Class I and II???

Today was to be a transition day; a day between musical events. We had to drive a bit more than a hundred miles west, to the small, high-mountain town of Hot Springs. The campground is on the French Broad River, a river known for its whitewater rafting. I learned that the “wild” class III and IV rapids are upstream from the campground, and the section downstream from the campground has several miles of flat water with “some class I and class II rapids.” I felt that this would be ideal for me and for my level of skill with the kayak. I begged E to help me out with the driving so that I could put in at the campground, paddle down stream to a park several miles down, and have her pick me up there. (Since she hadn’t yet driven our pickup truck, this was a BIG sacrifice on her part to be willing to do this. I greatly appreciate her for doing this.)

I put the kayak in the water just outside the campground, and I immediately found myself in white water. It was “whiter” than I’ve experienced before. I’ve been in class I and class II rapids before, and really enjoyed it, but this seemed more … exciting … than I remember. There were some pretty sizable waves, and some of them did manage to find their way inside the boat. When I got through this section of rapids, I pulled in to shore and beached the boat. I took a walk back upstream to take a photo:

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Is this Class II rapids?

The rest of the paddle was pretty exciting too, because during the stretches of flat water I could hear the sound of rapids that I was approaching. After my first experience, I was unsure of just what I would find in the next set of rapids. It was an experience made for a Hollywood movie: moving downstream with the increasingly loud sound of an approaching area of rapids. All that was missing was the dramatic musical background score. If the people who recommended this stretch of river considered what I had just been through to be mild and friendly (which is what they said), then would I be riding rapids like that all the way down to the park? The answer is, yes. Almost every set of rapids was just a little bit more than I had bargained for. By the end I was getting more comfortable and more confident. I guess the only way to learn something like this is to experience it, but I probably would have benefitted from doing it with a guide. In any event, this experience was one of the highlights of this trip for me, and again, I greatly appreciate my wife’s willingness to drive the truck for the first time and pick me up when I completed my run.

An Allegany Day and Evening

I hear from people all the time about how wonderful Watkins Glen State Park and Letchworth State Park are. I agree; they are great parks, and they are well worth a visit. I rarely hear about Allegany State Park, and that is a marvelous curiosity. ASP is a very large state park that sits in the far southwestern area of New York State, virtually on the Pennsylvania border. When I found myself with a three-day weekend with my wife away at a special event, I decided on ASP as my destination. I really could have gone anywhere. Here are the major factors that went into my decision: (1) it’s not too far from home but not really too close either (2.5 hour drive), (2) it has great hiking trails, with a high likelihood of seeing wildlife, (3) it has lakes for kayaking and fishing, (4) it has dark skies for stargazing, (4) there are many campsites at two different campgrounds, so no reservations would be needed.

I arrived at the park shortly after noon on Saturday. The weather was spectacular, so you would expect a good-sized fall weekend crowd at the park. It was evident that there were a lot of people out enjoying the day at the park, but it is such a large park that there were no places that were crowded at all.

I selected a campsite in a large, open, grassy field so that I would be able to enjoy stargazing at night. I did not want a site with electricity, because I wanted to put my new solar setup to the test. However, all the sites that would provide me with good stargazing were electric sites. That meant I would be paying the premium price for an electric site (50 amp!) but not using it. Oh well. You can’t always get what you want. There were only about six or seven other parties camping in this loop, and there are a total of 42 sites in the loop. (The campground map indicates that there are a total of 164 sites in all the loops of the Cain Hollow Campground.)

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After setting up camp I spent a couple hours fishing and kayaking at Quaker Lake, which is less than a mile from the Cain Hollow Campground. There were several other kayakers out on the lake on this beautiful fall day, but the lake is so large that they were seen mostly off in the distance.

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I had brought a little bit of kiln-dried firewood with me, but I knew that I would need more. I spent some time gathering, cutting, and splitting some downed trees that I found in the woods next to the campground. When a neighbor saw me splitting he came over and offered the use of his sledge hammer to help with the job. I really appreciated the thought, but I didn’t need the tool. We introduced ourselves to each other, and I invited Jeff and his group over to see stars and planets through the telescope later at night.

