New River Canoe Paddling

New River Canoe Paddling

On the Sunday of May 26, 2019, Deena Thomas and I went paddling on the South Fork of the New River in Ashe County. We took my canoe and parked at Zaloo’s Canoes Outfitters beside the river near the intersection of NC Hwy 16 with NC Hwy 88 east of Jefferson, NC. We planned to paddle down the river about 5 miles to the New River Wagoner Access State Park and then rent a shuttle from Zaloo’s for our canoe, gear and ourselves back to the parking lot.

While still on the river bank, posing as Ranger Bob, I took it upon myself to give Deena a lesson in padding, portaging, bracing, steering, balance and other water based activities. She seemed skeptical that she needed the lesson, but listened gamely. Deena got in the canoe first while I held it steady. Then I stepped in and tried to sit down on the cane seat. I promptly lost my balance, turned the boat over and fell out. So much for Ranger Bob’s lessons.

We paddled downstream in beautiful sunny weather. For a mile or so we were hindered by a strong head wind blowing directly up stream, but eventually it dissipated. We passed many other paddlers in kayaks and inner tubes. We were not paddling hard or in a big hurry, but a tandem canoe is naturally more efficient and faster that those other crafts.

About three fourths of the way through the trip we stopped at a rocky river bank spot to rest and stretch. When I stepped out of the boat I promptly lost my balance and fell in the river again. For the rest of the trip Deena held the boat steady for me to enter and exit.

About two hours from the beginning we arrived at the Wagoner Access State Park and exited at the commercial outfitter’s take out. By far the hardest part of the trip was hauling the heavy canoe loaded with gear up the steep gravel trail from the river landing to the parking lot. After that I was exhausted and completely out of breath for a couple minutes.

We ate a nice picnic lunch that Deena fixed at the park tables by the takeout. Just as we finished lunch, with perfect timing, a Zaloo’s shuttle van and trailer pulled into the parking lot. We loaded our gear and had short ride back to the outfitter’s parking lot. Even though I cannot lift the canoe alone, I showed Deena the magic trick how I load the boat on the Jeep canoe racks by myself. A good time was had by all.

Deena’s addition:

When planning a paddling trip, I try to visualize the route and how I will handle the white waters and rocks jutting through fast running water on a kayak. I am not one to choose a canoe, since I’m not very tall or big, and cannot deadlift 150 pounds. And I have never been able to work close enough as a team with another person to go tandem. But I’m willing to try most any outdoor activity. So begins my first tandem canoe trip with an expert.

On the drive up into the mountains, Robert explained rowing techniques, balancing, steering, and seating arrangements. Of course, since I am lighter and less experienced, I would be in the front. And with that assignment comes the responsibility of spotting rocks, boulders, fallen trees jutting from shore and any potential dangers. Thus I was the one to tell him where the danger lurked so he, the expert paddler and canoeing aficionado, could steer us to safety, me in tandem to his movements.

Being anxiety prone and hyper vigilant, with an edge towards a very active imagination, I doubted I could learn quick enough to prevent disaster, even under his watchful eye. I calmed my apprehension by visualizing a stress less, easy going, paddling day down a rambling little river. I climbed into the bow of the canoe and settled in, crossing my paddle over the hull to keep myself balanced. When Robert stepped into the stern and seated himself, we tipped to the side and pummeled into the river. Neither of us had overturned a canoe or kayak in years, and here we were, like newbies, sloshing up out of the water trying to right our sinking canoe. Things were not looking promising. Maybe tandem was not such a good idea!

We righted ourselves, emptied the canoe, settled back in and headed north. Both of us were having doubts that this “togetherness” of going tandem would work out, but we soon got into a rhythm. I would call out “rocks” and he would steer as I paddled on the right. We never hit rocks our entire trip, nor did we tip over. We traversed many small ledges and rocky areas with rough water, working together and being attentive to each other’s movements. Of course, it helps to have an expert oarsman as a partner.

When we finally docked and the trip was over, we realized that dumping the canoe in the beginning was a blessing. We had dumped the canoe and came up wet. Nothing bad happened. We learned to work together as a team to avoid another dunking and came away feeling accomplished and surprised at the closeness we felt. As partners, we met a challenge together, struggled and came through it. We had a great time traveling down a not-so-rambling river!

Bob Laney

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Bob is the site curator and writer of Blue Ridge Outing. Since starting the Blue Ridge Outing travel blog in 2002, Bob has written, recorded and documented countless expeditions in the US and around the world.