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Dan River Paddling

posted May 20, 2013, 7:21 AM by Justin P
On Saturday, we headed to Danbury for a day of paddling along the Dan River.  We left the park-and-ride in Chapel Hill just before 8, arriving at the Dan River Company along the river around 10.  We had about 20 people in our group and most were renting kayaks from the outfitter, but a few brought their own boats.  Our launch time was not until 11, so we had some time to pay for our trip and get all ready to go.  Initially we were going to do a 6-mile trip, but Chris talked to the owner and we ended up doing a 13-mile trip, starting from the Hart's Access area.  On account of recent rains, the river level was higher than usual and the increased flow would make our float go faster.  Chris thought doing the 6-mile run would take less than 2 hours with fast water currents and we all wanted a nice long day on the river.  The 13-mile run would be closer to 5 or 6 hours, so that's what we did.  We needed to have the rental boats back by 530, though, so we would have to move quickly.  When everyone was ready, the outfitters loaded the boats onto two buses and we piled in and headed out to the launch site.  Hart's Access is right at the bridge on NC-704 over Dan River, about 1.5 miles east of the intersection with NC-89.  After getting our stuff together and a brief safety overview, we hit the water.  Almost immediately, it started raining.  First a light rain, and then a heavy downpour for a short time.  But we're on the water anyway, so no worries about getting a little wet.  After about 30 minutes, the rain let up, and although the skies were gray and cloudy, the rest of our trip was rain-free.  Most of the run was a gradual, relaxing float along the Dan River, with a few sections of class I rapids here and there.  This was my first time doing "whitewater" paddling; I had only done flatwater previously.  So, this was a great easy introduction to navigating rapids.  And it was certainly clear I was a newbie - hitting rocks and getting turned around in my boat as I went over most of the rapids in a not-so-graceful way.  But I managed to stay in the boat and not fall out during the trip.  My rental boat was a Jackson recreational kayak, a nice boat made of plastic that is durable enough to bounce off the rocks that I was unable to avoid, but streamlined enough to be relatively fast.  After about three hours, we paddled under the bridge on NC-89, roughly the half-way point on our trip.  Shortly past here, we stopped below some cliffs and took a short lunch break.  Lily and her husband had brought their dog Mango along for the trip.  Mango had paddled before and even had his own life jacket.  But he was a little bored on this trip, being stuck in the boat for hours with nothing to do.  When we stopped here, he took the opportunity to splash around in the water and play fetch with a stick.  Ken went for a little swim here, but everyone else, myself included, were already cold and wet enough.  The last section of the run was probably the most scenic.  The river runs through the northernmost section of Hanging Rock State Park.  The Dan River Bluffs, towering cliffs above the river on both sides, line this section of the river.  Right near the end of the run was the most exciting rapid of the trip - Play Wave, a class II rapid.  There was no staying dry through this one.  I actually managed to navigate this rapid pretty well and didn't crash into any rocks going down, but did get quite a bit of water in my boat.  After running the rapid, I paddled over to the shore to bail out several gallons of water from the kayak.  After sitting in a wet seat for over five hours, I was ready to be dry.  So I quickly paddled the last quarter mile back to Dan River Company just before the NC-89/NC-8 bridge and returned my boat.  Although they didn't have showers, they did have a changing room and I don't think changing into dry clothes have ever felt so great.  Once everyone was ready, we headed back home, stopping in Oak Ridge for Mexican at Rio Grande restaurant on the way.