If you haven't done anything on the water in a while (or ever, depending on your bravery level), then traveling a river, even for an afternoon, might seem daunting. Thoreau and his brother canoed for two weeks on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers in New England, and described the journey and ideas relating to the Industrial Revolution, how things were changing. Things in the present (2012) have certainly changed a bit over the last century and a half, and not all necessarily for the better. Our industrialization has given us air and water pollution, hormone disrupting chemicals many feel lead to cancer, and just an overbusy schedule. We run to meetings, work, ball games, the store. Yet we don't run to nature.
I decided to take a trip with nature, and have a little adventure, John Muir style. A collections of his adventures in the book Wild Muir, recounts a multitude of neat and really crazy experiences. He walked a 1,000 miles to Florida, caught malaria and almost died, charged a bear in California, slid down a glacier in Alaska, and rode a tree (yes, a tree, not a car or other vehicle), in a windstorm. So I thought, gee, I 'm a Master Naturalist member, so let's do something a bit more adventuresome than identifying plants in the woods.
So I looked up the New River Valley Outdoor Recreation meetup group and signed up to go ride a part of the New River! It is a river that can be treacherous with its rapids, but we went on a relatively mild section, starting below McCoy Falls and then through the Eggleston section to Pembroke, VA.
But I wanted to be a bit bold. Our head organizer, Mike, who has over 10 years experience on the river, wondered if a few of us (there were 3 canoes, 2 kayaks and 8 people in all) wanted to go over McCoy Falls. From a distance they didn't look too big, but had a lot of "swirly" parts between several rocks, two or three standing tall in the water. Well, I volunteered. How hard could this small section be?
Mike said I might lose my glasses if we flipped over. (He later told one of the kayakers in the group and he met an attractive girl at some meeting and invited her to go over the falls and said they definitely would not flip over in the water. Well, she probably knew nothing about what to do, so they flipped! She certainly did not flip over him and that dating experience was over fast.) Anyway, I gave my glasses to a couple not brave enough to go over and Mike put me in the front of the canoe. The front, really? I didn't know what to do! He said he would steer the canoe from the back and I could paddle on either side.
Before I knew it we were right at the falls. He was going to veer to the left between two rocks not jutting out much. We did this and got in a swirl of water and it splashed up and I fell -- back into the boat! I was trying to get up but couldn't and, splash, we went over the falls and Mike kept the thing from flipping --- it was handy that we had this plastic looking "dry bags" with our lunch and my watch and pullover, so they didn't get wet. As we cleared the falls and started toward the shore where the rest of the group was some people near the sandy boat ramp cheered. Mike said after that his end of the canoe almost filled up with water as I fell back, but he kept it together. Another place downstream the canoe got "hung up" on a rock, but he kept bouncing it up and down and we didn't tip over then either. But going over the falls and hitting some choppy water I did get my butt wet. My co-canoeists said I should have worn polyester instead of blue jeans, as they dry faster. I'll remember that next time.
Paddling in the calm sections and against the wind a few times was actually a workout. We ate on a very mushy, wet area beneath these huge cliffs called "The Palisades" and rested a bit. Some of these white and gray cliffs (I think the gray area was dirt as some foliage was growing off of them) had black areas, caves. Mike felt they were so high only the vultures and bats would bother with them.
A family was on the right side of this muddy beach area and a kid in a green shirt and black swim trunks kept tossing around this mud, then tossing himself in the water. Tossing the mud again,and again, tossing himself in the water. It was an amusing distraction as we ate. Later, it was also interesting watching the water striders running on the water in front of us and great blue herons seeking food on the banks across from us, a ways away. My tree guidebook got wet so I wasn't sure if I saw a type of birch or wet elm near our break spot. The sycamores near the water's edge were turning brownish yellowish, and I thought I saw reddening poison ivy creeping up some trees. We'd best stay away from them.
All in all, it was a good workout, the weather cooperated and it didn't rain, the sun warming us up most times, and it was a bit of an interesting adventure. Perhaps Muir would have even approved.