October 7, 2018

Watauga River

  • 4.76 miles
  • 2:32 duration
  • 1 geocache hidden
  • 1 wedding

Have you ever heard of wedding crashers? On Sunday, friends and I decided to be wedding SPLASHERS! Our friends LakeBum (Rob) and Karaboo (Kara) were getting married at the Watauga Riverbend Retreat. Since this was to be a small, family-only ceremony, Porknbeans (Jane) and I cooked up a plan to paddle by during the ceremony – after clearing our plan with the groom.

Watauga Riverbend is along a stretch of the Watauga River that we love to paddle. Over the last few years, we have “watched” as the owners have renovated a home in a bend of the river in Elizabethton during our trips past it. When Rob and Kara were engaged earlier this year, and started thinking about where to have their wedding, they thought of this location and it was available.

Jane and I invited a few other mutual friends, but the only other person available on this day was our muggle friend, Berta. She eagerly accepted my invitation and we set a start time about two hours before the wedding began. The wedding was to start at 4:30 pm. Jane and I also made plans for ways we could help Rob and Kara celebrate. I bought a bottle of champagne and found some artificial flowers in our garage. Jane bought some birdseed to throw (in lieu of rice) and bubble-making devices.

As I was preparing to leave early Sunday afternoon, Jane called with the sad news that she would not be able to join us. One of her dogs was very sick and she needed to take him to the emergency vet. Since the vet was on my way to the river, we made arrangements for me to stop by and get the celebration supplies she had bought.

I met Berta at the Blevins Road access and fishing area, which was to be our take out point. It is just downstream from the lodge where the wedding was to be held, so we passed by it along the way and could see several cars already gathered. We left my truck at the access point, loaded my kayak and gear in her truck, and made our way to our launch site at Lover’s Lane.

We put our boats in the water and began paddling downstream at 2:55 pm. Although the TVA Lake Info app had indicated that the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) would be running two generators starting at 2:00 pm, that water flow had not yet reached Lover’s Lane. This meant we had a fairly shallow river to navigate, and that the current was not moving very swiftly. We stayed ahead of the discharge the whole trip, which caused us to scrape bottom a few times and even get hung up on rocks from time to time. But, it also meant that we had a nice, leisurely ride downstream. I had estimated that the trip to the wedding location would take about one and a half  hours.

Two young men had left just ahead of us. One was on a sit-on-top kayak and the other on a stand-up paddle board (SUP). We enjoyed watching the young man on the SUP try to navigate the gentle rapids while standing. At some point we passed them, and paddled through a little rougher rapid. We pulled over to see how they fared. The kayaker made it through without a problem. The SUP paddler made it about halfway through in standing position, but suddenly hit a rock and nearly toppled off. He yelped, and I looked at Berta and said, “That is the definition of ‘squealed like a girl.'” He finished the rapid on his knees.

As usual, we saw a lot of Blue Herons along the way. I usually have a difficult time getting a good photo of them because they tend to fly away when you get too close. However, on this day, there was one who stayed put while I floated by, allowing me to get some decent shots of him. We also saw another type of bird that we couldn’t identify that had caught a mouse and flew over us clutching it in his talons. I had a momentary twinge of regret for the mouse, but quickly remembered this is just part of the circle of life.

We made it through all of the rapids easily, including Sycamore Shoals which Rob tends to dread. He has said on numerous occasions that it always gives him trouble, and that he has overturned here, but I’ve never seen that happen. There is one rock near the bottom that I typically bounce off of, but on this day I missed it, gliding through with ease.

During one of the calm sections of river, I had a visitor. A dragonfly landed on my arm, and stayed there for about five minutes. Occasionally he would flutter his wings, which kind of tickled my arm. When my arm would move and he felt a bit unstable, he would dig in a little tighter with his tiny feet which was a tad painful. But, I was enjoying his visit and didn’t really mind the little pinpricks. He posed for me to take photos, which was a little difficult since he was on my right arm and I am left handed. I completely missed getting him in the frame a few times, taking random shots of the water or riverbank. But, I was finally able to point my phone in just the right direction to get a couple of nice photos, and even shoot some video of his fluttering wings. It was only when I began paddling again that he flew away.

Berta and I enjoyed some good conversation along the way. We had chatted some during previous trips, but since it was just the two of us we took the opportunity to get to know one another better.

We had been on the river for an hour and fifteen minutes when we reached “the drop.” This is a small waterfall that reaches all the way across the river. Berta went first, hitting the sweet spot like the pro she is. She turned and waited for me, pointing out the right place for me to paddle across. It is so much harder to read the river when you are sitting in a kayak than when you are kneeling in a canoe. My line of sight is a good foot lower than my canoeing friends, making it harder to see the proper route at times. Following her pointed directions, I found the right spot and made the exhilarating plunge.

A couple of minutes later, we were within sight of the Watauga Riverbend. We could see the beautiful redwood arbor that Kara’s dad and Rob had built, perched on the bank overlooking the river. It was draped in white fabric with beautiful purple flowers adorning it. Beyond the arbor were chairs for the guests. We pulled over to the side of the river to wait for the ceremony to start.

