Our route was from Dillsboro to Whittier, NC, which according to Jim is the best section of whitewater. This description was borne out by the many other paddlers we saw on this section, mostly in duckies and rafts run by commercial outfitters. There were also a substantial number of canoes paddled by teenage campers led by competent staffers from nearby summer camps. Our hotel was the Best Western River Escapes in Dillsboro, NC, on the river bank and its parking lot served as our put-in. We often sat on the deck and watched the canoers learning to eddy out, surf and peel out in the rapid behind the hotel. Our take-out was the Duke Power access parking lot in Whittier, NC.
The Caudills paddled two sit-on-top kayaks. I had my old Dagger canoe set up for solo paddling with four air bags for floatation. On Tuesday and Wednesday mornings we all three paddled our respective boats. No one took a swim, except for within the first 5 minutes on the first morning, when an inexperienced family in a raft un-intentionally ran Jim into a tree branch and pushed him out of his boat.
Even though my boat had plenty of flotation, I found a number of the rapids big enough to splash water into the boat, necessitating a little bit of bailing to keep my knees and feet from being awash. I found that I could successfully paddle the 'shoulders' of the rapids. If I went around the biggest waves, between the peaks in the middle of the rapid and the rocks on the edges, things worked most smoothly.
Then Wednesday afternoon JoAnn took a rest while Jim paddled his kayak. I parked my canoe and paddled JoAnn's kayak. This trip was my first experience in a sit-on-top. Even though it was smaller, lighter and more nimble than my canoe, I was not used to the tippiness. I am more used to the canoe's broader beam and greater stability. In the biggest rapid, the only Class III (the one where the professional photographer is set up to take everyone's picture), I rode up on the largest wave and just missed the peak to the left by about half a foot. That mistake was enough to fall off the wave onto its left shoulder, slide downhill and take a dive into the drink.
Fortunately, below the rapid is a large fairly calm pool, even though it was too deep in which to stand up and the current was still too strong to easily swim to shore. More fortunately, waiting below the rapid was Jim. He came to my rescue and stabilized my kayak while I struggled to climb back aboard. It took all my strength and balance to just barely get my body flopped into the boat and straightened up.
It was a great trip and I am sorry that so many of the usual paddlers had conflicts. If am lucky, I hope to be back next year and enjoy the camaraderie of a more crowded paddling group.