Thursday, May 12, 2011

NOC River Leader of the Month - Becca Carter

Every month Olympian and NOC Ambassador Wayne Dickert (aka Wayner) will bring you an interview with extraordinary paddlers and enthusiasts that have given unselfishly to make this sport one that all can enjoy and participate in. We’ve dubbed these generous souls NOC River Leaders. The NOC River Leader is someone that has given back to the paddling world whether in the form of community involvement, educational outreach and/or support. Each month NOC will honor a different leader for their efforts to give the recognition they deserve.

This month I want to honor our veterans in recognition of Memorial Day. The decision was an easy one. I would like to introduce and recognize Becca Carter as May’s NOC River Leader. Becca has given her time to help veterans heal physical, mental and spiritual war wounds. She is the organizer of Asheville’s Team River Runner (TRR). TRR has several chapters around the country and uses paddlesports to help wounded war vets overcome some of their challenges when returning home.
Wayner: How and when did you begin paddling?
Becca: I began paddling whitewater at NOC guide school in March 2006. It was an exciting experience and I learned so much about being in control in a whitewater boat. Although I had been paddling for five years on flat water in the Raleigh area, I felt like I wasn’t a paddler until my first experience on whitewater. Soon, I was whitewater rafting all over the Southeast and had a special fondness for the rivers in West Virginia because of their beauty and challenge. I then discovered whitewater kayaking and completely jumped into the sport.

Wayner: Did you have any struggles early on? How did you overcome those?
Becca: It took a long time to learn to roll because I did not take any formal instruction. After a year of flailing around and learning on my own, I decided to take a clinic. I went with Anna Levesque to Mexico on a women’s only clinic and conquered my roll!

Wayner: If you could offer any new boater a suggestion, what would it be?
Becca: First, get professional instruction. You won’t flail around forever but it makes a significant difference to have a solid foundation to start from. Also, just as important, find several reliable friends to paddle with. They should enjoy paddling the same level of whitewater as you. Shelly and Will Gillis were my first paddling buddies. We had a lot of whitewater kayaking trips together. I was fortunate to have some good friends that helped get me started. They were always ready to go to the river with me.

Wayner: What do you do to improve your paddling skills?
Becca: I enjoy paddling slalom gates. It has helped me refine my skills. Often on the river, I do not have to be in a specific place, or at least that specific place isn’t well defined. With the slalom gates I know exactly where I am supposed to be. I use the water to help me get to that place. Working with the paddlers in the Team River Runner group has been great because it has helped me refine my own skills. I have to think through the skills I am teaching and the alternatives in case what I present doesn’t work very well for that person. By having to think critically while teaching, I found that I learned the techniques better and applied them more accurately on the water.

Working with the wounded vets also taught me about self-forgiveness and not feeling like everything had to be perfect. Working with TRR has been as encouraging and inspirational for me as it has been for the vets…and they love it!
Wayner: What is your favorite river and why?
Becca: Chattooga Section IV. It’s remote and beautiful without being too hard but it is still challenging. My favorite moment is coming around the corner below Woodall Shoals and sensing the remoteness and serenity of the river. Its beauty recharges my soul.

Wayner: What activities are offered through TRR?
Becca: Roll classes in the pool at Warren Wilson College are offered every other week. That is a great place for the vets to work on the basics. They confront any fears in a controlled environment and become comfortable on the water. TRR has several river trips each year too depending on the availability of volunteers to help out. I would say my favorite river to teach on is the Pigeon River on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee.

Team River Runner participants kayak on whitewater rivers with volunteers and the spouses follow along in duckies or rafts. After time on the river, the group gathers for a meal and an opportunity for group bonding. This has quickly become one of the highlights of the trip. Everyone is able to share stories of the challenges and successes from the day on the river. It gives the families a chance to observe the excitement and healing first hand.

Wayner: What is your favorite thing about paddling now?
Becca: Personally, I enjoy the bond of trust with others. Paddling whitewater is one of the places where you have to be “in the moment.” You have to remain focused on what you are doing or the river reminds you to pay attention. This complete and inner focus is very spiritual for me.

My favorite thing about working with TRR is the ability to bond with the participants. Being able to share my passion with them and offer an opportunity for healing mentally, physically and spiritually through paddlesports is most rewarding. It is wonderful to be a part of this and watch them heal. Kayaking connects with their personal challenges and fears. I have this one vet that went down with his helicopter. Consequently, every time he is upside down in a kayak, he has a flashback to being in the helicopter. To see the courage he, and others, exhibit is phenomenal. It is inspiring to watch these veterans overcome their fears.

