Category Archives: North Carolina

Wilson Creek – a little bit of California in North Carolina

Wilson Creek, designated as a National Wild and Scenic River, is a beautiful place tucked away in central North Carolina within the Pisgah National Forest. We had a great time running this with friends in mid-October after rains brought the levels up.

The run is about 2 miles long and people often do at least 2 laps in a day. Assume your first lap will take 1.5+ hours and your second will be close to an hour since you now have a better sense of the lines. The road parallels the entire river so you can scout everything and shuttle is quite easy – could be done by biking or running if need be.

The entire run is in a granite canyon, which makes it feel more like California than eastern USA. It was a full face helmet and elbow pads kind of day due to all of the drops, slides and rock boofs. Although the guidebook says that this is good up to “2” on the gauge, local intel suggests not doing it at anything greater than “1”. We did it at 0.5 and it was a great first time level. There are a few sticky holes placed throughout the river so be sure to read the guidebook or find a local for a guided tour down on your first run.

Downriver racing – a great family activity!

The below is a post we wrote for Jackson Kayak: http://jacksonkayak.com/blog/2017/11/08/downriver-racing-a-great-family-activity/
This is our first year being exposed to downriver races and we have to say… they are a great family activity! If you pick the right ones they are a family bonding experience with high fun factors.

Hunter Vincent – GoPro Games

We dipped our toe into the world of Downriver racing at CKS Paddlefest (Buena Vista, Colorado) in May by participating in the Race to the Grill. This is a super family friendly race that is held on a 4 mile long class II+ section of the Arkansas River referred to as the “Milk Run”. There is a group practice run on Sunday afternoon for those that are interested and then the race is held late morning on Monday of the long weekend.  It is a very laid back event with people in kayaks, canoes, tandem kayaks, rafts and SUP’s. Free shuttles are provided by River Runners so you want to a) drop your boat off at the put in to get it in line, b) drive your car down to River Runners at the finish line and c) sign up for the race / pay your $10 and then catch a ride back up to the top. Start order is based on the order that you line up in so you can choose to paddle in front of, behind or with friends and family. It was fairly low water this spring so it took us 33 minutes to do 4 miles. The race ends at “The Riverside Grill” at River Runners, one of the local rafting companies. Awards (prizes!) to follow the race and yummy food and drinks from the Grill while you are waiting.

Hunter Vincent – GoPro Games

Next up was the GoPro Games in Vail, Colorado. This was a bit more of a structured event and you need to sign up online ahead of time as many of the events at GoPro Games reach capacity. There is the famed Steep Creek Race and then there is the DownRiver Kayak Sprint race. You want the Downriver Kayak Sprint Race! It is a mixture of young kids through to seasoned pros and everything in between. This is also where you see a lot of old school long boats being pulled out of garages as people work to improve upon their times from prior years. Consider it low key competitive…This race is also 4 miles long on a class II+ section of Gore Creek, where the water is COLD as it’s fresh from the snowpack. It is faster moving than the Arkansas River so times are more in the 20 minute range. Shuttles are a bit tricky as the start location is in a residential neighbourhood and it’s an 8:30 am race start, which makes for an early start to the day. We paired up with another family so one vehicle did the paddler drop off while the other did the cheering squad and pick up at the end of the race, which is right in the village. All athletes that register for GoPro Games get a SWAG bag full of goodies (T-shirt, Hat, socks, snacks, stickers etc.), which makes just showing up a win for everyone! There is no formal awards ceremony so we chose to head off for ice-cream in the village to celebrate with friends.

Lee Vincent – Ocoee River Race

Our third race was the Ocoee River Race in eastern Tennessee. It is an 8 mile race on class III that runs from the put-in through to the last rapid on the Middle Ocoee. It is organized by the Tennessee Valley Canoe Club as a fundraiser for the Team River Runner chapter in Chattanooga. You have to be a member of TVCC to race – family memberships are only $20 and then the race itself is free. It will fill up so be sure to sign up online ahead of time. Your starting number is based on when you sign up, so earlier is better. Everyone is out for a fun time with a mixture of competitive focus – some people are out for the win and have been doing training laps for the last few weeks, others have bets in place with friends to see who can be fastest and the majority of people are here for a fun time with friends and to challenge themselves. The race is very well organized and this year they had 130 racers and 190 starting slots as over half of the people race multiple categories (long boat, short boat, duo, handpaddle, raft etc.). Depending on when your number is called there is a fair amount of stand around and wait as people are sent off in one minute intervals. The shuttle is an easy one as the road runs alongside the river and there are always people coming and going. If everyone in your group is racing try to set shuttle ahead of time so you will have your vehicle at the bottom when you are done. Race times range from 30-40 minutes, which makes it a manageable challenge for newbie racers. The hardest part of this race is dodging the commercial rafters – there is rubber everywhere! There is a family friendly awards banquet and party at Adventures Unlimited, a local rafting company, however the fun does start to wind up the longer people have been there and enjoying the free beer, so time your stay wisely.

