French Broad River Story #1: The Beginning

It was late July of 2016 when my family and I decided we would attempt to raft 146 miles of what is called the French Broad River Paddle trail from the headwaters in Rosman, North Carolina all the way to where the river flows into Douglass Lake just northeast of Newport, Tennessee. The whole trip began with just a vague sense that my family and I were missing out by not being on the water. The year before, my wife Megan and our daughters Charlotte and Isabel had moved from New Canaan, Connecticut to the Blue Ridge Mountain town of Asheville, North Carolina. Asheville is probably best known as home to the Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate and because it is also frequently named in many of the “best of” lists released each year. Asheville is also home to lots of artists, the progressive minded, over twenty-five breweries, and all sorts of outdoor enthusiasts including climbers, kayakers, and hikers. My wife Megan first lived in Asheville as a high school senior, and I first visited the area about a year before I met Megan as a part of a program that invited teachers from Charlotte up to experience an Outward Bound Educator course. On that trip, I remember using a compass for the first time as I navigated my way around Pisgah National Forest, put iodine in water I drew from a mountain stream to drink, and that I slept on the ground without a tent at night. Except for when my daughters were born, I don’t think I’d ever felt as energized and full of life than I’d felt standing on a boulder in a mountain stream with water rushing all around me. The cold mist on my face and the thunderous sound in my ears had the effect of invigorating my spirit.

kayaking, Asheville, North Carolina, rafting, French Broad River

one of the many examples of boats we’d see around Asheville

There were some reasons it might not be the best idea for my family and I to attempt the rafting trip. Neither Megan or I had any experience guiding a raft. Twenty years before, Megan had participated in a family rafting trip through the Grand Canyon. I’d done a couple of day trips, but both of us had gone on our respective trips as paying customers to experienced guides. With our daughters ages eight and eleven, we certainly didn’t want to put them in any dangerous situations. Of course rafting has an element of risk but so does playing a sport or getting into a car. More practically, we didn’t even own a raft. Plus, there was Megan’s anxiety about any water not clear enough to see through, something I vaguely understood as her not wanting to swim in a lake. While Megan does pretty well snorkeling in the clear waters off Key West through large schools of fish and next to intimidating-looking barracudas and eels, I would soon find out that she totally freaks standing knee deep in muddy river water. Although I didn’t realize it until we spent our first day on the river, Megan imagines the water awash with snakes ready to strike and that each branch that overhangs the river contains a reptile in repose ready to drop down on her head. “It’s Sunday,” Megan would announce trying to calm her nerves as we were on the water. “All of the snakes are at church.”

French Broad River rafting Rosman, North Carolina to Newport, Tennessee

the French Broad River from Rosman, NC to Newport, Tennessee

As my family’s first year in Asheville passed into the second, I thought about how it seemed like everywhere we went in town there were canoes and kayaks propped up on the roofs of cars or else scattered about in the grass in the parks along the river. Each time we drove over the massive bridge on Long Shoals Road near our house, we peered over to see if anyone was on the water. I remember one day I was travelling along Riverside Drive, a road that hugs the river and passes by French Broad Outfitters and the Craggy Dam, when I encountered a sign for Ledges Whitewater Park. Even from the road, I could see water rushing over boulders and several kayakers out playing on the water. I pulled into the parking lot and for the first time saw a sign for and thus became aware of what is called the French Broad River Paddle Trail. I walked over to the riverbank and looked out at the water. I saw a father standing waist deep in the water as his two kids practiced turning their boats upside down so their heads were underwater and then rolling back upright again and and again. “As you can see,” the father told me, “they’ve got it down.”

Two more kids wore life jackets and floated downstream to a big boulder where they climbed out of the water and trekked along the bank back upstream so they could float the stretch again. A man just behind me cooked bratwurst on a riverside grill while several more kids were playing along the edge of the water. I made my way to the center of the river by jumping from rock to rock and felt again that extra jolt of life that I’d first experienced on the Outward Bound Course. There was something missing I could tell as I watched the kayakers dart around on the water. I was more like a spectator at a sporting event when what I wanted was to get in the game. To accomplish that, I’d have to find a way out onto the water in a boat. If that was going to happen, I had an awful lot to learn.

French Broad River, rafting, Asheville, North Carolina

Charlotte, Isabel, Megan and Bill Torgerson in a raft on the French Broad River

 

More of Our Story Coming Soon!

