When I travel, I TRAVEL. I recently traveled home to the Southeastern USA for a trip bookended by bachelorette parties and a wedding. As I’m only able to go home once a year, I always try to see EVERYONE. I have family and friends in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee, which unfortunately means a lot of driving. Rather than just relaxing and reminiscing after long drives, I show up with a boat and an enthusiasm for making new memories while reminiscing about the old! To successfully do this, I utilize public access points along our rivers. It is only with public access to the rivers that we (Americans) all own, that am I able to enjoy and introduce my friends to our magnificent rivers.
The day I flew home to Aiken, SC, I started preparing for the first adventure, a bachelorette party for my friend, Rachael Hoch (she’s a freshwater mussel biologist with the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission). After a couple hours running around gathering gear from my parents’ house, I was ready! We celebrated Rachael by paddling 20miles of the Edisto River, SC, looking for mussels (we found one shell and some spam…), sharing memories, and sleeping in swamp treehouses! It was great to catch up with Rachael and make new friends on this black water river.
The day after the Edisto paddle I headed to Athens, Georgia, meeting up with Jess Chappell, a friend from my Masters at the University of Georgia. I threw myself in her car, and we headed north to the Chattooga River, a beautiful Wild and Scenic River, where we rented inflatable duckies and paddled some Class II-III whitewater. While it was mostly a relaxing day, there was a good bit of excitement when a 6ft waterfall and Bull Sluice rapid (Class IV) surprised me (I’d only run this section once ~10yrs ago). But per usual, we started at the top and wound up at the bottom. With big smiles! We spent our time talking about graduate school and a paper we are writing together. Jess and I both study dams and are writing an invited paper about conservation collaborations! What better way to brainstorm than on a Wild and Scenic River, 50 years after the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was passed.
My next adventure was a combination family/friend paddle. My parents and I picked up Kelsey Turner, a labmate from my Masters who was pivotal in helping me get my Hawaii research completed, and headed to my Grammy’s house in eastern North Carolina. The entire car ride Kelsey and I reminisced about field work (think rotting mongoose carcasses) and epic adventures (hiking volcanoes, prepping for hurricanes, visiting beaches, you get the idea…) At Grammy’s we did a little yard work (avoiding the wasps!) and cleared some shooting lanes for deer season before heading into the swamp for a little fishing! Kelsey caught her first fish on the Northeast Cape Fear (another black water river) with a whole bunch of Abernethys (3!) piled into a canoe with her. I caught a couple fish as well, and we had us a fish fry!
While Kelsey started her work week as a biologist at Shaw Air Force Base and my Dad flew to Utah to hunt elk with my brother, I took the canoe and headed to the Catawba River, to meet Alex Mentes, a friend from my undergrad at Appalachian State, under a highway bridge. We were paddling a river new to both of us for which I had found access points online. Alex met me under the bridge, and we headed to the put-in, hoping the access details were true. They were, and Alex and I had a very relaxing paddle on part of the longest undammed section of the Catawba, ~25 miles downstream of Wylie Dam. We saw huge fish jump, picked up a little trash, and discussed life after undergrad. We concluded a great day with a meal at the Country Omelet, classic southern food at a highway exit!
After visiting my Cousins (Jeff, Cody, and their 10 day old son, so cute!) and Grandmother (“Gray”) on a quick trip through Atlanta, GA, and Nashville, TN, with my Mom, I zipped up to the Pigeon River in Tennessee for Labor Day weekend. I had worked on the Pigeon River as a raft guide during my undergrad years, and my fellow co-workers were reconvening on the water this weekend! We reflected on how the rafting industry had (and had not) changed over the years, mostly glad that we were in different jobs. While the Pigeon River was once (and still is by some) called “the dirty bird” from all the pollution, we celebrated the now clean river, although it’s still highly regulated by Walters Dam, by paddling the “lower” Class II section in rafts and kayaks.
Two nights in Asheville were then spent visiting with more friends, dominating local trivia matches, and cooling off in Lake Powhatan, a local lake created in the 1940s when Bent Creek was dammed. Then it was off to Boone, NC, for the second bachelorette party. We gathered together at the Boone Saloon, an old haunt from my (later) undergrad years during which time I tricked all the grad students in the biology department into thinking that I was also a grad student. We celebrated Alex Bentz, the bride-to-be and animal behavior PhD, by paddling the New River just northeast of Boone. We had a scrape-y paddle that required a little dragging of the boats, but the weather was wonderful, the company cheery, and the French 75s strong. This day signaled the start of the Alex Bentz and Dan Becker (yet another scientist!) wedding extravaganza! I showed up on the farm with enough food to feed an army, and we got to decorating and shooing away snakes (really, a black rat snake was in my shack!) Weddings are my favorite events, and Alex and Dan’s wedding is my favorite by far!!! Adam Rymer, one of my friends from the Pigeon River and an exuberant dancer, joined me and all of our Appalachian State and University of Georgia friends in marrying off Alex and Dan and dancing until 3am!
Two days later as Hurricane Florence blew into the South, I flew back to Oregon to attend a Florence and the Machine concert in Portland with Corvallis friends. Home again, home again, jiggety-jig! Now after a rejuvenating trip home, paddling publically accessible Southeastern rivers while visiting family and friends, I’m back to writing those PhD dissertation chapters. Of course I’ll take the occasional break to paddle some Oregon rivers, which provide world-class scenery, fishing, and duck hunting to public landowners (that’s me and you!) So take advantage of public access and get out there and enjoy our rivers safely! See you on the water!