Hunter & Lee – South East DownRiver Race at NOC

Our last race of the year was the South Eastern Downriver Race held on the 8 mile class II+ section of the Lower Nantahala River in western North Carolina. It is run by the Georgia Canoe Association and feels more like a local community race. Sign up online to help them know how many people are coming and it’s a bargain $5 per person to participate. This is a mixture of serious paddlers (they are the ones in the actual carbon downriver and slalom boats) and recreational paddlers (in long boats, short boats, duos and canoes) but the overall vibe is one of FUN. This is a lower volume river so run times are between 60 and 70 minutes, which makes for a LONG race. It was a good one to finish with as it allowed us to use all of the mental and physical skills we have developed through the other races. The Nantahala Outdoor Centre provides free shuttles after the race and there was a simple awards ceremony with medals for every class and some long standing trophy awards as well. If you still have energy left after the race then grab your play boat and spend some time throwing freestyle tricks in the hole!

Hunter being dwarfed by KarmaUL at South East DownRiver Race at NOC

The five biggest things we learned in our first year of downriver racing are:
  • Don’t be shy – give it a try and use what ever boat you have on hand (we paddled in Zen’s, Nirvana’s & KarmaUL borrowed from a friend)
  • Ask lots of questions – everyone is happy to share information on the race and their race lines
  • Be sure you know where the finish line is so you can gauge your effort (which specific bridge or turn does it end at…)
  • Just paddle… you may not be the fastest but sometimes the one that can just keep paddling wins the race
  • Challenge each other and have fun – that’s why you are out there
Check out your local paddling club and sign up for your first DownRiver Race as a family – you’ll love it!

Group photo before Race to the Grill

The Vincent family are currently  travelling throughout North America in their RV in search of great family friendly outdoor adventures and can be found on a river somewhere most days. Find more information at www.chasingthesun.ca // www.facebook.com/chasingthesunyt // www.instagram.com/chasingthesunyt
– The Vincent Family

NOCtoberfest – what a hoot!!!

NOCtoberfest at the Nantahala Outdoor Centre is a great FREE community event held on the Saturday before Halloween. There is pumpkin carving, halloween costume contest, face painting and the culminating event – the great pumpkin chase!

385 pumpkins are loaded into three NOC rafts, each one with a number on it. The rafts are paddled from the concrete beach down to the take out beach while tossing the pumpkins out into the river.

Keen pumpkin hunters in kayaks, inflatable kayaks, canoes and rafts chase after the rafts and collect as many pumpkins as they can fit in their respective crafts…

It is absolute chaos – in a really fun way. All is fine and dandy in the first few minutes of flat water. It’s a bit like kayak polo where everyone is chasing after the pumpkins bobbing along in the river. Kayakers have their skirts off and are frantically stuffing pumpkins into their boats. If all goes well, you manage to pull your skirt over your pumpkins before heading through the Falls rapid.

If it doesn’t go according to plan, you end up with a swamped boat and shortly after that pumpkins and people are swimming down the river. Now you are frantically trying to catch your stray pumpkins and get them back into your kayak, which is full of water…

Tim definitely mastered the activity and filled his boat to the max. Between the three of us we managed to collect 33 pumpkins!

Once everyone ends up at the bottom of the river and gets their pumpkin hauls organized, there is the prize giveaway… NOC generously provides over $400 in prizes (as well as the pumpkins). The darn Canadians were pretty successful and came away with a new Watershed Drybag, a long awaited Foamy Boater and a glow in the dark nalgene (doesn’t everyone have one of those?).

We definitely recommend this as a family friendly event. It was cool and pouring rain all day today and yet still so much fun. Kids were in and out of the water all afternoon – like anything, just dress for the occasion and get outside and have fun!