While we were waiting, we prepared for the ceremony. I pulled out the bag of flowers I had brought, and we used them to decorate our headgear. I attached white and purple flowers to my kayaking helmet, and Berta affixed hers to her floppy river hat. I then prepped the bubble gloves that Jane had given me to bring along. This entailed opening the packages and pouring the soapy liquid into pouches that we would dip the gloves into. This was easier said than done while seated in a kayak bobbing on the water. I had to keep rinsing my hands off in the river to rid them of the slippery soap that I was sloshing everywhere.

Soon, we began seeing movement at the wedding site. The chairs filled up, and we could see people standing under the arbor. We moved closer, and could hear music: “Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major.” Finally, we spotted the bride moving across the back porch of the lodge, down the steps, and up the aisle on the arm of her father. We were too far away to see the details of her dress, but I had seen photos of it before the wedding, and knew it was a beautiful white tulle gown with a purple under skirt. Like me, Kara loves the color purple.

Although we had ventured a little closer, we could not hear anything other than occasional laughter throughout the ceremony. We didn’t want to paddle too close and be a distraction, so we maintained a safe distance. I did notice Rob’s brother Richard looking our way occasionally, and felt sure he recognized us. At one point during the ceremony, everyone in the crowd stood and turned around to face the lodge. The photographer had climbed a ladder and they had apparently been asked to turn around for a photo. I’m afraid that despite our respectable distance, we may have photo bombed that shot.

We noticed that Rob’s niece, Julia, had walked around the side of the seated crowd, carrying two trombones. Soon we could tell that the ceremony had ended when we saw the bride and groom kiss. Julia handed one of the trombones to her dad, Richard, and the two of them began playing a marching band rendition of “Hallelujah” as Rob and Kara walked up the aisle together.

From the back of the crowd, Rob and Kara circled around and followed a path down to the side of the river. Kara spotted us and called out to Berta by name, excited to see her paddling toward them. I then heard her say, “And… Betty? Is that Betty?!” As we floated along, we waved the bubble gloves producing bubbles that floated above the water toward them.

Rob and Kara climbed into their tandem canoe and paddled out into the river. It was decorated with garland, and sported a “Just Married” sign. I chuckled when I spotted several yellow duckies floating along behind them.

I took several photos as they paddled out and then back to shore. Richard came toward the bank and waved his arms at us, calling out greetings. Once they began to climb out of the canoe, Berta and I paddled on downstream, leaving them to their celebration.

Before the trip, I had studied the geocaching map and identified a spot where there was room to hide a cache. It was an island within sight of the wedding location, and I had already prepared a cache page in anticipation of hiding a cache there. I named it “River Nuptials” and stated on the cache page that it was being placed in honor of Rob and Kara. On the island I found a tree that I could hang the cache container from. Later that evening when I had come home, I edited the coordinates to match where the container was placed, and added a photo of them in the canoe to the cache page.

After I had placed the cache, we continued around the bend and through the last set of rapids before reaching the Blevins Road takeout point. These were the best rapids of the day, and when we had finished our trip, Berta said that she had forgotten how much she enjoyed that rapid.

We climbed out of our boats, and I attempted to take a selfie of us wearing our flowered hats. A young lady saw us, and came over, offering to take a photo for us. We then made our way through slippery mud to take some of our gear to the truck. It was only then that I remembered the bird seed Jane had given me. We had forgotten to throw it! I had also forgotten the champagne, and ended up just leaving it at their home that evening when I went to take care of their dogs.

There were several young men standing around talking at the take out point. Knowing that Berta’s mobility is somewhat limited, especially after two and a half hours kneeling in a boat, I decided to seek ask them for help carrying and loading her boat. At 77 years old she says, “My feet don’t always work well, but I can still paddle!” Two of the young men immediately went to the water and carried her boat to my truck while I grabbed my boat. Once the boats were loaded in the back of my truck and secured, we headed back to Lover’s Lane.

When we arrived there, there were no handy young men around to help move Berta’s boat to her truck, so we knew we would have to do it ourselves. This was going to be a challenge, because we needed to lift it high enough to put on the rack on top of her truck.

We moved it from my truck to the ground next to hers. We then lifted it and flipped it over, moving below it. Berta said, “I can’t lift it. Yes, I can! Girl Power!” and started to lift her end. I said, “Wait!” as I struggled to get a better grip and then lifted my end as I grunted, “Girl power!” Before we knew it, we had the boat on top of her truck and congratulated ourselves for accomplishing what seemed to be an impossible task. We parted ways after thanking each other for a wonderful day.

Later in the evening I received an email from Richard that began, “Wow! What a fantastic day… great to see you cheering Rob and Kara on from the water!!!” He went on to say that he hoped we could paddle together again before the winter weather comes. I hope so too, and hope that the newlyweds can join us as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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