August 11, 2018

North Toe River, NC

  • 3.89 miles
  • 2:27 duration
  • 4 geocaches found before
  • 5 geocaches found after (1 multi cache, 1 virtual, 1 FTF)
  • 1 DNF (did not find)

This day filled with adventure took us to a river I’ve never paddled, the North Toe River in western North Carolina. LakeBum (Rob) picked me up at 9:00 am on Saturday to make the drive. We were to meet muggle friends Richard, Berta and Doreen in Roan Mountain, TN at 10:00 am.

Driving through Elizabethton, we realized that we were a little ahead of schedule, so decided to stop along the way to grab a few geocaches. Because, that’s what we do! Two of our friends have hidden caches along the newly constructed (2016) Mary Patton Highway making this a cache rich drive. I was first to find on the caches hidden by GreyRider back in 2016, but had never had the chance to find the caches hidden by Reis’s Pieces despite many drives along this highway.

We found four of Reis’s Pieces caches with Rob driving and me jumping out to sign the logs. This series is based on the Old MacDonald song with each cache named for a different animal that Old MacDonald had. We logged the Rooster, Pig, Goose and Cow. We also stopped so that I could sign one of GreyRider’s caches for Rob, and then decided we needed to move on so that we could make it to our meeting point on time.

Once we met the rest of the group in Roan Mountain, we drove through the state park and into North Carolina, through Buladean, and on to Red Hill. Rob and I waited in a pull off along the river to wait for the others to scout out our take out point and leave a vehicle to serve as a shuttle at the end of the trip. While waiting, I made a trip down a steep embankment to “talk to a tree.” Along the way I drug my hand through something that caused it to burn the rest of the day. I looked all around, expecting to see stinging nettle, but never spotted it, so I’m not sure what caused the burning sensation.

When the others returned, we made our way through Loafer’s Glory to Toe Cane for the start of our trip. Yes, western North Carolina’s towns have some interesting names.

Berta had paddled this stretch of river before, but it had been several years. She knew that just below the put-in area was a rather large rapid  where she had overturned years ago, and wanted to try to scout it out from land before we ran it. We walked along the railroad tracks for about a quarter mile until we were adjacent with the rapids, but it was hard to tell much about them through all of the trees. We could, however, see that the river was very muddy from all of the recent rains, and that it was flowing quickly.

At the put-in, there was a large group of kayakers that had arrived just before us. It appeared to be a class of some sort, because there were two people giving the rest instructions. We had to wait for them to launch all of their boats before we could drag our own down the narrow pathway to the river. They paddled a little ways up stream to begin their training, and we took their spot at the put-in.

Another pair of kayakers showed up while we were preparing to launch, and we chatted with them. They had already paddled the stretch once that day, and were getting ready to do it for a second time. They offered some advice on how to run that first rapid, advising us to stay to the right. It was obvious that others in the group were taking this river as seriously as I, when I saw them also donning helmets.

As is often the case, I was the only kayaker in our group, paddling my beloved Huck. The rest of the group was in solo canoes. Berta typically does not have flotation bags in her canoe, but had come prepared with bags for both her canoe and Doreen’s. These help to displace the water that splashes in, give the boat more buoyancy, and also helps to keep it afloat should it capsize.

Because our launch site wasn’t the gentle slope or boat ramps that we are accustomed to, it was a bit of a challenge for the canoe paddlers to get into their boats without capsizing. I simply climbed into Huck far up the sandy bank, and then slid down into the water. It wasn’t as graceful a launch as I envisioned, but it worked.

The weather was beautiful, with blue skies, a few fluffy white clouds, and warm temperatures. While the river was a muddy and raging mess, the surrounding countryside was serene, with very few signs of civilization along the banks.

Once we were on the river, we moved along at a pretty good pace since it was flowing so quickly. That first rapid was a blast, with lots of very large waves. Most of the rocks were submerged and hard to see in the chocolate-colored water, but we all made it through safe and sound. I had turned my boat around when I got through, and got to see Berta finish the run. She let out a yell and had a huge smile on her face. She said that that rapid had been nagging at her for twenty years, and now she had conquered it.

Since all of my paddling companions were in canoes, they had to bail out the water they had collected coming through that rapid. I sat and watched, nice and dry (from the waist down at least) in my skirted kayak. This would be repeated several times throughout the trip. Since we weren’t paddling far, I had worried that it would be such a short time on the water. However, with all of the stops to empty water from boats, it extended our time on the river, making it worth the long drive.

We continued along the river, enjoying one rapid after another. At times, it seemed that the current was running in every direction at once, the muddy water churning and splashing. I made it through one such rapid, and felt I was home free when a rogue wave knocked me sideways, and Huck and I tilted violently to the left. I felt certain I was going under, but leaned hard to the right and regained my balance.

There were several times that the river was slapping me in the face so hard and often that I was finding it hard to grab a breath.  I had to remind myself to keep my mouth shut so that I didn’t swallow gallons of river water. I also had to keep taking my glasses off to dry them and wipe the river water from my eyes. But, I was having the time of my life!

