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