April 6, 2019

  • 1.5 miles
  • :59 duration

Watauga River – Wagner Road to Riverview Drive

My friend Jana from the Czech Republic visited us recently, and we wanted to provide her with some fun activities during her visit. Deban had been wanting to kayak, so asked if we could do that on Saturday morning. I am always happy to hit the water, so planned a short and gentle trip. Deban hadn’t been in a boat for a couple of years, and Jana had never kayaked at all.

I chose a stretch of the Watauga River that is short, scenic, and very calm. There are only two sets of rapids here, and both are pretty tame. This stretch also offers the opportunity to view the beautiful Quarry Falls from the water.

I loaded our three kayaks and gear into the truck Saturday morning. In doing so, I found only two sets of paddles – my Werner paddle and a set that came with one of the two rec boats that I had purchased at Walmart over the years. I could have sworn we had a second paddle that came with the other Walmart boat, but I didn’t see it anywhere in the garage.

Once everyone was ready, I told them we would need to stop at Walmart to buy another paddle on the way. I drove my truck with the boats, Jana rode with me, and Deban followed in her car so that we could shuttle back to the truck at the end of the trip.

I ran in to Walmart and picked up an inexpensive paddle while Deban bought gas and Jana rearranged the gear she had brought along. It was green, so would match the boat Jana would be paddling well. We then made our way to the take out point on Riverview Drive and left Deban’s car there. We made the short drive to the Wagner Road boat ramp and unloaded the boats and gear.

Deban started to put together the old paddle that she would use and discovered that it had two “male” ends which would not allow her to connect them. Rats! Not to be deterred, I quickly worked out a solution in my mind. I found some sticks to put inside the two shafts and slid them together. I then used four more sticks as braces on the outside of the shafts and wrapped the whole thing securely in duct tape. It wasn’t a pretty solution, and wouldn’t have held up to very intense paddling, but should work for this easy, short float.

I then had Jana sit in her boat so that I could adjust her foot pegs and give her a few instructions. When I gave her the life jacket she would wear, she argued with me about the necessity of it. I insisted that she could not go with us if she didn’t wear it. Seeing people paddle without a life jacket – even on a gentle stretch of river like this one – is a pet peeve of mine.

Finally, we were all ready to get in the boats and head down the river. As she got ready to get in her boat, Deban made a discovery: two more paddle pieces were inside her boat! They both had female ends. She wanted to just go ahead and use the one I had rigged together, but I decided she would be better off with a real paddle. I took the tape and sticks off and put together the correct paddle ends, then put the others in the truck.

I got both of them in their boats and shoved off, and then got my boat in the water. Unfortunately, winter floods had dumped a lot of sand around the end of the boat ramp, and I promptly ran aground. It took a lot of maneuvering to get myself floating downstream. Both Jana and Deban were far ahead of me.

I paddled hard and soon caught up with Jana. She was taking her time and getting used to paddling the boat. Deban had a bit of trouble with the first rapid, and ended up getting wet and scraping her arm. We pulled over to shore across from Quarry Falls so that I could patch her up, but for once did not have my first aid kit with me. We had to settle for tying my bandana around her arm to keep dirt out of the wound until we got home.

We all enjoyed the view of Quarry Falls, but no one was interested in paddling under the spray on this coolish day. After taking some photos we paddled on downstream.

It was only after I was at home and looking at the photos on my phone that I made a strange discovery. It actually freaked me out a little at first, but then I laughed and showed it to Deban and Jana. I think that I had accidentally switched my phone’s camera to pano mode. I remembered fumbling with it trying to get it back into normal mode in time to take photos of Jana. The resulting photo is, well, I will let you see for yourself.

We paddled very little, letting the current take us down stream. We were happy to enjoy the warm sunshine and peaceful scenery. We saw several geese along the shore that appeared to be sitting on nests, and a couple of blue herons that flew above us.

The water was low since TVA wasn’t generating at Wilbur Dam, so I worried about us getting stuck in the next rapid as I had done the week before. Deban and I both scraped bottom a few times, but we all made it through without problems.

Soon we were at the take out spot. We all beached our boats in the fresh sand that has accumulated there, and got out of our boats. The trip had ended much too soon, but when I suggested that we run it a second time, both of them decided they had had enough for the day.

Jana waited with the boats while we went to retrieve the truck. It was nice to have help loading the boats and then unloading them and hanging them in the garage once we were home.

This was a very short, but enjoyable trip for the most part. I’m looking forward to many more this spring and summer.

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