No, I’m not talking about a porno film. Paul W and I decided to paddle a section of the French Broad River today. I was tired of the crowds of "float bubbas" with their inner tubes on the Green River, so another venue was in order. Specifically, I was looking for the following: 1. a peaceful float far from crowds; 2. a float with easy access to put-in and take-out points; and 3. minimal rapids so Laura might want to come with me next time. How about one out of three for success? Not too good for a section touted as a "peaceful float through the beautiful Biltmore Estate.
First, some history. The French Broad’s name has interesting, but rather obvious origins. The French Broad, and the Broad River nearby, flow on opposite sides of the Eastern Continental Divide. The Broad was originally called the English Broad because it flowed east toward the Atlantic and across British territory. The French Broad flowed west and into Louisiana Purchase territory. ipso facto.
More history. I had run the whitewater section of the French from Barnard Station to Hot Springs several times, always in rafts, always on our own without guides, and always with a contingent of my devil-may-care-cause-I’m-immortal college buddies. The Barnard section contains at least two Class V Rapids, Stackhouse and Frank Bell, and several lesser, but no less exciting rapids. Twenty years later, I have neither the equipment, skill, or immortality I once had.
Paul and I got on the road at 9:00 AM, equipped with a map from Paddling Asheville by Betsy Mayers. We got to the put-in as indicated in the book, but there were Posted signs everywhere and the entrance was chained. Strike One. Fortunately, there was another picnic area with river access just a hundred yards downstream. We off-loaded and locked the boats, then went in search of the take-out.
This was supposed to be a simple shuttle. Both put-in and take-out were supposed to be right off of NC 191. We drove up and down 191 several times looking for Hominy Creek Road, but didn’t see it anywhere. I was about to give up and head on down to the French Broad River Park, which I knew to be a couple of miles on down, but Paul convinced me to pull into a place that ran trips on this section. They gave us directions to the correct take-out. Apparently, we were supposed to first turn left onto another road, then left again under I-40 to reach the take out. Two wrongs don’t make a right, but two lefts do?? Make that strike two, to match. Having found the take out, we made one more trip back down 191 to the Bent Creek put-in, and by 11:00 were on our way.
There were a few ripples under the I-26 bridge, and a few more ripples here and there, but for the most part, the river was flat with a moderate current. At least it scored on that point. Paul wanted to get past the noise of I-26 traffic before eating lunch. As soon as the noise abated, we pulled into a nice shaded bank for our meal. I noticed a couple of swimmers about a hundred yards downstream. As we paddled past, we saw that they were at the start of an RV park, which gave way to a huge pavilion area, which gave way to a steeple-chase field. Horses and women attired in equestrian garb were everywhere, and a loudspeaker constantly announced race results. We did catch a few glimpses of the Biltmore Mansion, but it was hardly the peaceful float we envisioned.
We reached the take-out after only two and a half hours of paddling, with about a twenty minute stop for lunch. Smelling of sweat mingled with horse effluvia, we headed back down 191 one last time to pick up the shuttle car, then headed home. If we do this section again, I’ll check www.biltmore.com before setting out. Even so, I guess some people like paddling through areas altered by humans if that alteration includes views of a mansion and huge hotel. For me, I’ll take true nature over a resort any day.