 

Podcast: Asheville Movies and Wicked Weed with Edwin Arnaudin

This May 6, 2017 Torg Stories Podcast edition is with Edwin Arnaudin, a freelance writer for publications such as Asheville’s MountainXpress and Citizen Times.

Edwin is working on a piece for Xpress about our documentary film, On the French Broad River, and so I asked him to join me for a conversation about Asheville and freelance writing. We also talked about what was then the breaking news that the popular local craft brewery Wicked Weed had been sold to Anheuser-Busch.

edwin podcast.jpg

Our On the French Broad River film screens Asheville’s Grail Moviehouse at the following times:

  • Wednesday, May 24th 7:00 PM
  • Saturday, May 27th at noon
  • Sunday, May 28th at noon

Click here for more information including location and how to buy tickets.

Click on the player below to listen to the podcast or look for it on iTunes.

You can connect with Edwin on Twitter by clicking here or check out his movie site here.

Thanks for reading and/or listening!

 

 

Lover’s Leap and Paint Rock: Views of the French Broad River from Up on High

As a part of work I’m doing on a film about the French Broad River, I drove north from Asheville to Hot Springs so that I could shoot some video of the river from Paint Rock and Lover’s Leap.

Paint Rock is about seven miles north of Hot Springs on River Road. Heading north on Highway 25 into Hot Springs, I took a right onto River Road right before the bridge. It’s a pretty cool road in that it is narrow, changes to gravel, and stays very close to the water. I had to stop once because there were a bunch of wild turkeys in the road.

River Road, Hot Springs, North Carolina, Appalachian Trail, AT

River Road near Hot Springs

I made a mistake that got me about 40 minutes of extra exercise. I wanted to stand on the cliffs and take a picture of the river and so I looked up the Paint Rock Trail online before I left. I read that I should go 1/10 of a mile on Forest Road 54 and look for the trail. I found it easy enough and began to hike. It was a hot day for November, in the upper 80’s. The trail was very steep and kept me at least 30 yards from the edge of where I thought the cliffs might be. The underbrush was thick and I was a little worried about scrambling through the underbrush and falling over the edge down onto the rocks. I thought the trail would come out to an overlook. Eventually, after thirty minutes of hiking practically straight up, I was so high that that I wouldn’t be able to shoot the river with my GoPro.

Paint Rock, North Carolina, French Broad River

from Paint Rock Trail

On the way down, I got off the trail a few times to try and find the overlook I had in mind but didn’t see anything. Once I got off the mountain, I waded around in the area of where Paint Creek flows into the French Broad. I stared up at the cliffs and couldn’t see how I could get out to one of the lookouts. I also realized that even if I could scale one of the cliffs before me, it wouldn’t offer much of a view of the river as much as the adjacent mountain.

I started to walk on River Road back toward Hot Springs and the direction I’d come. It was then I noticed a very steep trail that went up to a ledge that looked out on the river. I’d done a tough 40 minute hike when a little five minute scramble would have done the job.

I took some pictures and shot the video I needed, and so with plenty of time to still get back to Lover’s Leap, I didn’t mind the extra workout.

French Broad River, Paint Rock

video footage from here will make our French Broad River movie

 

In Hot Springs, you access the Appalachian Trail to Lover’s Leap across the bridge from town. If you’re headed north into Hot Springs, you need to take a right before you can drive under Highway 25 and park at the Nantahala Outdoor Center parking lot. The AT goes right past the parking lot. I’m 90% sure that the rapid pictured below is called Surprise. We went over this with Blue Heron Whitewater when we did Section 9 of the French Broad River with them. The water level is wayyyy down from when I was last in Hot Springs.

surprise rapid, Hot Springs, North Carolina

Surprise Rapid

I walked along the river upstream to follow the white blazed AT. There are many switchbacks to get to the top.

Hot Springs, NC, resort, AT, French Broad River

Hot Springs Resort from Lover’s Leap

I was excited to meet a solo AT hiker. He told me he was doing half of the trail this year and the other half next year. He’d started earlier in the summer from Harpers Ferry, WV.The guy had covered over 20 miles on the day we met and over 400 miles for the summer. I told him my family and I had gone up there to buy a used raft.

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from the bridge in Hot Springs

 

Click here to find the Facebook page for our French Broad River movie

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Write me with questions or suggestions: William.Torgerson @ gmail.com

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