Down The Dan With The DRC

After my trip down the James with my mother, I came home and told my husband that we just absolutely have to do this together.  He immediately started scouting for trips a little closer to home; specifically, trips with nothing over a Class I rapid.  He found a couple of different companies online but only the Dan River Company described what to expect from the actual river trip to his satisfaction. (We want to eventually do everything – try them all – but you have to start somewhere and he’s pretty adamant about this Class I rapids thing.)

The Dan River Company Reservations Office

It turned out to be a great company and not far from home (about thirty minutes).  All you have to do is show up in sensible shoes. They have all the rest – the kayaks, the life preservers, the sunscreen. They even sell t-shirts.  They recommend that you bring a dry change of clothes, which I thought was kind of overkill, but it is actually a really good suggestion.  At least two of the rapids along the river stand a good chance of getting you wet (sort of like the flume ride at an amusement park).

The Dan River Company Shuttle

They make scheduled runs each day to their own private launch point up the river.  We waited a short while for others to arrive but a lot of the folks on our scheduled run had, believe it or not, been held up in traffic.  One of the many draws of the Dan River Company for us (I’m not sure why) was that we got all the way there on what we would call “back roads”. Apart from a tractor, traffic is just not something you expect out here.  It seems this weekend was a huge annual festival, the Stokes Stomp, and the main route through Danbury, NC, had been closed for a parade.

Due to the traffic snarl in Danbury, the only other kayaker on our run was a return customer with her own kayak. The driver gave us some good tips on the drive up and had a great sense of humor. He got us set up and out on the river quickly. No hassles.  No muss, no fuss.

On The Water of the Dan River

The water was great.  Cool and clear.  Shallow. In fact, the DRC website FAQ says that ninety percent of the route is “ankle to elbow” deep.  The current was swift. There were a lot of rapids.  They were all Class I, but there were a lot of them.  The DRC bills this as perfect for a beginner kayaker and I can see that.  There is a lot more danger here of bottoming out than of capsizing in a rapid (though that can be done).

One of Many Class I Rapids Along The Route

There were several sandy beaches and rocky outcroppings along the route.

Rock Faces And Sandy Beaches

It was nice to stop every now and again, enjoy the scenery, and get out of our life jackets. This one bend was especially pretty.  It had a sandy beach on one side and a rocky cliff on the other. There were tents where some people were camped (along with “no trespassing” signs) and there were lawn chairs on the rocks.  The water was deeper here and it looked like people might climb up on the rocks and jump off of them, though no one did while we were there.

Beautiful Places to Stop Along the Way

We loved the rapids.  The route is 6.2 miles long and there are supposed to be about twenty rapids along the way.  You would just barely get out of the influence of one when you would hear the next.

More Rapids

We were on the river for about three hours when we made it back to the bend where the Dan River Company has stairs for getting back off the river.  A man was there waiting for us and gave us a hand getting our kayaks up onto the shore.

The River As It Approaches the Dan River Company Egress

I was impressed by their stairs.  Most places I’ve seen along the river, in my limited experience, are little more than steep grooves up an embankment. All we had to do was carry our paddles and life jackets up to the wash buckets at the top of the stairs and then we could dry off and head to the ale house.

Stairs Leading Out of The River

The ale house.  Suddenly, that dry change of clothes they had suggested made perfect sense.  Something absolutely unique and fantastic about Dan River Company is that they share a parking lot with the Green Heron Club – an ale house. In between the river and the ale house were two large, outdoor dressing rooms, his and hers, for changing into the dry clothes before going in for a pint.

The Green Heron Club – An Ale House at the End of the Run

The Green Heron Club bills itself as a music venue with drinks, not a bar with music. In the middle of this Saturday afternoon, they were a perfect spot by the river with a very impressive choice of craft beers and the taps mounted along the wall show that they have had a history of having a great selection.

What a Craft Selection at the Green Heron!

The don’t serve food themselves but two of the local restaurants, Lulu’s and River Rock Cafe, will deliver to the Green Heron. Just ask up at the bar and they have the menus for both restaurants and they’ll let you use their phone to order (cell phones apparently have notoriously bad reception).  One of the other patrons suggested that we order the Lulu Burger with everything on it.  We were so glad that he recommended it because the Lulu Burger is not actually on the menu but was the perfect way to cap off the day.

Two Take Out LuLu Burgers at The Green Heron

And so we sat in the Green Heron and looked out the window at the river below, ate our burgers, and enjoyed a pint.  An actual heron flew by.  What an absolutely perfect day!

View of the Dan River From Our Table

A Trip Down the James River

My parents loved to take canoe trips down the Brazos River in Texas back when I was growing up in the 1970’s.

Mother on the Brazos River, Texas – 1979

When she signed up for a canoe trip with her church, Horsepasture Christian Church,  to tell the truth, I was dreading it.  I didn’t plan on going but the more I thought about my 70-something year old mother out on a river I didn’t know with people I didn’t know, I came to the conclusion that there was no choice in the matter.  No one else would be as concerned about her safety as I would, I thought.  If anything happened, I would never be able to forgive myself.  As it turned out, the group from the Horsepasture Christian Church was great.  I don’t know that I’ve ever met a better group of people. She would have been completely safe in their company. I’m so grateful that I got to go just because it was a great trip with a fantastic group of people. God works in funny ways.

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Our second stop before launch, just 10 miles from Iron Gate

We met up at the church at 6 AM and began a two-hour trip up to Iron Gate, a launch point  just a little below where the Cowpasture and Jackson Rivers come together to form the James River.

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Launching at Iron Gate

It was a big group, around 50 people, and it took a while to get us all on the river.

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Watching as everyone got onto the river

There was a small area of rapids right at the onset that looked deceptively simple but gave a few people some problems. If you were too far to the left, you could bottom out and have to get out to portage across the slippery rocks. You had to stay to the right to get through them but a strong current there could push you into a dead tree along the bank that could easily capsize you.

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The First Set of Rapids

Once we got past that, it was pretty much smooth sailing.

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Canoeing down the James

It wasn’t uncommon to see cows down on the banks along the way.  One of the group members said that he’d seen bear along the banks too.

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Cows Along The Banks of the James River

At one point along the river, there is a train trestle that spans the width of the river. We had the good fortune to come up to it just as a train was passing.

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Watching the Train Go By

It was a great group and they pretty much stayed together, stopping a couple of places along the river to stretch legs. There were several areas of rapids but only one that was pretty serious (a class II rapids called “the Squeeze“). Here’s a random video from YouTube that shows you what it looks like.

Luckily, there was a long rocky beach beside it so most of the group opted to walk along the beach past the rapids while some of the more experienced men in the group navigated their canoes down the water to meet them.

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Stopping Along the River

It was such a wonderful trip. Mother really enjoyed it and I did too.  The church does a river trip once a year and picked this route because of the fishing.  They’ve also done a run on the New River.  This trip was just shy of a two-hour trip from the church.

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We got out at the Gala Boat Launch after about ten miles on the river and began the trip back.  We were home by 7:30 PM and that includes a stop at Dodge’s in Bassett Forks for egg rolls.

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If this has got you interested in taking a trip on the upper James River, check out the website for The Upper James River Water Trail.