Multiday raft trips are usually associated with the western U.S., but Andria Davis reports that fine river trippin’ can be found in the Southeast too.
Multi-day raft trips have become a necessity for my husband Leland and me. Extended trips give us the chance to completely let go of society and all our mundane worries and live on river time. When I’m on river time, I’m completely in the moment in the most perfect place on Earth: the River.
A lot of people enjoy backpacking, or doing multidays in their kayaks, and they are also experiencing this space of bliss. The reason that we prefer rafting for our wilderness experience is manifold. A raft is a huge craft that holds all the creature comforts: a big, heavy, comfy pad to sleep on, tables for food, lots of food, coolers, a full bar, more food, and maybe some costumer-y. That’s just how we roll. Also, on a raft, you can bring friends who like to get out on the river, but don’t want to paddle their own craft. Having an awesome rider on your raft is an important aspect to a river trip. On many rivers, you can also bring your dogs. There’s nothing quite as blissful as a dog getting to hang with his/her peeps all day on the river and then getting to guard and clean the camp! Last, but not least, a raft is just fun to steer. The excitement of the oarsmen and women on a river trip is palatable, and they are just downright amazing to watch.
Even though I’ve spent many years as a raft guide, I’ve taken on the job of safety kayaker for our trips because I still have not mastered the art of driving an oar rig. Also, having safety kayakers is important for many river trips. Sometimes we scout ahead for wood and radio back to the raft Sometimes we chase upside down rafts. We also help to tie off the raft to shore, pick up swimmers and guide dogs to shore. We also are known to lurk around the rafts begging for beer.
Sometimes I might try to perform silly tricks for the rafters like covering my face in sunscreen and sticking my Southern Raft Supply sticky coozy (made to stick to a raft) to the bow of my kayak, stern squirting, and trying to get the beer in my mouth. The job of a safety boater can be complex.
This year, we were not able to make it out to Idaho for our favorite multi-day, the Middle Fork Salmon. So, we’ve been doing some research on places to get away from it all around our home in the Southeast U.S. I always thought of the Southeast as a great place for single day runs, but never really thought of it as a place for multiday raft trips. When we got our NRS raft a few years ago, we spent years doing multidays out West; but we never really explored the possibilities that were right here in our own back yard!
Leland had been mentioning taking a multi-day raft trip in the Emory-Obed area of East Tennessee. This wild, remote area is largely inaccessible by foot. The only way to see much of its deep, forested, sandstone canyons is by boat. We had hiked and kayaked in the area before, and really wanted to spend a few days floating, camping, and hanging out with friends on its amazing Wild and Scenic river system.
Just before our planned date, a storm system came through and gave us just enough rain for several days of adventure! The air was heavy and sweet, and the evening filled with the songs of the Spring Peepers. This is the spring magic that puts excitement in the air for Southeastern boaters!
With the plentiful rain, we got to do it al—one day paddling a micro-creek (Little Clear Creek), then heading out the next day for our overnighter on Clear Creek and the Obed River. And these are just a few of many streams in this river system!
Our adventure was class III with amazing wilderness. We had a variety of crafts: an oar rig, a small raft run as an R2, a shredder, about six kayakers, and a ducky. We surfed, played, and had some excitement—one flipped raft, and one entertaining ducky with multiple swims. We forgot our mundane lives as we partied hard at camp and celebrated river time.
The de-rigging at the take-out is always hard. I hate saying good-bye to all the wonderful souls. Special bonds are made on river trips, and it’s like that space in river time is what holds them. It’s what keeps me coming back.