After one stop, rain started to fall, but since we were already wet, we didn’t really care. It was a short-lived shower, lasting through the next set of rapids. Then, the warm sun and blue skies reappeared.

I only took a very few pictures along the way, because we constantly seemed to be moving. I did have my video camera mounted to the front of my boat. You can watch the video I shot HERE. But, be warned! Don’t watch if you are prone to sea-sickness!

We made one stop to eat some lunch on a nice shady beach. During another stop, I noticed a very nice set of wooden steps leading up from the river toward the railroad tracks. I had to see where they led, and climbed them. Once at the top, I could see that there were “private property” signs across the railroad tracks, along with a sign advertising riverside cabin rentals.

Huck got a little too friendly with several rocks along the way. With the muddy water, it was just so hard to see them. Once, I plowed right up on top of two large rocks and teetered there for a few long seconds. Then the current swung the back of my boat around, and threatened to carry me sideways downstream. At the last second, my bow broke free of the rocks, and got myself turned back around, and we continued on.

Richard was not so lucky on one rapid. He was far ahead of Rob and I when I suddenly saw a flash of white (the color of his boat) and a large splash. I yelled, “Uh oh! Richard’s over!” As any experienced boater would, he kept his wits about him and swam to shore, dragging his boat along. As I was coming through the rapid, I feel sure that I hit the same rock that caused him to flip, but with a lower center of gravity I was able to stay upright. He was very glad that he had tethered his paddle to the boat, because he said that he lost his grip on it when he capsized, and it would have been far downstream if it weren’t tied. The tether on his lunch cooler had come undone and washed away, but miraculously his cooler was still in the boat!

The rest of the rapids were smaller and gentler. We soon passed under the bridge signifying that we were near the end of our trip. I spotted Berta’s truck parked along the shore, and with the others paddled over to exit the river. Like our put-in spot, this was not the ideal location to take-out, but we were all able to exit our boats and then drag them up the steam bank to level ground.

Doreen and I waited with the boats while Rob and Richard rode with Berta to fetch their trucks. I took the opportunity to change into dry clothing. Even my skirt had diverted much of the water, some had still seeped in so that my shorts were nearly as wet as my shirt.

After the drivers returned, we loaded up the boats and parted company. There was a virtual cache and some traditional caches nearby that Rob and I wanted to log, as well as an interesting sign that we wanted to stop and take photographs of.

We drove downriver a half a mile, and stopped at an old swinging footbridge that crosses the river. There is a series of geocaches in North Carolina hidden at such bridges, and we wanted to log the one here. Unfortunately, the poison ivy was so thick in the area where the cache was hidden, we decided to leave it for a winter time visit.

We drove back to Loafer’s Glory, stopping to photograph the sign for the defunct Loafer’s Glory Camp Ground. Atop it is an old Mohawk canoe that Rob would love to have. He thinks it would make a great archway over the path from his house to the lake.

We then stopped at the site of a virtual cache. It is at an old mill. We scrambled down the bank to the river-side so that we could get photos of the mill wheel and waterfalls coming over the old dam. It was a beautiful place.

Just a short distance from the virtual, was a traditional cache we wanted to log. It was across the street from a local diner called Bonnie and Clyde’s. After finding it, we decided to check out the diner and have an early dinner. Even though it wasn’t quite 5:00 pm, the small establishment was packed with locals – a very good sign. We waited a few minutes for a table to open up, and then sat down. Rob decided to try out their cheeseburger since he is on a mission to sample cheeseburgers wherever he travels. I had a side salad and a philly cheese steak wrap, which turned out to be more like a burrito, but was delicious. While we ate, I heard the familiar sound of a blender making milkshakes. Since I’m on a mission to never pass up a peanut butter milkshake, we both  finished up our visit with one. They were divine.

We finally headed toward home, taking a different route through Unicoi, TN which cut off about 25 minutes from our journey. We made a stop along the way to log another geocache at a footbridge. As we were nearing Johnson City, I received a notification on my phone of a new geocache. Since it was somewhat on our way, we decided to swing by to find it.

The cache was at small park in the Historic Tree Streets area of Johnson City. This park is the home to a very interesting new sculpture named The Cycle of Support. We found the cache, and were pleased to see an empty log sheet. After logging our FTF, we went over too look at the sculpture, which was very interesting, like a tree with wheels and cogs instead of leaves on its branches.

As we were leaving the park, Rob suggested stopping off for one more cache. This was a multi at Johnson City’s oldest fire station. It is dedicated to a homeless dog named Boss that was adopted by the fire station in the 1920s. While we were signing the log, I noticed through the open bay door of the station that the 1928 Seagrave Ladder Truck was sitting inside. This historic piece of equipment was rescued from storage earlier this year and is being restored by the fire fighters. We stepped inside the station for a closer view, but since there was no one in sight we didn’t venture any further. You can read an article about the truck here.

I returned home happy after a full day of fun and activity.






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