 

 

South East Downriver Race – Nantahala River

The South East DownRiver Race is run by the Georgia Canoe Association on the 8 mile class II+ section of the Lower Nantahala River. It was our 4th downriver race of the season and the longest as well, thanks to the combination of low volume and physical distance.

This is the first race we’ve entered where there was a strong presence of downriver and slalom boats in addition to the regular short and long plastic boats. Downriver boats are fast and tippy – they are super light thanks to their carbonfiber construction, very narrow and don’t actually have a flat bottom.

Hunter opted to paddle a borrowed Jackson Karma UL, which was almost twice as big as him, and his first time in a long boat. I borrowed a Jackson Nirvana, which at 8ft 11 inches just makes the cut to stay as a short boat. They were big boats to wrestle down a shallow river but the length sure helped with our overall times.

The starting line is at the put in eddy at the top of the Lower Nantahala Run. It’s a pretty low key race, with the starter calling out the time and then people releasing at one minute intervals. Short boats went out first, with me in the #1 position, and my only goal for the entire race was to not get passed. SUCCESS on that one… I was the first one across the finish line, with the next boat being one of the long boats showing up about 25 seconds later (he started 6 minutes behind me…).

The race runs through the falls and then finishes at the founders bridge right at the Nantahala Outdoor Centre.

There were medals for every category and some long standing historic trophies for fastest canoe and kayak. It was tough being in the first position as I was not able to do my standard of chasing Hunter down the river. I won gold in K1 Women’s short boat (I was the only one). I was really proud that I came 2nd in K1 short boat overall at 66 minutes. Hunter worked hard, successfully wrestled the long boat, and came in with a time of 63 minutes so he took the family win.

It has been fun racing together this year – it pushes both of us and we have a fun shared experience as well.

 

 

Nantahala Outdoor Centre – Guest Appreciation Festival (GAF)

Guest Appreciation Festival (aka GAF) at the Nantahala Outdoor Centre is a huge tradition here in the South East.  People come from all around to catch the scheduled release of the Cascades & Upper Nantahala River as well as grab some amazing end of season deals on gear. There is ALOT going on…

We were definitely overwhelmed when we arrived at the river on Saturday morning. It was a beautiful sunny day and there were cars and boaters as far as you could see spread across parking lots and fields. NOC very generously provides free shuttles for the Cascades and Upper all weekend. As fast as they can load a rafting bus with people and a truck with boats, then they are off to the put-in. That means that you have 50 people arriving at the put-in at the same time. This is not a big put in, nor a big river so it gets a little crazy…

The Cascades is a class IV/V section that is above the Upper section. It is a short section of 4-5 rapids that people do laps on as you can walk back up the side of the road. We scouted a few of the rapids but decided that this wasn’t the year to run it without an expert local to show us the lines…

The Upper section is rated as class III+/IV and is a mix between river running and creeking. There are definitely rocks that you need to be aware of but not really boulder gardens that you need to maneuver around. The hardest part was actually dealing with all of the people on a very narrow river (less than 50 feet wide), many of them using this release as a chance to stretch their skills after running the Lower section many times. Lots of swimmers, lots of boats without paddlers and a number of people getting off the river after the first stretch of rapids and walking back up to the put-in to catch the bus down to the take-out (which is also the put-in for the Lower section).

We managed to get two laps in on Saturday and three laps on Sunday (an earlier start now that we understood how things worked) and it was definitely a fun river to experience. Our suggestion would be to aim to catch the first shuttle in the morning as that gives you at least one run with very few people on the river. Catching one of the last shuttles does the same thing. This leaves 1-2 runs during the middle of the day that you just have to elbow your way through the throngs of people.

NOC itself is about 10 minutes down the road from the Upper take out/ Lower put in. It is quite the facility, with something for everyone. The river runs right through it and this is where the rafting companies and kayakers that have run the Lower section take out. During GAF the parking lots are very full so getting there early helps guarantee a spot to park, as well as access to the best deals. There are sliding discounts at the Outfitters store throughout the weekend (Friday = 30% off, Saturday = 40% off, Sunday = 50% off) so it’s a juggle between how much you want something vs how much you will wait for the discount and risk it being gone. There are definitely great deals on demo kayaks, with most of them being sold by the end of the weekend.

More to come on paddling the lower section for fun and freestyle training at the hole.