Kayaking the French Broad: Island Ford to Hap Simpson

July 4th. A national holiday when lots of people in America plan an outdoor picnic, eat mustard and ketchup laden hot dogs and hamburgers, and shoot off fireworks…but not us.  We decided to join the boating crowd and take to the water to celebrate our independence from Great Britain.

Our first obstacle was the concrete stairs at the put in which were a bit steep but doable.  The guys handed down the kayaks one at a time, in shades of blue, green, orange, red, and yellow, until everyone was in the water and we began our ten mile paddle.  A small flotilla of young canoeist were coming right up behind us as we co-mingled in this first section of the trip. They apparently decided to let us continue in front of them as we did not see them for the remainder.

As I am coming to find is typical, the abundant bird life was the soundtrack to our trip, multiple swallows soaring overhead apparently looking for food.  At one point, I took the lead position and came upon a blue heron fishing in the river. He or she caught a small fish in its beak, taking off gracefully out of the water to land elsewhere to devour its fleshy meal. This heron then proceeded to fly ahead of us on the river and would stop on a branch or bank until we got close and then would fly forward again waiting until we got close only to take off again. It reminded me of the dogs we sometime pick up on hikes who hike along with us for awhile until they get tired and peel off on their own again. This heron did the same after about 15 minutes of the game and glided off into the trees to places unknown.

Dotting the river with summer color were purple phlox, white morning glory, red blackberries a week or so off from being ripe, what appeared to be orange Turk’s Cap lilies, and pale pink rhododendron in their glory. Every once in a while I would hear a small fish jump out of the water reaching for an insect meal.  Dragonflies on the hunt for prey buzzed me as I paddled down this fast moving river. Tree frogs, which typically get about 2 inches in length, could be heard croaking loudly from their perch in the nearby trees. At one point, a fellow paddler noted the smell of marijuana but we saw no one close by, perhaps hidden by the thick bushes and trees lining the muddy, black river bank.

Our group of nine paddled down the river dodging trees and limbs, a stretch which was relatively easy to navigate, no rapids on this section.  The weather started to look decidedly darker as we moved forward, a bit of thunder in the air far off and light sprinkles misting around us, as some savvy kayakers donned their raingear. As we went, we passed farms on either side and at one point were greeted by the mooing of a group of cows, browns and black, huddled by the river bank, the strong smell of fresh manure wafting over us as we passed.  A very few of us observed the bloated dead hog floating near the riverbank, likely a feral hog killed as a nuisance to crops and competition to other wildlife.

We almost made it to the end of our paddle without incident but unfortunately one of our paddlers took a spill in the river while trying to avoid a downed tree hazard. Their bright orange kayak had to be pulled on to the riverbank to empty the water filling its hold. Water pumps in hand, several in the group assisted. Fortunately they were only wet with no other ill effects.

The Hap Simpson takeout came way too soon as we navigated to the ramp.  The current here is a little more swift than elsewhere for some reason as I attempted to bring my boat ashore.  Greeting us at the ramp was another group of canoeist from a girls camp located on Lake Summit closer to Hendersonville and we exchanged information with their friendly leader about river conditions.

Loading up our kayaks, we headed towards Brevard to a get a quick lunch at Mayberry’s.

Another day, another paddle!



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