Wayner: What have been some of the greatest challenges for you and TRR?
Becca: First of all I had never run an organization before. There was a pretty steep learning curve for me but it has worked out well. We have been able to gather several boats for the group even though we usually need more. Once we set up a regular schedule to meet at the pool every other week, things became a little more predictable and easier to manage. Organizing our events and paddling days is always one of the most challenging but certainly the highlight of our programs. It is well worth the effort to see the group and family bonding that goes on during these trips. Everything has fallen perfectly into place for us. It was definitely meant to be!

Personally, it is also a challenge to find the right people to paddle with. Many of my friends either paddle easier rivers or much harder rivers than I enjoy paddling. I like to be challenged on the river without feeling scared. When you can find that group of people it’s very spiritual being out on the river with friends who share the same passion for nature and respect of the river.
Wayner: What are some of your goals for the future?
Becca: For my personal goals, I want to be a better creek boater and continue to challenge myself by working on problem solving techniques on the river. I would also like to develop my courage as I enjoy paddling with good friends that are similar in skill level. More than anything however, I want to “practice being present” in the moment on the water.

My main goal for TRR is to find more volunteers to inspire the TRR paddlers. Our next goal for our group is to paddle on more rivers offering more trips. In order to do so we need more volunteers but I know we can make it happen.

Team River Runner is always looking for volunteers. If you would like a rewarding and fun paddling opportunity check out TRR’s Facebook page and schedule.

Join Wayner again next month to learn more about another honorable NOC River Leader. If you know of someone that is deserving of this recognition, please email with details and contact information.

Civilian to Survivor: Don’t Be Unprepared This Summer

It is hard to imagine that NOC Wilderness Survival School (WSS) began as an idea of Wilderness Medicine Director Jono Bryant’s just over a year ago. I recently sat down with Jono to get the latest scoop on his programming and the new courses and clinics for 2011. WSS will transform you from civilian to survivor this summer!
NOC now offers over a dozen specialty clinics and workshops and a three-stage progression to complete the survival school training. This makes it simple and easy to select the dates and courses that work best for you. WSS takes place at NOC’s private woodland, Hemlock Ridge, located in the remote Nantahala River Gorge surrounded by forest service land. Jono’s team of WSS instructors is comprised of ex-military and wilderness medicine experts.

Level I – Introduction to Survival
The first few days are most critical in surviving solitude in the wilderness. Whether it be due to a crisis or a navigational mishap, WSS Level I prepares you for the first 72 hours focusing on fundamentals, keeping a clear head while under pressure, the necessary basics and getting out alive. The three-day course covers six essential concepts:

• Shelter
• Fire Craft
• Food Finding
• Water Purification
• Off-Trail Navigation
• Rescue Signaling

Upon completion of Level I and three skills workshops, you’ll have acquired the skills necessary to progress onto Level II where these basic skill sets will be further developed and survival techniques refined.

Level II – On the Move
Statistics show that if you are not rescued in the first 72 hours, your likelihood of survival is significantly reduced. If you haven’t made it out alive in that 72 hour window, Level II will teach you the necessary skills for surviving with little chance of rescue for an undetermined period of time. All skills acquired in Level I will be refined and advanced in this two-day course. You will also learn:

• Advanced Natural Shelter Creation
• Making Natural Cordage
• Open Fire Cooking Methods
• Maneuvering Rocky & Steep Terrains
• Navigating Safe River Crossings

In order to progress to WSS Level II, students will need to complete a minimum of six survival skills workshops including Navigation, Plants for Medicine and Bow Drilling.
Level III – Extreme Survival
The final and most challenging course of WSS, this three-day clinic features the most challenging terrain and obstacles with limited food and resources. Level III is a simulation of an outdoor excursion gone terribly wrong. It ties together all of the skills you have learned along the way and pushes you to the limit while navigating through an undefined course. Upon completion of Level III you will be prepared for the toughest situations and will have proven that you are the Ultimate Survivor!
Skills Workshops
New skills workshops and advanced levels have been added to the roster this year. These workshops expand on basic skill sets you will acquire during the Level I and II coursework. You get to select the skills that interest you the most and master those in these hands-on workshops. Basic skills workshops are one-day and advanced skills workshops are two-day clinics. This year the following skills workshops are offered:

• Mastering the Bow Drill
• Advanced Shelter Building
• Primitive Angling and Fish Traps
• Advanced Trapping – Woodlands
• Tracking Intensive – Advanced
• Flint Knapping and Pressure Flaking
• Natural Cordage
• Plants for Medicine and Food – Basic and Advanced
• Map and Compass – Basic and Advanced

Youth WSS Camps
After a large number of youth participated in WSS clinics last year, Jono realized the need for more youth focused programs. This year he created a Father/Son Survival Weekend where the two will progress together through Level I with challenging, hands-on applications of all skills (yes, mothers and daughters are welcome too!). Camping is encouraged with ample lodging options available on site. Another cool program is the week-long Youth Ultimate Survival Camp where students spend 100% of their time outdoors. Campers will learn to navigate on their own using a map and compass, fish and prepare meals and even build a shelter to sleep in. This camp encourages independent thinking and teaches practical hands-on skills.