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The stargazing was good but not great. My telescope has a lot of electronic, navigational features that are not working properly. I was able to manually find Saturn and Mars, but not much else of interest. Further, I couldn’t get it to focus completely. I don’t know what’s wrong with the darn thing. I was thankful that Jeff and his folks did not come over.

 

I ran the furnace a lot at night because the temperatures were well down into the lower 40’s or upper 30’s. I wanted to operate all the electrical things in the camper without exercising any conservation efforts, because I wanted to see how quickly the battery got discharged and how quickly my 100-watt solar panel would be able to recharge it. I did not use a meter to measure my voltage, but the solar control panel indicated a “partially” discharged battery in the morning. I was very pleasantly surprised when I noticed at 9:00AM (in bright sunlight) the charge was back up to full. So a full night of keeping the furnace running (on and off as needed to keep the temperature in the mid 50’s) used only enough electricity to enable full recharging with about 2 hours of sunlight. Amazing.

River Day

This was to be our last day of relaxation before beginning what would be a two-day drive home. So we wanted to make the most of it. I was still pestered by the desire to do some river kayaking (even though, sadly, without whitewater), and my research had led me to information about the Bluestone River, less than an hour south of us. The Bluestone River and a dammed section of it, the Bluestone Lake, were available for kayaking. We decided to go there for a picnic and an afternoon of kayak explorations.

 

As has been the case for a week and a half now, the roads to get there were incredible. Winding, steep, and narrow. Once again I was glad I didn’t have the trailer along with me on this one.

 

The park was OK but not fantastic. There were hardly any people there, and we realized that the children are all back in school now. The pool was closed. We found a nice, quiet spot on the riverbank with a launching area for the kayak. I took about an hour and a half or two hours to paddle the river, and I saw lots of birds and wildflowers.

 

Here is a Great Blue Heron I was watching for a while:

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I saw a bird that I couldn’t identify. Later I looked at about 50 pictures of birds, and I couldn’t find any that even closely resembled it. What is it?

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Here is a white heron that I was watching:

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It was a relaxing day, but we didn’t meet any people to write about. Tomorrow we begin the drive toward home.

Wild and Wonderful

Well, today was decision day. In all our planning we knew that this would probably be the end of the music part of our journey. The next venues that seemed to have any promise at all, musically, were a few hours south. And none of them were all that compelling. So we had been discussing changing the focus of our explorations at this point of the trip and beginning to explore the coalmining heritage of West Virginia. There is a lot of coal heritage stuff to see down in the region of Beckley, WV, which is a few hours southwest of where we are now. So we made the decision today, and headed for the coal heritage area around Beckley.

 

Also in that region there is a lot of whitewater rafting on the New River and the Gauley River. We would be driving right through the thick of it. That opened up a whole new realm of exploration. Yes!!!! Adventure!!!!

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We stopped at the Canyon Rim Visitor’s Center, which overlooks the New River Gorge Bridge in Lansing, WV. The bridge itself is amazing; the view of the river far below is breathtaking; but the real impact of the stop, for me, was the idea of using my kayak to try some river kayaking in the New River. I had read that there is a 15-mile stretch (the Upper New River) that is more mild and “family friendly.” This sounded good to me, since I have no experience with anything above class II rapids in my kayak.

 

I got some information about a 5-mile section of river that was recommended for beginners, and I began to imagine myself as a river kayaker. Then I found out that there were two sections of class III rapids in this “beginner’s” section. I began to wonder about the wisdom of setting off on this adventure. I realized that I probably lack the knowledge and experience needed for this sort of thing. Then, when I reflected on the fact that I would be doing this alone, I became even more doubtful of the prudence of doing it. I thought about it for about a half a day, and eventually realized that I not only lack the knowledge, the experience, and companions, but I also do not have a kayak skirt or a helmet, I realized it would be foolish for me to do this on my own. I thought about getting a lesson, but realized that I probably don’t need to be getting that involved in something new right here and now. So … I decided that now is not the time for whitewater kayaking for me. Maybe another time. When the time comes I want to do it right.

 

The bridge was another story. Amazing. It is the longest single-span arch bridge in the western hemisphere. It was opened in October, 1978. Every October they have a celebration – Bridge Day – and people rappel, ascend and BASE jump from it. Here it is:

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Wouldn’t you love to jump off that?