Take a day or a week to access and explore a new perspective on one of the oldest rivers in the world.
The cutting course of a river meanders over time. Patiently wearing boulders to pebbles, adding depth to valleys, and slaking the thirst of both civilizations and the wild. Such ancient things dwarf us in lifespan and continually evolve and recede to the whim of nature. Sometimes flooding angrily over its banks and alternately dwindling to a trickle. They linger and survive providing an example in fortitude and endurance.
PICK THE PATH YOU PADDLE
The French Broad River is a phenomenal place to experience the outdoors without stepping too far outside the comforts which make a micro vacation so pleasant. Even the purists among ultralight backpackers will enjoy a good Cadillac camping trip. For those of you experienced in the wilderness, perhaps this can help you share a trip with a friend who has been tempted but not convinced to join you. Big breakfasts of sausage, eggs, and hashbrowns. Light lunches of finger food and gourmet delicacies. Dinners of grand proportions. The canoe and river team up to carry the weight, and with the days set aside already, plenty of time can be focused on good times and great food.
WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA ALLIANCE
Industrialism and agricultural runoff had, for decades, taken a severe toll on the water quality of many rivers in the region, some of this has been mitigated by the Clean Water Act and the efforts of conservation groups such as the Western North Carolina Alliance (WNCA), an organization solely dedicated to conservation and protection of the region. In large part to these efforts, the French Broad is once again a beautiful place to explore close to home. Since 1982 this advocacy group has made strong progress improving the environmental quality of the region and ensuring public access for recreation.
The WNCA French Broad River Paddle Trail is a major investment in that effort. Spanning 140 miles from Rosman, North Carolina, to Douglas Lake, Tennessee, the trail is composed of paddle-in only campsites on leased and granted property. You will not be elbow to elbow with RVs cramping your style. The sites are well maintained and have ample space for multiple tents, established fire pits, and cooking areas. Some have picnic tables and even well kept privies. The view from the Roads Ranch outhouse is lovely should one be so bold as to prop the door during the morning respite. Probably best to warn your comrades should you choose to go this route.
The WNCA website has reservation information and details about each site. Picking the section of the Paddle Trail and site that suits the needs and experience level of your group is a simple task with the tools provided by WNCA. The majority of trip options fall into easy floats for multi-day excursions. These sections are rated as easy but still have a sense of adventure, navigating through the sun bleached trees, downed trees, and boulder structures that dot certain sections. Pull off on one of the smaller unnamed islands of granite for a swim and lunch upon the stones to warm you after the cool water refreshment. As the French Broad winds towards Tennessee the pace speeds up and the difficulty escalates, in some cases up to Class IV rapids. Starting with a simple 2-4 day run in one of the milder sections will give you a feel for the requirements and pleasantries of paddle travel. The WNCA Paddle Trail Sites (now six but always expanding) provide the best access to this introductory experience.
PREPARING TO DE-STRESS, WITHOUT STRESS
Breaking into the outdoors can be intimidating. Without knowing what you need or where to start, the prospect of venturing into even the mildest of trips can be a little nerve racking. Have no fear, this trip is near civilization, and your cell will work just fine if you need some moral support or want to send pictures of the awesome time you are having to your friends. Have a question about camping that isn’t covered here? Google it from your campsite (or follow one of the links listed at the bottom of this article). This may not be the advice column for purists, but there is no shame in staying safe, well fed, and comfortable. Every trip is a learning experience. Make it your own.
Any canoe over 14 feet can hold two people and ample provisions for a two (plus) night trip with all the necessities and plenty of fun add ons. The weather is warm late spring through early fall. This alleviates the need for most heavy clothing. Having a few changes of dry clothes, a rain jacket, and fleece of some variety will do just fine. Scope out the checklists below for the necessities, luxuries, and some tips on how to pack it all in for a safe and leisurely float. As you read through fill in the blanks in order to tailor this trip to the wants of your weekend warrior heart.
Sleeping arrangements shouldn’t be an afterthought. How well you sleep at night can alter, for better or worse, the following day’s experience. If someone in your party snores like a banshee, prudence might dictate a second tent. There will be the sounds of the river and surrounding woodlands to keep you company, and after a day of light paddling sleep will come easy. A basic tent will give you comfort should you encounter any storms and keep bugs at bay. During the warm seasons a light sleeping bag will go a long way keeping out chills and keeping you cozy. No need for a zero degree Everest bag, any summer weight or multiseason bag will do. A rolled up sweater or fleece makes a lovely pillow and putting it inside the stuff sack of your sleeping bag or a t-shirt will prevent it from running astray. Last but not least, a sleeping pad isn’t essential for masochists but for the rest of us…
Leave MRE’s and freeze dried food for those that need them (God bless them). Unless you want to eat something, don’t bring it. This isn’t a survival exercise. Steaks, cornish game hens, caviar; the only limiting factor is the size of cooler and span of your creativity. If grilling is your game, be sure to bring a grate. A mini bag of charcoal is a solid backup plan in case you want to speed up dinner or dry wood is scarce. You can stoke a fire, even out of damp wood, over the remaining coals after cooking in the fire pit.
A hearty breakfast will start the day strong. A paddle trip is a great time to set any newfangled diet you might be on to the side. Paddling, swimming, and lounging are all excellent forms of exercise and will more than compensate for a few awe inspiring calories.
Mediterranean spreads are always a great choice for snacks and light meals to enjoy through the day. Hummus, olives, cured meats, smoked salmon, and your cheese of choice. Crackers, pitas, or some hearty bread will provide a good surface to eat from.
A lot of keeping cool falls to beverage selection. To save weight and keep glass out of the river, canned or boxed beverages are environmentally responsible and lightweight (once you empty them.) Mini-kegs are available in many varieties. A great option for beer on a hot day: just refill your camp cup and spare yourself the hassle of having to carry much trash out.
The river provides plenty of natural waterborne entertainment. Swimming, fishing, and lounging will keep your group smiling for hours. For my fellow nature nerds binoculars and a camera wouldn’t be a bad idea. Wildlife, especially birds, abound. Herons, hawks, ducks, and owls provide plenty of material for the amateur shutterbug. Depending on conditions and recent rainfall, the turbidity (amount of sediment clouding the water) of the river will vary. Fishing can be hit or miss, as always, but getting a line in the water is rewarding and you never know what luck will bring. Bring some games along to mix it up in between swimming and sunbathing sessions. I have gone so far as to pack collapsible cornhole boards into a canoe for afternoon and even lantern lit tourneys at camp. You don’t want to weigh the boat down too much but, within reason, bring what it takes to spice up the trip.
CLOSE YOUR EYES for a moment and dip your toes in the water. Listen to the birds and the sound of beers being cracked open. Feel the sun and breeze. Water laps off of the banks and breaks clear of boulders in effervescent ripples. Your paddle cuts the water as your yacht (canoe) tracks effortlessly across the currents. The sun is slung low and the soft light will remain for the next few hours while dinner is cooked and the fire is built. The day will gradually burn away and the embers will replace it. Some of the best conversations come by campfire, punctuated with the snap of a cone or seed, and the clutter of the outside world fades as dancing light captures all attention. The pauses of contemplation are comfortable, allowing the conversation to travel as easily as the river upon which you have arrived.
For more details on the French Broad River Trail see: wnca.org/paddle
Check out the safety section at: www.americancanoe.org
Tip: Having fresh water is an easy and essential choice. A gallon each day for each person. The gallons should start evenly distributed on each side of the boat but if the boat feels a bit off center, swap one over to adjust accordingly.