More Info
For more details about NOC Wilderness Survival School programs visit or contact Jono Bryant at 888.905.7238 ext 7190.

Summer 2011: The Top Three Southeastern Mountain Vacations

Only sixteen days remain before Memorial Day weekend. So, now’s the time to start planning your family’s summer getaways. To help out, we’ve created a list of NOC-approved destinations that offer the arts, great food, fun activities and, of course, big helpings of outdoor fun!

Asheville, NC

Reputation: The coolest mountain city in the Southeast

Chops: Three-Time Beer City USA, #1 Whitewater Town in the Country, Fantastic Dining

NOC’s Take: This is probably where more NOC staff hang out than any where else. Asheville has wonderful music and nightlife, countless independent restaurants, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the enormous and elaborate Biltmore Estate, excellent canopy tours with our friends Navitat and one of the most famous resorts in the country, The Grove Park Inn. It’s telling that the President has vacationed in Asheville twice in the last four years.

And while this is all good, the best thing about Asheville is whitewater. Not only does the city have four rivers within easy striking distance (the French Broad, Nolichucky, Pigeon and Nantahala), but advanced kayakers can enjoy the gold-standard in Class V paddling, the Narrows of the Green, and there are plenty of smaller rivers and lesser-known creeks to enjoy.

Final say: If you’re an adventurer by day and a cosmopolitan by night, or if you have a significant other that’s a bit more urbane than you, Asheville’s perfect. There’s no better blend of downtown and downriver.

Bryson City & Fontana NC

Reputation: The Quiet Side of the Smokies

Chops: One of the Best Outdoor Towns in the Country, The “#1 Vacation with a Splash”

NOC’s Take: If you go on vacation to get away and relax and recharge this is the place to go. NOC’s Nantahala River headquarters is a big attraction here. You can go whitewater rafting on the Nantahala (or on the nearby Chattooga and Ocoee Rivers), paddle on Lake Fontana, learn to whitewater kayak, brush up on survival skills, take in live music and dinner by the river, mountain bike at Flint Ridge, Tsali or JackRabbit, and much more.

You can also just chill out on a shady porch overlooking the Great Smoky Mountains National Park or Nantahala National Forest, and take a spin in a jetboat or on the scenic Great Smoky Mountains Railroad.

There’s hiking on the Appalachian Trail, the Bartram Trail and in the Park, and there’s fishing and scenic drives to boot.

Where to stay? We recommend NOC's lodging (of course!), but also check out Fontana Village Resort (NOC guests save 15%; call 828.498.2240 to get the special offer). Fontana Village has great facilities, riding stables, a big, multi-featured outdoor pool, disc golf, and more. For the outdoors purist, the company provides backcountry shuttles to a bivy of creeks: Hazel, Eagle, Forney, Chambers and Pilkey.

Final Word: This is the best place to totally relax or immerse yourself in nature. On the North Carolina side of the Park, you can experience the Smokies without experiencing lots of people.

Gatlinburg, TN

Reputation: One of the South’s Best Family Vacation Destinations

Chops: One of Southern Living’s “Best Family Destinations” (the highest-ranking non-beach destination), the quickest access to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s most-visited locations

NOC’s Take: Face it, most of the time people want to do different things on vacation—especially kids. Gatlinburg’s wide offering of activities from Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies to the nearby Dollywood amusement park give families plenty of choices on their recreation.

As for the outdoors: Cade’s Cove and the Roaring Fork Motor Trail are very popular driving tours for the uninitiated, and NOC’s Great Outpost can help anyone prepare for a human-powered excursion. A serious enthusiast could spend the whole summer hiking the Park’s 900 miles of trails, exploring the East’s largest concentration of old-growth forest or identifying wildflowers, trees and wildlife in the nation’s most ecologically diverse temperate-climate national park.

The guided trip options are solid: the exciting Pigeon River is a quick drive away, and the French Broad offers a close full-day trip option. You can also book biking, hikes, fly fishing or indoor rock climbing at our activity basecamp.

An easy spot to crash is the Bearskin Lodge. Hardcore outdoor folks will appreciate the quick walk to the Park entrance and NOC’s Great Outpost, and the more attractions-oriented folks will appreciate the pool and the walking access to the city’s main strip.

Final Word: If you’ve got a few kids, or you enjoy a really wide range of activity options, Gatlinburg’s the place for you. If somebody can’t find something fun to do here, you may want to go on vacation with someone else.