On May 12, I had the pleasant occasion to reconnect with my old friend, Gordon Grant, on the French Broad River near Asheville, NC. What made this day trip exceptional was that we were taking my 6-year-old son, Champlin, on his first river adventure. I remember my first river trip and it entailed paddling upstream all day with no rapids as a bedraggled preteen trying to fit in. This day was to be quite different: Gordon Grant probably possesses as much knowledge of North Carolina’s white-water as anyone around and has perfectly married his mad skills as a white-water paddler and teacher. Champlin was in for a treat and I so wanted him to have a great first experience.
I shouldn’t have worried. From the pre-launch safety talk to the selfies at the take-out, Gordon dazzled us with his encyclopedic knowledge of the water, the river’s history, and his gentle introduction into reading the river’s channels, rocks, and eddies. Pushing out into the stream the first time in our little paddle raft, Champlin was tense and apprehensive (though, he responded negatively when asked if he was nervous). We began to spin the raft right and left as the boat entered the first riffles and current. Champlin gripped the boat tightly. Since Gordon and I were old Camp buddies and had adventured together before, we easily fell into this day’s trip as we did 40 years before on other rivers. We started singing nonsense river songs at the top of our lungs and acting light and silly to put him at ease. Tactic had mixed results.
What had great results was the beauty of the river itself. Its sounds, its smells, and the tactile nature of being on and in the water were working. Gordon explained perfectly the nuances of the river. What indicated a passage and what pointed to an obstacle. He pulled Champlin carefully into the expedition and explained beautifully how to angle the boat just so, when to paddle, and when to wait for the river to move us where we wanted to be. As the first waves large enough to bounce the boat engaged our little craft, Champlin’s body was stiff and uncomfortable. By the end of the day, after plunging off a 3-foot ledge and being bounced wildly by the tail waves of the drop, Champlin was turning around to high-five us even as the boat was still being jostled about rudely, his smile as wide as the river! It seems my concerns over his enjoyment of a day on the river were unfounded, thanks to our great friend and guide.