Take Me To The River
by Marijo Bosiljevac and Cara Stirts of The Omaha Nebraska Kayak Polo Club, taken from their blog “Real Chick Hiking”
I am so proud of the Real Chicks who went on the whitewater kayaking trip to Asheville, NC! I get excited anytime I can get a woman to set foot in a boat, but these chicks blew me away with their willingness to try something new.
Several months of planning later, a group of 9 women and our mascot Daisy were set to meet up in Asheville, NC for a long weekend of whitewater kayaking.
It would have been hard to find a group more diverse in experience than ours. At one end we have April, who can run rapids backward with her eyes closed, and on the other hand we have Beth, who had only ever been in a kayak four times. In between are the kayak polo players with varying degrees of experience on moving water. The great thing about this trip was – it was totally okay to not have previous experience. Anna was able to customize the trip so everyone had a chance to paddle something that was comfortable, yet challenging.
Our cozy cabin at the Blue Ridge YMCA
Day 1 on the River:
April, Carla and I went with Anna to run the Upper Green while Beth, Elizabeth, Cara, and Susie went with our other guide, Mary Frances, to run the Lower Green. The Upper Green proved to be an excellent warm up for the weekend. We had time to practice our eddy turns, peel outs, forward strokes and ferries before dropping in to Bayless Boof, Wanda’s Hole and Pinball rapids. It was only day one and I had already run bigger rapids than I had previously seen!
Cara here. Marijo is right—while the first group was tearing it up on the Upper Green, my group was waiting for the water on the Lower Green. The water is released just upstream of the Upper Green put-in and can take about 4 hours to reach the Lower Green put-in. While we waited for the water to rise, we paddled around in calm water, practiced rolling, and got a skills lesson from Mary Frances. Our wait for the water was longer than we had anticipated, but we had a great time hanging with Mary Frances, hiking up-river to get a look at the narrows, and just enjoying our time together outside.
When the water finally did arrive, it was quick and swift and very obvious! Mary Frances took the lead, all the while asking us what we saw and how we thought we should tackle what was up ahead. In that short amount of time we were on the water, we started to learn how to read the river and choose a line. We learned to love rocks, to trust ourselves and each other, to take chances. We learned that, as in life, Plan A does not always fly, and that often we’ll have to rely on Plan B or Plan C.
Yoga is amazing. After a hard day on the river the day before we started off with an amazing, and very restorative, yoga practice. The plan for the second day was for April and me to go with Anna to Erwin, TN to run the Nolichucky and for Kim, Susie, Elizabeth, and Carla to go with Mary Frances on the Upper Green. Cara and Beth took a day off from paddling and explored Asheville and took care of our mascot.
Even the drive to Erwin was beautiful; the Blue Ridge Mountains are gorgeous. The Nolichucky was the most fun time I’ve ever had on the water. We had some excellent surfing waves to try out, a great lunch spot overlooking Jaws, and I upped my paddling resume to include class IV rapids. This was the river where I started to push the limit of what I was confident I could handle. Each new rapid (all boat-scouted) came with a sense of uncertainty- would I get sucked into a hole? Would I flip? Would I swim? By the end of each stretch I was filled with relief and excitement, knowing I made it through, and next time I run it I’ll do it with more confidence and calm. I am grateful to everyone who ever pushed me over in a kayak polo game. I flipped at the start of two gnarly rapids and I rolled up immediately without any doubt in my ability thanks to all y’all.
The Upper Green proved to be a good challenge for the second group. Swimming, bruises, a little too up close and personal with a few rocks perhaps. It was still a fun time, everyone enjoyed the experience.
Our evening ended with supper at the cabin and hanging out with Anna.
The group geared up and ready to go. L to R Cara, Elizabeth, Marijo, Anna, Mary Frances, Kim, April, Carla
And with that, it was time to face the reality of heading back home. I trust our guides enjoyed being with us all weekend because instead of parting ways at the river, they opted to join us for a coffee stop on our way to the airport. How great!
I want to take a minute to give props to our guides. Anna was awesome. She has every reason to brag about her paddling accomplishments but she never did. She filled our heads with knowledge of the river, gentle pushes to be compassionate, and dares to commit to following our dreams. She went above and beyond to get to know our group and encouraged us to be our best individually and collectively.
Mary Frances was a perfect fit for our group. We have her to thanks for expanding our Midwestern vocabulary to include the phrase “all y’all.” She frequently showed calm in the face of some crazy circumstances. The group liked her so much that the name Mary Frances is now top of the baby name list for the next Real Chick to come along.