From August 23rd to August 26th, 2019, the rivers and mountains of western North Carolina were host to the ninth annual Team River Runner Southeast Region Rendezvous. Over 60 veterans, family members, and volunteers from nine Team River Runner chapters participated in a weekend of health and healing through paddle sports and social interaction. This year’s event focused on skills progression, and a dozen ACA-certified instructors donated their time and energy to ensure that our participants came away feeling challenged and accomplished. For some this was their first time on moving water and the supportive environment eased this transition.
Veterans and volunteers straggled in Friday afternoon and evening, and were welcomed to the bunkhouse with a hot bowl of chili provided by River of Life Ministries. Thanks again to Heidi Ramsey-Woodard for preparing and serving, all the while with an infant on her hip! I believe this makes the fourth year Heidi has arranged this for us, either through the Bryson City Rotary Club or River of Life. The evening ended with a large group around the campfire making new friends.
Saturday we started with group breakfast in the bunkhouse, followed by a quick stretch, and then trip planning. Our guides put together four trips for the day, including a lake paddle on Fontana Lake, a first timers’ trip on the Little Tennessee River, an intermediate trip on the Tuckasegee Gorge, and a skills session for intermediate paddlers on the Nantahala Gorge. The entire group met back at the bunkhouse for pizza and refreshing beverages, and planning for Sunday. I remembered to buy the ‘smores fixin’s this year and the campfire crowd was very pleased.
Saturday night brought a bit of rain, and with the extensive rain earlier in the week, the steep banks of the Nantahala Gorge that were stripped of foliage in a fire two years ago gave way, and mudslides covered the road and blocked the river. Initially the word was one slide with minimal disruption, but by morning the news was four separate slides, and weeks of cleanup expected. As a result, our all-inclusive group paddle on the Nantahala scheduled for Sunday was off the schedule. We settled for splitting up again, with some groups heading to the Ocoee, some to the Lower Green, and some back to the Tuckasegee Gorge. I tagged along with the group to the Tuck Gorge, and with the help of our instructors, we were able to teach and practice attainment in rapids, as well as explore new lines and small eddies in some of the more challenging rapids. We quickly learned that a class II river can provide class IV moves if you know where to look! I commented afterwards that I thought it was our most successful skills building trip on record.
Next year will mark out 10th annual Southeast Region Rendezvous. I have some special activities and events in the works, so stay tuned and sign up early!
Southeast Region Coordinator, Team River Runner