June 28, 2018, day 6,7/7
The river slowly changes from wild and scenic to something akin to a back-street alley. First a giant party barn with crazy graffiti and strange colorful objects dangling from the rafters. Then a long section of stilted homes with interconnected decks reminiscent of a Bangkok fishing village. The final shock is the Automotive Riverbank Preservation Wall, a 1960’s decision to embed the riverbank with stacked cars to prevent erosion. I paddle up to the bank and take a photo of a 1950’s car ornament set against a teal hood as John hollers “let’s get out of here!”
Our plan was to stay on the outskirts of Bryson City and retain our expeditionary mindset. There was a smooth campsite with a fire pit on river right. Securing the boats we investigated to see if this was a public campsite. As I walked out the trail from the river a cloud of dust bore down on me. I stopped and was confronted by a wild-eyed angry woman driving a car (like the ones embedded in the riverbank!) with a small disheveled girl in the back seat. She hissed at me ”git outa here” and drove straight for John who was walking out to greet her with his usual smile and friendly wave. I whispered a silent prayer as she slammed on the brakes, skidded in the dirt and gave John an earful. Not given time for apologies we hightailed it back to the river.
Floating downstream, John and I talked about this threatening encounter. We agreed that in all our years of solo paddling this disturbed human scared us more than wild animals, poisonous snakes and hungry alligators!
Bryson City is one of my favorite riverside towns. The friendly owners of Bear Hunter Campground welcomed us and we set up camp on the banks of the Tuckasegee. For 2 days we read and relaxed. In the evenings we walked the mile down the railroad tracks to enjoy a beer at Bryson City Outdoors and hung out with the eclectic locals and even met the mayor who invited us in for a piece of cake and encouragement. On our final day we met Ashley and Daniel Hardison camping with their two small children. This energetic young couple packed up their children for a hike to the Road to Nowhere. This hardcore family impressed us with their energy and enthusiasm for adventure. It is interesting how friendships develop on river trips. John and I met for the first time on the French Broad River in 2015 and have been paddling friends ever since. Our bantering and teasing reached a pinnacle just before we broke down camp. I turned on my iphone video and lampooned his “fancy flying cocoon tent” contrasting it with my “humble common man’s tarp”.
Paddling down the final shoals we reached the expansion of Lake Fontana. This lake was not here before the Fontana dam was built in 1942. The Tuckasegee River once flowed directly into the native Little Tennessee River. It is important to remember these historic facts when adventuring. We encountered a fishing boat with two men, a child and a whining dog with a treble hook stuck in his snout. John is an emergency helicopter flight nurse and I am a hand surgeon so we had the skills to properly remove the hook. John quickly outpaced me in his faster kayak as we paddled several miles of flatwater in the fog and rain to backcountry campsite #2. Soaking wet and exhausted we made a fire, set up camp and celebrated the completion of our adventure.