When she handed my husband Nelson the two cold beers, plus six fresh eggs from her chickens and a small bundle of firewood, I almost fell to my knees and wept. It was such a small gesture, but it came straight from her heart to ours at exactly the time we needed it.
We had pulled up to the shore of our campground for the night, unsure which site was ours. Glenda, co-owner of the French Broad River Campground, just happened to stop by.
“I want to support what you guys are doing,” Glenda said as she unknowingly participated in what we’d started calling “river magic.” Over and over on our end-to-end French Broad River paddling trip, we encountered “river magic” from people who gave to us selflessly.
This whole trip idea started last year when Nelson stopped in at The Hub’s Pisgah Tavern near Brevard for an after-work beer, and a colorful, slim, spiral-bound map caught his eye: The Riverkeeper’s Guide to the French Broad River. Curiosity piqued, he bought it. When he came home, he grinned, handed it to me, and said, “I think we could do this.”
By day four, Nelson half-jokingly said, “I need a vacation from our vacation.” I wrote in my journal: “I’m tired of hauling gear up the banks or stairs to and from our boat and campsite. Gear is heavy and bulky, and I am weak and puny. Our kitchen box is so heavy. I shall name the kitchen box Bertha.”
As the idea began to take shape, Nelson laid out river miles and chose campsites. I began planning menus. We launched from Headwaters Outfitters’ sandy beach in Rosman, North Carolina, where the North and West Forks of the French Broad River come together to form this beautiful river.
In the first few days, the river repeatedly wound back on itself in dramatic horseshoe turns. We passed folks in canoes and kayaks who asked us lots of questions: How long would the trip take us? Did we know about the dams? What about the whitewater? Where would we sleep? Did we really have enough food?
Somewhere around mile 20, we took a break at a local park and started chatting with one of the kayakers there. As we explained our journey, one of the guys exclaimed, “You deserve some beer!”
At mile 31 we stopped so Nelson could walk up to a nearby store to grab some extra ice for the cooler. Black clouds were rapidly gathering overhead and that first crack of thunder got our attention. When it started raining in sheets, we pulled over, set up our umbrella and hunkered down until the worst of the storm passed. Four hours and seven river miles later, we set up camp in the steamy late-afternoon sunshine.
Most of our days were filled with downed trees, menacing thunderstorms, many rocks, various animal sightings, and long, long stretches of flatwater. By day four, Nelson half-jokingly said, “I need a vacation from our vacation.” I wrote in my journal: “I’m tired of hauling gear up the banks or stairs to and from our boat and campsite. Gear is heavy and bulky, and I am weak and puny. Our kitchen box is so heavy. I shall name the kitchen box Bertha.”
One piece of this adventure we had not yet planned out was how we were going to get around the two dams in Marshall. Fortunately, we met “Davewave” at the Asheville Outdooor Center, who offered to provide a shuttle ride. True to his word, he showed up with his truck and trailer to portage us safely two miles downstream.
We ran Section 9, the most technical whitewater stretch of the French Broad River, with the help of other rafts on the river. As we were approaching Frank Bell’s Rapid, we spotted a pair of bald eagles high up in the trees. They flew off one at a time as we got close. Then, on our final night in camp, a barred owl flew by so close to our tent we could hear its wings cut through the air and ruffle the rain fly of our tent. River magic, compliments of Mother Nature.
Our 17-mile paddle on the last day was much easier than anticipated, and we floated into the finish at Douglas Lake. This accomplishment was special, earned through teamwork, hard work, and a good bit of something else: all that river magic. Our grins were as wide as the lake we found ourselves on.