by Jason R
Planning for our 50-mile canoe trip started weeks and months ago, but the physical part of the trip started last Tues night (June 3rd). All the scouts brought their gear packed in their dry bags and went though them with Paul M. All participants were fitted for life jackets and paddles. With a lot to do we stayed an extra hour to gather patrol gear and load the vehicles for a speedy departure the next day.
We met at the church at noon (6/3) and with canoes hooked up and gear loaded, we hit the road. After a short stop at the SC welcome center we took an early exit off the freeway and ended going through Clemson, SC, which delayed us a little bit. We arrived in Rosman, NC and found the launch site at Champion Park (river mile 1).
It took longer than expected to load the canoes and drop off the vehicles at Headwaters Outfitters. But once that was done we were off to our first campsite about 8 miles down the river. We arrived after 8pm and quickly set up camp before dark. We quickly learned that the banks of the French Broad are steep and are not that canoe friendly. After a quick Troop meeting we were supposed to go to sleep, but I, for one, did not sleep much the first night, like most. However the fireflies were amazing as hundreds, if not thousands, lit up the trees and hillsides of NC like a sparkling Christmas trees.
The next morning (6/4) the idea was to fill our 5-gallon water jugs with clean, clear water out of a spigot. But what came out was brown and cloudy, even after running for 10-15 min, but we were reassured that it was safe to drink. After a quick breakfast of summer sausage and bagels, we loaded up the canoes and started down the river for our longest day of 16 miles. We stopped periodically for mid-morning snacks and to re-gather the patrols. After lunch of chicken salad served on a small sand bar, we had our first canoe swamping as the crew turned the canoe sideways and got caught up in some branches overhanging in the river. Luckily the water was only waist deep and they easily brought the canoe to shore, unloaded all gear (which was tied down securely and not lost), and drained out the water, overall shocking but no big deal. After another 5 hours on the river we finally pulled into our second campsite, Riverbend. This was a nice campsite with plenty of space for both patrols, but again a steep bank. After setting up camp and having a dinner of mac-n-cheese with dogs and beans, we gather for our nightly ritual of Thorns-n-Roses. After a light rain and another firefly show, most participants hit the sack early and slept better than the previous night.
The morning of our third day (6/5) brought on some relief as this was to be our shortest day on the river of only 6 miles. After a breakfast of oatmeal and bacon, we again packed up camp and the canoes. Our canoeing maneuverability skills were put to the test as we had to “Thread the Needle” as a tree blocked almost the whole river except for a 4-5 ft gap. As if this was not difficult enough, there was a branch sticking straight up just past the gap. Everybody made it through the gap with some scrapes and bumps, but the “Silver Bullet” (same canoe that swamped the previous day) did not fair so well as it rode the branch up and over. Again, luckily the water was only chest high and the canoe was easily brought to the shore and drained of all water, no gear was lost. The trip on this day seemed extremely short as we arrived at our next and most beautiful campsite in no time, but almost missed it if it wasn't for the picnic table and the thought that it would be a good spot for lunch. We later found out the signs were covered by branches and poison ivy. After we brought the canoes up Mount Everest and set up camp, we had a lunch of tuna salad. The afternoon was filled with much needed R-n-R of card games and napping. Before dinner, Jason R taught some requirements of the Camping MB, for example camp stoves, tents, sleeping bags, and backpacks. Most importantly, Paul M and Jason R covered the importance and process of water treatment by different methods for the merit badge, but also since we were running low on drinkable water and no fresh water available at the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th campsites. After dinner of spaghetti and corn, we were treated to a campfire of songs, skits, ghost stories, and more fireflies.
The next morning (6/6) we ate grits and slim jims, packed up camp and the canoes, and once again set out on the river for a short 7 miles. This day was uneventful, as far as canoe swampings go, but we did have to negotiate a complex weave of trees to get to the take-out spot for our final campsite. After a lunch of chicken salad wraps (a favorite), we started our service project of building a trail to the campsite from the take-out location. We found numerous, large, dead trees to line the trail with and even cut some dead trees down. Most of the vegetation in the trail was removed and any small rocks that were found were used to upgrade the campfire ring. When we arrived at this site the campsite was not easy to find, because of a lack of a distinct trail, and it was filled with downed tree limbs. But when we left, it was cleaned up and one can easily find the campsite using the trail. The report back from WNCA, after notifying them of our service, was excellent and they were very impressed with our work. WELL DONE SCOUTS AND ADULTS!!! After our service, we were treated to an excellent dinner of “Dirty” rice with sausage. After dinner the PLC decided to prepare for tomorrow by making PB&J sandwiches ahead of time, to prepack most gear, and arise at 5 am. Once again we had a campfire with skits, songs, ghost stories, and Thorns-n-Roses.
The next morning (6/7) we awoke before dawn and had a quick breakfast of oatmeal and beef jerky. After which, we quickly packed up camp and loaded our canoes. However, despite our best efforts to leave camp early, right out of the starting gate the second canoe out swamped, which lead to Patrol B working as a team to successfully rescue and assist the wet canoers. This stretch of river was deep, filled with downed trees, and the rain the previous night increased the water level, which increase the river flow slightly. So it made for a very stressful situation, but nobody was hurt and the only thing lost was a hat. After this situation was remedied, we pressed on for our final 13 miles to finish our trip at the Westfeldt River Park (river mile 51.5). The last 2-3 miles the river became wide and slow and almost became a lake, which made paddling less productive. But, we pulled all canoes from the water, unpacked them, and loaded them onto the trailers. We were met there by a van from Headwaters Outfitters to help transport scouts and gear back to Rosman and our remaining vehicles. At Headwater Outfitters we changed clothes back into our scout uniforms and prepared for the drive back home. We stopped at the Georgia welcome center for a break and arrived back at the church just before 5.
This was a great trip and I would do it again in maybe two years, perhaps on a different river. The French Broad River was not a fast moving river, but still could not be underestimated at anytime. It was very technical in the sense that the canoers needed to master the skill of maneuvering their canoe around obstacles quickly. Overall the scouts did a great job with their canoe, service project, and camping skills. I hope they learned a lot about canoeing, camping, and themselves. The biggest thing I learned on this trip was that I now know how to make scouts appreciate their homes, parents, home cooked meals, showers, and soft beds; take them on a long adventure.