Sometimes in the midst of daddy dates, honey do’s, work trips, and family obligations, a man just has to get away. Get away from the familiarity, the security, and the comfort of home and set off into the wilderness.
Being the organizer that I can be when properly motivated, I planned a trip back to one of the adventures of my youth, rafting the Ocoee river, in September after all the kids have gone back to school. It was originally to be with my best friend from High School, but he’s still recovering from open heart surgery. Instead, my Nashville friend Jeremy and I set out for two days and two nights in lovely Southeast Tennessee, Northwest Georgia, and Southwest North Carolina. It’s a complicated landscape.
We stopped for a nice dinner in Chattanooga, watching the sun set over the mountains and the river at The Boathouse. We were blessed with great skyscapes the whole weekend, with this view being typical.
We had no goals other than explore, raft, and sleep in a yurt. Yes, a yurt. After 20 years on the west coast, you’d think I would have checked that off my list by now, but even though I knew people who lived in a yurt, I had never stayed in one.
The yurt was on a horse ranch about 15 minutes from the Ocoee river. The Ocoee river is one of those unique confluences of man and nature. Dammed for power production way back in 1913 for the Alcoa aluminum plant near Knoxville, it has the ability to generate whitewater on a reliable schedule by simply releasing water from the dam, something that most Western rafting rivers can’t do. So the rafting season is determined mostly by customer demand, not by river flow, with the rafting companies paying for the water (more precisely, the electricity that won’t be generated) on rafting days.
Saturday found us lazily getting up and having some breakfast and coffee in the yurt. A bit cloudy, it was great opportunity to read without the interruptions of normal life. I finished Sabbath in the Suburbs: A Family’s Experiment with Holy Time and was able to consume many pages of the dense How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor, which is the tome that my men’s book club is currently going through. The former is heartily recommended for those who are struggling with how to create a sense of sabbath, or rest, in the middle of our modern hurried lives.
We headed into town and checked out the local museum, the Ducktown Basin Museum. Little did we know that we were in the middle of a mining wasteland, created in the late 1800s and early 1900s by the copper mining that both developed this area and devastated this area. The view now is fairly sublime, with only a cave-in of the Burra Burra mine scarring the landscape to this untrained eye.
Then they proceed to tell you that the water in the pit is acidic enough to take off skin fairly easily. To get an idea of how bad it was, here is a picture of the landscape as late as the 1960s.
Dang amazing that they’ve made the progress they’ve made. Most of the trees in the upper picture are pines, as they are one of the few plants that will live in such an acidic landscape.
After getting through the informative yet depressing museum, we headed to the outfitters for our date with whitewater. As I mentioned before, I rafted this river back in high school days before it was reconfigured for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Back then, we only had one stretch of the river to run but now you can do the upper part of the river as well. We, naturally, did the whole thing.
It was a great ride, with plenty of chills and spills to go with the flat water swimming. At two points, one person can volunteer to “ride the bull,” which is where you sit on the front of the raft and hold onto a rope, much like riding a bull. The first time they take pictures:
As you can see, the bull rider usually ends up on his back after a few dunkings. I did this the second time, though no photographs exist to show my excellent form and fearless composure…
After a shower, we headed to Blue Ridge, Georgia, for a hearty, well deserved dinner. We were blessed with yet another amazing skyscape on the way there.
The next morning brought more lazy moments, then we headed off to explore a bit on the drive home. We stopped by the Ocoee Ranger Station to check out where we had rafted the day before. With much less water flowing, it made it hard to believe that rafts were flipping over in the same spot just 24 hours ago.
If you look closely, you can see some of the rocks that were added to the river bed for the Olympics. We enjoyed watching the fish in the clear water, then headed to the gift shop for the obligatory purchases for the kids. If daddies are going to have an adventure, we love sharing those adventures with gifts in hope that it will somehow bring the kids over to the side of manly trips instead of to the dark side of places with mouse ear hats.
We took a photograph at the end to prove to our wives that we rafted the river with no injuries and all limbs still intact.
It was a great escape and we look forward to doing it again!