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A River Ran Through It

A river ran through a lot of my #50for50.

As I have reviewed what all I did and hadn’t yet documented from last year I noticed a few themes. Four of my 50 involved getting into and onto the waters of NC.

Which was fitting since my life in 2019 certainly was full of twists, turns, and me being in over my head a time or two.

The first river experience is actually recounted in on white water rafting the Nantahala.


My next “river” adventure was in early July. It didn’t actually put me in the river unfortunately however. Although my friend Dean St. Marie had suggested to put fly-fishing on my list I only found the time to sign up for Intro to Fly-fishing 101 at Davidson River Outfitters in Pisgah Forest, NC.

Which basically only taught tying fly’s and learning to cast with a fly rod.

In a parking lot, near the water but not even a dipping a toe in.

Casting in the parking lot beside Davidson River Outfitters

But to be fair it is also a free class and the two hours was packed with info.

Still a great experience considering as a young girl I had been scared off from fishing by almost hooking my Daddy’s face when I went to cast.

Maybe next time!

I appreciated Davidson River Outfitters providing that 2 hour class and hope to follow up at some point with a more advanced session where I can actually slip into some waders and get into the water.

River Tubing

My next river adventure was a bit more in depth.

At the end of July my friends Roni Turnbull and Chris Chavers who had come along for the white water rafting, had planned a river tubing day at Deep Creek in Bryson City, NC. They knew it was on my list and had even moved the date once to accommodate me.

River tubing had been added to my list by Hannah Miller who probably also offered to take me herself if I’d been able to make it to Texas in 2019. Maybe one of these days, Hannah.

We carpooled there and stopped at one of the many places to rent tubes, which they strapped to the top of my car. I drove to the trailhead parking area a bit more cautiously around the curves knowing I didnt want to lose my load of tubes. It was a busy Saturday in Deep Creek and I had to circle around a bit before we found an open space to pull into the grass.

The hike up Deep Creek Loop trail to the “top” of the rapids (near Indian Creek trail branches off) was only about a mile but carrying an unwieldy tube with short arms like mine was challenging. Sweat threatened to chafe my thighs as I toddled along with the tube. I was relieved to cross the bridge and finally see where we could descend the river bank and wade out in the fast current.

I watched the other tubers for a few moments to try and determine the best way to enter the fast moving water. Unlike many of my adventures there was no instructor there to give me the best practices of river tubing.

If there is such a thing.

It was tricky as I haltingly walked out into the water across algae slicked rocks then hoisted my butt into the tube. I grasped on for dear life to the handles as I immediately started swirling into the ice cold current.

If I thought the wide rushing waters of the Nantahala were challenging with the raft full of my friends, being solo in a spinning tube wasn’t much easier.

The water basically bounces you around like a toy and if you can keep all your body parts balanced you might float over the dips without falling out. Emphasis on might. Several of our group did not manage the first set of rapids without tube wreck.

I am not sure if tube wreck is proper terminology but I know I was trying hard not to pummel into every passing tube as I realized I had zero control over my trajectory.

Although I conquered the initial rapids I definitely tube wrecked myself more than once on rocks and low hanging branches.

Being “in” the water like that was a completely different perspective than it had been white water rafting. Thankfully none of the water was too deep (despite the name being Deep Creek). In fact a few times getting stuck on a rock in a shallow spot was half of the battle to wiggle your way off without capsizing.

About 1/2 mile downstream the water calmed a bit more. I was able to enjoy looking up at the glorious green canopy of trees shading over most of the river’s surface. However even with the respite of less turbulence it is not what I’d call a lazy river.

I only made it all the way down the river twice and enjoyed lounging on land for part of the afternoon while we ate a late lunch and dried out. Those tubes are pretty comfy chairs. Definitely will go back again on a hot summer’s day.

Flat Water Kayaking

For my final river adventure in my #50for50 I was able to get a flatwater kayaking lesson in on the last weekend of the season at US National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, NC. It was NOT in the whitewater part of the center but rather on the Catawba River just 1/4 mile down a trail on the property and uses open kayaks.

Although Dee Gillespie had added kayaking to my list with the intention that we should go together that didn’t happen. Merit Wolff also offered. But with so many other adventures to schedule I never could get my schedule to jive with either of those lovely ladies.

I was just thankful to get it scheduled before the window of opportunity closed and didn’t mind going alone.

After arriving I met my instructor for the day, Tom. We grabbed life vests, and walked the shady path through the woods to the dock on the quiet shore of the Catawba river.

Before going out to get in our kayaks, Tom showed me the proper way to hold and move the paddle. A kayak paddle has two fins, unlike a canoe paddle. You hold it in both hands gripped forward, about chest width apart on the shaft, so that your slightly bent arms and the paddle shaft form a box shape. This is called, not surprisingly, a paddler’s box.

He showed me how to stroke to evenly on both sides to go in a straight line, scooping evenly back to hip through the water. Tom emphasized that I need to use my core and legs more than my arms.

Also I found out short people need shorter paddles.

Then it was time to get into our kayaks which involved scooting off the dock on my butt into the open boat. Picture it going flawlessly and me looking elegant and athletic.

Because it didn’t really go that way but there’s no photographic or video evidence otherwise. And I find it impossible to describe it properly other than kinda like watching a walrus board a kayak.

Once we were both in kayaks I did everything right for a few strokes, and was feeling very confident then crossing the channel we hit a bit of current. It took me doing it wrong, getting corrected, laughing at myself and finally was across to the other side of the river.

Tom directed me to paddle a little closer to the opposite shore and pointed out a washed away foundation right at the waters edge. He told me the story of structures like this that were part of McAden cotton mills and were powered from the hydrolelectric plants that Thomas Edison had developed along the Catawba back in the late 1800’s.

And here I was, Tracy Cotton, experiencing part of the history of Cotton along a river.

The rest of my lesson went smoothly. I practiced stopping, going backwards and turning. I realized that kayaking is almost an anticipatory activity. When I hastily paddled to correct it was easy to overcorrect because once you’re in motion it takes awhile to catch up. So I definitely had to stop myself at times.

It was also hard to remember to use my core muscles but as soon as I slacked on that I could feel it in my shoulders.

I managed not to get too far off course as I followed Tom back to the dock. Getting back out of the boat was just as much a sad spectacle as getting in, thankfully my instructor didn’t say a word, just held the boat for me.

As we walked back up the trail I shared that this lesson had been part of my #50for50. My instructor Tom asked if I would return in the spring for more lessons or just to rent a kayak at US National Whitewater Center. I told him yes and although spring will soon be over I sure hope to be back in a river again soon.

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