over for lunch on a sandy beach around 11:30 and the raft guides arranged a a great sandwich spread on the bottom of an overturned raft covered in a picnic blanket. We could choose from ham, turkey, PB& J or a delicious hummus spread for our sandwiches. They also included chips, some veggies and dip, and cookies for dessert with lemonade and sweet tea to drink. Several of the kids on the trip took the opportunity to go swimming in a little class I rapid that ended in a calm pool. My friends seized their "inner kid" too and leapt into the rapids, shouting for me to follow. Instead I just lay back on a large rock jutting out into the water and marveled at the way the river still managed to make me feel peaceful and free after all that time.

After lunch we took on a few more Class III rapids before pulling over and preparing for the big Class IV rapid on the trip, Bull Sluice. Everyone got out of the rafts to walk up a rock outcrop to take a look at the broken ledge and white frothing whitewater below before deciding whether or not we wanted to go down or take the foot path to the other side. As soon as we got to the top of the outcrop the sky turned ominously dark and rain began falling in great sheets. Two of my friends took one look at the rapid and then instantly took the trail to walk around. Me and Jackie stood looking at the roaring rapid and rushing water churning over the drop. She glanced at me and grinned. I knew at that point that we were going over,whether I liked it or not.

We walked back to the boats and took our seats up front and our guide ferried back out into the swift current. My heart pounded in my chest as we were borne swiftly toward the drop. Glancing to my left I noticed that Jackie's face didn't look quite so confident anymore. Thunder cracked overhead and the guide shouted over the storm to get down. Jackie and I scrambled to sit in the bottom of the boat as we plummeted over the drop and into a wall of water that briefly submerged the whole raft. In seconds it was all over and we were back on the surface of the water, safely in the boat, and paddling our way into the calm eddy waiting for us on the other side. As terrifying as the rapid had been in the moment, I was immensely glad that I had tried it. Looking over my shoulder at Bull Sluice, I realized how much braver I had gotten over the past few years. As a kid I never would've been fearless enough to tackle a drop like that, even with my father at the rudder.

Shortly before we reached our take out point at the end of Chattooga Section III our guide told us a story about the Cherokee people that used to live in the area. A long time ago they believed that the Chattooga was sacred because if you followed the river back to its origin it would lead you into the spirit world. Therefore, they would “go to water” and immerse themselves in the river to cleanse and heal their souls. The sound of the rapids roaring and crashing was really the voice of the father of the river, a god called “Long Man” who was using the water to converse with spirits in the other world.

As we boarded the bus at the end of the river and headed back to the center I thought about how my trip on the Chattooga had been, in a way, my “going to water”. It helped along on the
road to healing and it gave me the bravery to embrace a passion that I had, long ago, let slip away. And as the bus engine roared and the sound of the river faded behind me, I couldn't help but think that I heard a familiar voice in the rapids, whispering words of encouragement and love from a distant world.