Saturday, June 20, 2009

Of Rapids and Chutes: Day 2

(*Quick note: Tonight's blog comes to you faster thanks to Larry and Kathy Robinson, owners of Cartecay River Trading Company in downtown Ellijay. If you get a chance, stop by and they'll take care of you.)

Today I discovered how appropriate it is that the temporary name of this blog is “Canoe Chronicles,” replacing (for a week) the usual moniker “Minivan Chronicles.” Canoes are the minivans of river travel. Big and bulky, kind of slow, and usually overfilled with all kinds of odds and ends one does not need on the river any more than one needs all that crap in the van while driving from home to work. Canoes carry sets of people, usually two big people on the ends and sometimes a little person in the middle. They serve their function on the river, and what they lack in snaziness they make up for in reliability. If only canoes came with more cupholders.

Kayaks, on the other hand, are the speedy little hybrids of the waterways. Kayak “drivers” dash in and out of the current, paddles flashing silver as they catch the light. I remember an insect we saw today on the river, a cute little bug called a whirligig who spins in quick circles and seems to know his purpose in life. Kayaks move like whirligigs. The perfunctory nods that pass between kayakers and canoers communicate each boater’s understanding of his purpose: I win on speed and finesse, nods the kayaker. Yes, but I’ve got enough stuff in here to make it to the Gulf of Mexico, returns the canoer.

After an oh-so-tasty breakfast of soft scrambled eggs and crunchy orange juice, the navy set out for the first leg of the Coosawattee River. This section challenged most participants; a warning of class II rapids and a hearty sprinkling of sharp-cornered rocky shoals infused our helmeted argosy with a healthy dose of nerves. Between the mandatory helmets, the mandatory life jackets, and the thirty minute safety talk the night before, I think most of the paddlers woke up this morning fairly freaked out. Meanwhile, for all the Paddle Georgia protectionism flung like a net over our brigade, other non-PG river goers showed up on the river in nothing but their skivvies and flip flops—to their eventual detriment. We watched a couple of Gilmer County residents tube down the same chute we bounced through, and I appreciated not having my backside quite so exposed.

Husband and I make a good team in a canoe. We did not flip once, and we managed to avoid the deep raspberry sunburn that some of our Paddle Georgia brigade achieved today. Along the route we watched a Green Heron dart from bank to bank, as if policing the entire brigade. At one point, the river to ourselves, we startled a gaggle of Canada geese who could not have been more offended by the presence of our canoe on their waterway. My favorite bird, a Kingfisher, swooped alongside of us towards the end of our river journey. We navigated a few tight spaces; not so much a part of the river as a part of our marriage. Rocky spots, poor communication—I’ll leave you to carry on with your own metaphors, dear reader. Tomorrow he promises to quit with the mental telepathy he believes I can hear, and I promise to try to learn my right from my left.

Tonight the group shuttles into Ellijay for a Gilmer County hootenanny. The city pulled out all the stops, I am told, and plans to treat us to dinner and a festival atmosphere while all of us who spent the day navigating splashy water wander around in a bleary-eyed stupor. Tomorrow’s agenda puts us on Carters Lake all day, with stops for swimming and perhaps some ice cream at the marina. Lake paddling works like interstate driving: tedious, a little dull, but could be fun if you pick interesting stops along the way. And of course, for interstate travel, nothing beats the family minivan.

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