The horizon is suddenly much closer, and the sound of rushing water is upon you. As you approach the entrance, you look for the tongues – the flat patches that indicate where the rocks aren’t. You pull hard on the paddle, trying to stay on the line you’ve chosen and not wind up on the rocks you see looming above, and those you don’t see lurking beneath the surface, manifesting their presence only through a slight alteration in the fluid motion above. The reward is a crash of water through a train of standing waves, cooling on a summer day, or invigorating on a chilly one. A baptism the established church never envisioned, it’s a religious experience.
Today Bob and I ran the Tuckaseegee River. Bob had run the river a few weeks ago, but this was my first time. I hadn’t really given the Tuckaseegee much thought. My feelings had been that If I’m going to drive this far into Western North Carolina, I might as well run the Nantahala.
We got an early start, with the weather looking tentative. The Dillsboro forecast called for cloudy skies with temps in the 60s, so we came prepared with wet suits. It looked like things were going to deteriorate on the drive through Asheville, as a heavy mist fell. As we drove west on I-40, the skies cleared, and spectacular autumn colors emerged.
The put-in, take-out, and shuttle are very simple, thanks to a wonderfully developed park in Dillsboro, and the kind folks at Tuckaseegee Outfitters, who will let you park at their take-out even if you’re not taking a trip or renting from them. It is a short, five-mile run, and we thought we might even have time for two runs today.
We got on the river at about 10:30. The river starts off tamely below a 15-foot dam. About a half mile from put-in is a fake train wreck that was used in The Fugitive, starring Harrison Ford. I may have to rent that one. The river was fairly tame, with enough action to keep things interesting. The lines through the rapids were fairly obvious. It seems a bit tamer than the Green River at this point, but it’s certainly less crowded. I think I was expecting more of a challenge, since the river was very high when Bob ran it, and the names of the rapids led one to believe they were more than they were.
For much of the run, Highway 23 is on one side of the river, and the Smokey Mountain Railroad is on the other. The river is sufficiently insulated so that neither of these becomes a distraction, very unlike our recent trip down the French Broad.
We had only been on the river for a couple of hours when we spotted the take-out. The wind had come up and was bracing, so we decided not to do a second run. By 12:30 we were off the river, and Bob was running the shuttle back to get his vehicle. However short, it was still a great day on the river.
This river is a keeper. The rapids were fun, and it certainly wasn’t crowded. I don’t know if that would be the case at the height of summer. I could almost see running this river early, then scooting the 30 miles or so over to the Nantahala for a later run.